All About Orthorexia

The Science Behind Why Orthorexia Occurs:

Why is orthorexia so Difficult to diagnose?

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Symptom Overlap

The symptoms that are commonly found in people who have orthorexia nervosa are also common symptoms found in individuals who have more frequently diagnosed eating disorders like anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa. This overlap of symptoms can make it much more difficult for health professionals to diagnose an individual with orthorexia nervosa.

False perception of being healthy

People who are suffering from symptoms of orthorexia think that they are being extremely healthful. This makes it difficult for individuals to recognize that they have a problem. In their minds, they are doing everything in order to stay healthy, when in reality, they are only hurting themselves. The consequences of this can be detrimental because it makes it nearly impossible for sufferers to see a problem and seek help.

The Authorized Bratman Orthorexia Self-Test

Steve Bratman, who works and studies as a physician created this Self-Test that allows individuals to ask themselves and reflect on a set of 6 questions. These 6 questions are designed to help people self reflect in order to determine if they are close to (or already passed) the line that would consider their relationship with food and healthful eating unhealthy. Feel free to reflect upon these questions right now!

  1. I spend so much of my life thinking about, choosing and preparing healthy food that it interferes with other dimensions of my life, such as love, creativity, family, friendship, work and school.
  2. When I eat any food I regard to be unhealthy, I feel anxious, guilty, impure, unclean and/or defiled; even to be near such foods disturbs me, and I feel judgmental of others who eat such foods.
  3. My personal sense of peace, happiness, joy, safety and self-esteem is excessively dependent on the purity and rightness of what I eat.
  4. Sometimes I would like to relax my self-imposed “good food” rules for a special occasion, such as a wedding or a meal with family or friends, but I find that I cannot. (Note: If you have a medical condition in which it is unsafe for you to make ANY exception to your diet, then this item does not apply.)
  5. Over time, I have steadily eliminated more foods and expanded my list of food rules in an attempt to maintain or enhance health benefits; sometimes, I may take an existing food theory and add to it with beliefs of my own.
  6. Following my theory of healthy eating has caused me to lose more weight than most people would say is good for me, or has caused other signs of malnutrition such as hair loss, loss of menstruation or skin problems.

So you answered yes to one or more of these, what does that mean?

  • This does NOT mean that you have orthorexia and that you need to seek medical attention right away. What it does mean however is that you may be starting to develop an unhealthy relationship with food, which could lead to orthorexia. The first step in solving a problem is recognizing that there is one. Asking yourself these questions is a great way to determine if there is an issue. This will allow you to reevaluate your relationship with food – or seek outside help if needed!

Why Orthorexia has become an increasingly greater issue

Orthorexia has become an increasingly greater issue due to it being more common in today’s society. Social media is a primary source for this unhealthy obsessive focus on eating in a healthy way. Indeed, instagram use is linked to increased symptoms of orthorexia.

  • A study was performed and concluded that social media can have a significant impact on the psychological wellbeing of teenagers. It is very common for teens to follow health and fitness pages thinking that they will help them achieve their ideal self. Little do they know that in reality it could be harming them and their relationship with food. (Turner & Lefevre, 2017).
  • Another study concluded that being addicted to social media brings out disordered eating tendencies such as orthorexia. It brings about this constant desire for society’s body ideals, which commonly reflect thinness. This can be detrimental to the mental and physical health of teens who do not feel like they fit within the ideal image of beauty (Aparicio-Martinez et al., 2019).

Diets marketed as the cheapest and quickest way to lose weight are known as “fad diets”; these along with workouts are being displayed on social media constantly.

  • Social media exposes teenagers to various methods that often sound very easy and appealing. These methods are related to losing weight and achieving the “ideal body.” The source of this advice is usually highly inaccurate, with a financial benefit in mind of the individuals promoting these diets. In order to achieve this “ideal”, teenagers are putting themselves at risk by not nourishing their bodies properly.

Why Orthorexia occurs

Orthorexia often occurs from the obsessive thoughts around eating healthy. This is a very difficult disorder for teenagers to understand because healthful eating is commonly a good thing. The problem occurs when being aware of eating healthy, turns into an obsession of eating healthy. This obsession usually starts from overanalyzing the ingredients in food and restricting or eliminating foods such as; gluten, dairy, sugars and foods that contain animal products. Cutting out so many food sources (or groups) can lead to malnutrition. Malnutrition is when the body is underfed or is lacking the nutrients necessary for staying healthy!

For many individuals the pressure to fit a certain image that is being portrayed by society is a root cause of orthorexia. This pressure is highly linked to social media as there is a constant stress put upon teens showing them what is considered beautiful. Teens can have a hard time understanding that social media is fake. This can lead young teens into a spiraling routine of telling themselves that they are not good enough. This pressure can make them feel as if they need to resort to the most extreme measure of dieting and healthful eating in order to achieve society’s standards.