So I am sitting in front of my GP discussing some ideas, and then it’s thrown at me!

Craig, have you heard of “Orthorexia” and or “Orthorexia Nervosa”?

So I take a deep breath and reminisce for a moment and answer, “yes” I do, why is that?

The reply, “I may have a patient who is suffering with this”!

I’m not going any further into the discussion above, but I thought it was a good idea to share this with you guys, as most of you need to be aware of this disordered eating pattern, as it seems to be escalating, and it can become life threatening very quickly.

So what is “Orthorexia”?

Well in 1996 a Medical Doctor by the name of Steven Bratman formulated the term. This came about due to his own experiences with food and eating, or better still, his unrealistic relationship with food and eating. Basically the best definition of “Orthorexia” is this: a fixation on so-called healthy eating, by eating unprocessed, unrefined foods, or pure foods, and which becomes an obsession, to the point their health may be compromised, and that a healthy relationship with food and eating is all but lost. Orthorexia is all about deprivation, restriction, and fastidious control, to the point that the fixation on righteous eating leads to unhealthy, nutritionally deficient self imposed punishment. Orthorexics may not have some of the typical eating disorder traits like being overly concerned with their weight or body fat, their predominant obsession is their quest for the perfect clean eating regime. Never the less, the progressive nature of the disorder is uncannily similar. It’s very sad, and can be very dangerous.

Orthorexia, unfortunately is something that builds over time. It can often be motivated by someone simply trying to improve their health, drop some weight, make better lifestyle choices, build a body that they are proud of (sound familiar guys?).

It just creeps up on the individual. They can often feel they are doing the right thing by eliminating certain food types, food groups. They can often start out quite innocently following some basic eating guidelines, that over time become much more extreme, unsustainable, unrealistic, and in the end it simply consumes the individual to the point of obsession. It is due to this deprivation that the orthorexic may find them self-punishing due to eating something that by their definition isn’t acceptable. The orthorexic may self punish by undertaking unrealistic exercise bouts, they may fast for extended periods, they may even limit food selection even further. Ultimately this again leads to more failure, and the vicious yo-yo cycle continues, leading to further physiological and cognitive decline.

The “Orthorexic” may become a social outcast. Due to their obsession with what they believe to be healthy eating, this limits their ability to enjoy meals, social events, and special occasions. It may be due to the fact they are not in control of what is being served, in that they are not sure of what is in the recipes, it may be that they are well aware of what is in the recipes and due to their own beliefs of being somewhat superior cant come at the thought of being seen to consuming the foods served. They would rather avoid the situation than chance their hand.

The Orthorexic has a life that revolves around food. They are continually measuring foods, they are very portion savvy, and they become quite defensive in their beliefs, and can often preach superiority due to their food and eating choices. Orthorexics can often be found using social media to share their beliefs and food constructions. They can continually post pictures of their meals, of their slip-ups, and of their self-punishment, and of course there self loathe when they fail.

Here are some helpful questions to use to screen yourself or your clients . They may just surprise you:

  • Are you consistently looking for ways to decide if a food is “good or bad” for you?
  • Does food continually hinder your lifestyle in that you wish you could be doing other things regularly?
  • Do you sometimes dream of being able to consume a meal without analysing its make up and food quality?
  • Do you regularly find yourself preaching to others about how good you eat and how bad others eat? Are you the expert?
  • Do you punish yourself when you fail in regards to your eating regime?
  • Do you feel great when in control and eating pure foods?
  • Do you find yourself avoiding social situations where others are preparing the food you will eat?
  • Or do you feel very uncomfortable if put in that position?
  • Do you feel anxiety, stressed or defensive when in food situations and or situations that are not in your control?

It seems the more questions you answer “yes” to, the more likely you are dealing with an eating disorder, or disordered eating regime that may include “Orthorexia”.

Its very important to understand that as I write this “Orthorexia” is not officially defined as an eating disorder, but it is definitely seen as a disordered eating pattern. Someone who is suffering with “Orthorexia” or other dangerous eating disorders, or disordered eating patterns definitely needs professional assistance and support. Its vitally important that we do not find ourselves self diagnosing, nor preaching the perfect eating regime or lifestyle, nor that our way is the only way to succeed.

As a current practicing clinical nutritionist and fitness specialist its of great importance to me personally to make sure that the advice, support, coaching, mentoring that I am providing my client base is safe, effective, nutritious, delicious, evidence based,  & research proven. The information is no trend,  nor fad. Its congruent with reality, no lobotomy is required. The information is in line with a real lifestyle, you can still work, have a family, and other hobbies outside of the food and food preparation. And the information must definitely stand the test of time, meaning that its not a fly by night sell. Quite simply the information must be the “truth”.

So there it is guys, “Orthorexia”. I do hope you get something out of this article, and a least it makes you stop to ponder just a little, the information your providing to your clients on a day-to-day basis. It is due to this reason that I thought it very important to share with you all, because as we all know, an exceptional body transformation revolves heavily around what’s on the fork, correct?

I’m not hear saying at all that following a healthy eating plan could mean that your “Orthorexic’. We all know very well that a sensible eating regime full of colour, essential fats, dietary fibre, quality first class proteins and a variety of sensible carbohydrate decisions leads us all to optimal function, performance and body shape, “metabolic reengineering really. However, (and I know this first hand) it’s a very fine line that can become very jaded and very quickly, your reality can change . If food & eating becomes an obsession, an unhealthy fixation that hinders your social life and relationships, that becomes all time consuming, and that leads to a life of isolation, self deprivation and punishment, I do believe intervention is required.

We really need to be aware of how quickly a disordered eating pattern can develop. It really can be such a fine line between making some subtle food and lifestyle choices, to becoming a full blown eating disorder, or disordered eating obsession.

Craig Kelly