This article dwells on the treatment of orthorexia nervosa, a disorder in which people are obsessed with eating only healthy food. Consumption of only fruits and vegetables conduces to unhealthily thin and frail bodies, that become susceptible to various illnesses.
Did you know there’s a disorder referring to the obsession of eating the right kind of food? Well, apparently people who are obsessed about eating healthy food all the time are considered to have a disorder called orthorexia nervosa! Sounds like a relative of anorexia nervosa, isn’t it! It so happens that several eating disorder charities have been reporting an increase in the number of people suffering from this obsessive healthy eating disorder. Isn’t it weird to read that a ‘fixation on healthy eating patterns’ can conduce to an unhealthy set of problems!
What is Orthorexia Nervosa?
Orthorexia nervosa is an eating disorder that has been observed to affect both men and women equally, however, it has been noticed that most of the people suffering from this condition tend to be middle class, educated people pertaining to their thirties. Officially, this condition does not have a name.
However, the term orthorexia nervosa (‘Ortho’ means straight and ‘Orexia’ stands for appetite) has been used by a Colorado physician Steven Bratman since 1996, to define people who eliminate several food items from the normal diet in order to live healthy lives. Orthorexia nervosa is believed to be a type of obsessive compulsive disorder.
Unlike anorexia nervosa, which is the obsession of consuming food in limited quantities, orthorexia nervosa is an obsession of consuming foods with certain quality. The onset of this disorder occurs after a person decides to maintain an ideally healthy lifestyle. This can be the aftermath of an illness or an attempt to lose weight or a general attempt to improve overall health.
After an illness, some people live in the fear that certain foods will make them ill, so they begin to avoid them little by little. They may start off by adopting an Atkins diet and avoid carbohydrates, but eventually they delete different items from the diet list and soon end up being obsessed about eating only healthy food. People with this disorder set up their diet list; free of unhealthy items. If at all they fail to keep up to their diet list, they feel guilty about failing.
Does Orthorexia Nervosa Disorder Need Treatment?
So, if all that these people are doing is eating healthy food, what’s the big deal? Why does it need to be treated? After all healthy food cannot be deleterious, can it? Well, eating healthy is good, however, when we say disorder, it means the balance has tipped. These people spend more than 3-4 hours thinking about healthy food, with their entire day revolving solely on planning tomorrow’s menu today. They not only begin limiting the number of items they consume, but also begin to feel all virtuous about what they eat. In fact, they even begin to feel critical about others who do not limit their diet to healthy items as they do.
This obsessive eating healthy habit not only conduces to social isolation due to the inability to eat anywhere but at home, but also affects their education, career, and family life. Since they seem to think about nothing but the healthy food they are consuming the next day, they are unable to focus on their studies, work, family, and friends. This hampers their overall social life.
Moreover, since they consume only fruits and vegetables, their diet lacks essential nutrients like protein, vitamin B12, iron, etc. Thus, they end up being malnourished and unhealthily thin, and also end up suffering from several health problems as seen in people with anorexia. The health issues can even be fatal, thus treatment is crucial.
Orthorexia Nervosa Diagnosis and Treatment
Steven Bratman, who gave the disorder its name, proposes an initial test that comprises two questions: ‘Do you care more about the virtue of what you eat than the pleasure you receive from eating it? And ‘Does your diet socially isolate you?’ Some other self test questions proposed by other experts on the subject are:
- Do you spend more than 3-4 hours a day thinking about healthy foods?
- Do you plan tomorrow’s healthy menu today?
- Do you feel in total control when you eat healthy food?
- Do you feel guilty when you stray away from the diet plan?
- Do you look down upon others who do not follow a healthy diet plan as you do?
- Has the healthy diet plan affected the quality of your life?
Honest answers to these orthorexia nervosa test will help diagnose the condition. However, people with this disorder seldom accept the truth of their condition. They believe they know what a healthy diet is all about and its effects on the body. Moreover, they are proud of their dietary choices and will not relent to advice.
So treating them and helping them out of this pit is quite a Herculean task and needs lots of dedication and patience. Counseling and social support are key components of the treatment of orthorexia nervosa. Medical treatment is given to treat various illnesses caused by undernourishment, etc. However, the main cause has to be uprooted and discarded by counseling and care.
Success rates of treatment as of today are still unknown due to limited research carried out in this area. However, espousing people with this condition, and patiently counseling them can help them get rid of this obsession. We must all remember to maintain a balance in life―eat a balanced diet and live a healthy life. Tipping to either extreme will only prove detrimental!
Disclaimer: This Buzzle article is for informative purposes only, and should not be used as a replacement for expert medical advice.