ORTHOREXIA – when healthy becomes unhealthy

You wake up in the morning and first thought is related to a food plan. You start the day with a glass of water – not cold but not too hot, and with lemon of course – is recommended by health specialists. Then you begin preparing breakfast with a calorie counter app. You spend twice as long in the kitchen because you need to count each product carefully. „I need meals for all day” – it means an extra cooking hour for you. It’s only beginning. Then the whole day is around the food… cooking, cleaning, food shopping, meals planning, counting calories, again and again. It happens when healthy eating goes bad.

When healthy eating becomes an obsession, even simple night out with friends can be stressful. In that case it is impossible to count calories or sometimes the meal time could be not appropriate. How to find a balance in a fitness focused world? What to do when the healthy eating goes too far? Opting for a balanced, adequate and varied diet is an important step towards a happy and healthy lifestyle. However, for some people, the focus on eating healthy food can become an eating disorder as orthorexia. It’s a proposed eating disorder characterized by an excessive preoccupation with healthy eating. Unlike other eating disorders, orthorexia mostly revolves around food quality — not quantity. Orthorexia is beginning to be recognized by the medical community, although it has not been officially defined as an eating disorder by the American Psychiatric Association or Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). Is another type of eating disorder in which the person feels fear and anxiety at the thought of eating any food that is unhealthy. It is often accompanied by intense commitments to exercise routines and fitness goals. Don’t assume that an eating disorder is only about food. It might not seem logical, but food is infrequently the underlying issue. Food obsession, negative body image and negative self-talk are often a way of trying to cope with deeper emotional distress. All those aspects could drive many girls toward unrealistic expectations, not unlike other eating disorders. However, it is critical to ensure that girls can find balance in this fitness focused world. Health and fitness are obviously great goals, but girls need to feel safe in their skin and happy with who they are. Many parents are relieved to find that their daughters appear to have a healthy relationship with food and fitness, only to find that their daughter is struggling to find balance in the world of fitness and eating.

According to https://www.therecoveryvillage.com/ orthorexia impacts between 1% and 7% of the general population and occurs more often in women than it does in men. This may be caused by media tend to emphasize the importance of women’s appearances and health more than men’s. Future studies should focus on prevalence in both groups. Research showed that 49% of study participants who followed „healthy eating” accounts on Instagram met criteria for orthorexia. Moreover, many of athletes is in the risk group because they seriously focus on physical fitness and well-being which could provide to orthorexia. Studies showed that 86% of yoga instructors surveyed showed symptoms of orthorexia.

Orthorexia often co-occurs with other psychological disorders like anxiety disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), addictions or other eating disorders. Especially orthorexia has a lot of common with OCD because in both cases we can recognize: perfectionism, the need to keep control, ritualized patterns, concern with contamination, high anxiety and intrusive thoughts.

Supporting a friend with an eating disorder can be challenging, but it can make a big difference to their recovery. Social support and social relationships are protective factors. What can you do to support your friend? When you talk with him/her try to use an open-questions, ask „how do you feel” and patiently listen the answer without judging. Act normally around food and hang out with your friend – it can help that person not to stay isolated. You can offer food or drinks to your friends like for other people. If they say „no” that’s ok. It is not your job to monitor what your friend eats or doesn’t eat. You can also try to discourage negative self-talk by distracting them onto other subjects e.g. by reminding them of their achievements and progress. The good news is that with help from a professional, it’s possible to overcome orthorexia.

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