Home Health Wellness Are you too much of a Health Junkie?

Are you too much of a Health Junkie?

wellness

Have your attempts at eating well turned into an eating hell?  With the new focus on health and nutrition and health stores popping up on every second corner, books on nutrition appearing in record numbers and an ever-increasing plethora of ways to eat be it veganism, fruitariarism or another it’s hardly surprising to find there’s a new eating disorder making itself known.

Have your attempts at eating well turned into an eating hell?  With the new focus on health and nutrition and health stores popping up on every second corner, books on nutrition appearing in record numbers and an ever-increasing plethora of ways to eat be it veganism, fruitariarism or another it’s hardly surprising to find there’s a new eating disorder making itself known.

Whilst it is not yet to be found in any diagnostic manual, Dr. Steve Bratman coined it Orthorexia in 1997 meaning ‘righteous appetite.’   These are people who are focussed, but obsessively so on healthy eating. They inspect food labels and read up on nutrition and the health of what they eat takes up inordinate amounts of time.  Often their social circle shrinks as their healthy eating becomes progressively narrower in their attempt to eat ever healthier.   Friends often start to avoid them because they’re tired of hearing about food,  fasting and the health of food as well as the moralising and lecturing that sometimes accompanies it.  They can’t go out with the same gay abandon they once used to because they aren’t able to control the quality of the food they order.  Organics are in and pesticides, fats, sugars and processed foods are out.  So is healthy eating bad now?  Is it bad to not want to put pesticides and other unhealthy elements into your body?  Of course not, but there is a line where even ‘healthy’ eating becomes ‘unhealthy.’  There’s a line between wanting to eat healthily and being obsessed.

For some it starts as innocent food therapy e.g. no longer having dairy products because of a postnasal drip and then when that works, it may progress to cutting out other foodstuffs.  For others it may start for spiritual reasons and a steady slide leads to progressively more foods being struck off the list as they strive for purity.  It can even take on a type of kitchen spirituality.  For many health professionals it can be confusing:  they may be presented with a gaunt person with serious food issues, yet they’ll insist they are not striving for thinness – how they look isn’t the be-all and end-all to them.  For the Orthorexic it can be frustrating:   why does this health professional think they are anorexic, they aren’t worried about calories, or about how much they weigh, all they want is to be healthy.  They don’t avoid food because it’s fattening, they avoid it because it’s too fatty!  They feel misunderstood, they’re on a mission to make the world a healthier place.

Sadly though the physical affects of both orthorexia and anorexia look the same – it’s only the individuals motivation for the extreme thinness that differs. Both groups often start their slippery slide and explain it as their attempt to become more healthy.  At it’s most extreme both can die from starvation.  Both orthorexics and anorexics develop fine black body hair, complain constantly of not being able to keep warm, become more and more isolated as their food rules become more stringent and for women, their menstrual cycle ceases.   Both groups feel self-righteous and better than other people who in their view are weak-willed.  Both groups maintain and iron-clad willpower only to break down (usually in secret) and binge on all the very foods they would normally not be caught dead eating followed by enormous guilt and self-disgust.

Are you in danger of being an orthorexic?  Go to www.mindoverfatter.co.za and answer the questionnaire to find out. You can also subscribe to our new free online support group as well as our free e.newsletter.

Cari Corbet-Owen (M.A. Clin Psych.)    www.mindoverfatter.co.za

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