Do you get excessively worried by the thought of eating anything unhealthy?

Orthorexia nervosa: When healthy eating becomes an unhealthy obsession

Being health-conscious, and mindful of what you are eating is an amazing habit. However, if this habit turns into an obsession, it can become a problem. Don’t understand what we are talking about? Allow us to tell you about Orthorexia Nervosa, a condition in which one becomes addicted to eating only “healthy” foods.

What is orthorexia nervosa?

First named by Steven Bratman in 1997, orthorexia nervosa (ON) comes from Greek where ortho means correct, and orexi means appetite. It is, however, used to describe an obsession with “healthy” eating with associated restrictive behaviors.

Speaking with, Dr Sneh Kapoor, Associate Professor at Jindal Institute of Behavioral Sciences explained, “Restrictive behavior may include aggressive dieting, eliminating certain food groups entirely, cleanses/fasts etc. Although being aware of and concerned with the nutritional quality of the food you eat isn’t a problem in and of itself, people suffering from orthorexia become so fixated on so-called ‘healthy eating’ that they actually damage their own well-being.

Symptoms of orthorexia nervosa

Below are some symptoms of orthorexia nervosa, as shared by Dr Kapoor:

* Preoccupation and obsessions about “healthy” and “unhealthy” eating
* Excessive restrictive behaviour
* Violation of diet and rules may lead to excessive distress
* Exaggerated emotional distress in relation to food choices perceived as unhealthy
* Weight loss may occur as a result of dietary choices, but this is not the primary goal.

Obsession with healthy eating can also be a disorder Obsession with healthy eating can also be a disorder (Pic source: Freepik)

Some other signs of orthorexia nervosa include:

* Compulsive checking of ingredient lists and nutritional labels
* An increase in concern about the health of ingredients
* Cutting out an increasing number of food groups (all sugar, all carbs, all dairy, all meat, all animal products)
* An inability to eat anything but a narrow group of foods that are deemed ‘healthy’ or ‘pure’
* Unusual interest in the health of what others are eating
* Spending hours per day thinking about what food might be served at upcoming events
* Showing high levels of distress when ‘safe’ or ‘healthy’ foods aren’t available
* Obsessive following of food and ‘healthy lifestyle’ blogs on Twitter and Instagram
* Body image concerns may or may not be present

Who is more likely to develop it?

Orthorexia nervosa is commonly associated with perfectionism and social isolation. There is frequent comorbidity with anxiety disorders as well as other eating disorder. Individuals with a high self focus, poor body imagepoor self-esteem etc are at greater risk,” said Dr Kapoor.

Orthorexia nervosa treatment

“Most people benefit from psychotherapy, particularly CBT involving some form of exposure or behavioral work,” shared Dr Kapoor. A combination of working on the maladaptive thoughts as well as dysfunctional behaviour. Some people may benefit from other varied forms of counseling and support.

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