People all over the world will be forming goals for the New Year through the rest of December, seeking to improve themselves once the clock strikes 2017. Some of the most popular resolutions are health-oriented, including going to the gym more often and eating better, which can spell trouble for people struggling to overcome eating disorders or those who are at risk of developing one.
Someone doesn’t have to completely starve themselves or vomit up every meal in order to have a serious eating problem. A condition called orthorexia, while not officially recognized as an eating disorder or a different category of mental illness, is marked by a fixation on healthy eating. The American Psychiatric Association describes it as a “dietary pattern in which an individual restricts intake to include only ‘healthy’ foods, such as vegetables or organic foods, but in doing so develops significant problems, such as an obsession with food and severe weight loss.” Although it can start as a simple commitment to a better lifestyle, the behaviour spirals out of control. And it is developing in more and more people because of popular ideas about healthy eating.
“Veganism and clean eating have seen a surge in popularity in recent years,” the APA says. “The decisions to eat food that is closest to its natural state and/or not to eat animal products are not inherently problematic choices or cause for alarm. … It is when the need to eat ‘good’ foods becomes ‘extreme, obsessive, psychologically limiting and sometimes physically dangerous’ that it is disruptive to an otherwise healthy life.”
Orthorexia, however, is not well understood because it has only recently come into public consciousness and has symptoms resembling anorexia and a condition called avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder. Additionally, eating disorders often occur in people who already have anxiety disorders like obsessive compulsive disorder. And while some professionals and patients want to see orthorexia classified as an eating disorder, the idea is controversial. For example, Chicago-based clinical psychologist Angelique A. Sallas told the New York Times that it is not distinct enough from anorexia and bulimia to have its own diagnostic category: “It’s an obsessive-compulsive problem. The object of the obsession is less relevant than the fact that they are engaging in obsessive behaviour.”
Whether it is a separate and distinct mental illness or just an unhealthy lifestyle, the risks are everywhere. The Guardian notes that “most of us probably know at least one person who, in an effort to be healthy, has gone on fad diets, cut out entire food groups or subsisted on juice for days at a time.” There’s also the fact that gluten-free and dairy-free products have taken off in recent years, even though gluten and dairy intolerance is nowhere near as prevalent. “In our current food-obsessed culture, healthy eating can take on a quality similar to religious fervour, in which certain foods are sinful and eating in a certain rigid way is godly and rewarded.” And when people restrict their diets more and more, they can slide into an unhealthy way of eating and living.
Nutritional therapist Dr Karin Kratina, an eating disorder expert, told Vice, “The problem is that we have moralized eating, weight, food, and exercise. Food has become presented — more and more — as the answer.”
Source: Medical Daily