Orthorexia is a disorder that has not been as prominently discussed as anorexia and bulimia, for example, as it is more recent. Orthorexia can be described as an obsession for a healthy and clean diet. Individuals with orthorexia are often obsessed by a particular diet and the quality of their food, they make a great effort in preparing meals and often form specific patterns of an eating behaviour. Unlike people with anorexia or bulimia, individuals with orthorexia are not only aiming to become thinner and lose weight, although this may certainly be the case, but the goal is often to try to maximise physical health and well-being, but it goes to extremes.
How does orthorexia manifest itself?
Individuals with orthorexia focus on a healthy and clean diet, so much so that it goes to extremes. They avoid food they consider to be unhealthy e.g. food containing fat, sugar, preservatives or artificial flavourings. Some seek information on various types of food and their origin e.g. whether vegetables have been exposed to pesticides or whether dairy products come from cows that have been fed with feed mixed with hormones. They also examine the packaging of the product e.g. whether the food can possibly contain plastic particles and whether the food packaging provides sufficient detailed information so that the quality of a particular ingredient can be assessed. This obsession with the quality of food is not due to religious reasons, environmental reasons or animal welfare. Individuals with orthorexia can spend a tremendous amount of time sorting food, weighing food, recording what food they have eaten during the day and planning their next meals. There is great fear that physical and mental health will deteriorate if they eat unhealthy foods or a follow a diet that is not clean.
Individuals with orthorexia often avoid certain types of foods. It can lead to nutritional and/or vitamin deficiencies. If they lose track and eat food that they consider unhealthy or not clean, they become ashamed, start even stricter eating habits, or start fasting. Individuals with orthorexia are at risk of social isolation as many believe that they can only maintain their eating habits in private, and in that way they will not be externally influenced and thus ensure that they have complete control.