Orthorexia: The New Eating Disorder


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Joyful woman with fresh produce

Ashley Schmidt, Staff Reporter

“Five Ways to Eat Healthier”.

“How to Motivate Yourself to Exercise Every Day for a Healthy Body”.

“Cut One Food Group to Get Fit”.

Our society is constantly slammed with ads for a new cleanse or health craze. Instead of focusing on just being skinny, now the new craze is to be fit. People Instagram their healthy meals full of vegetables and fruit. With this new culture comes a new problem with eating that has yet to be classified as its own eating disorder: orthorexia nervosa.

Orthorexia is, according to the National Eating Disorders Association, an “obsession with proper or ‘healthful’ eating.” Instead of focusing on weight and counting calories, someone with orthorexia is concerned about being fit and the purity or “healthiness” of the food. They will read the ingredients label of all of their food, and often only eat foods that are not processed. Many cut out entire food groups that are deemed as “unhealthy.” The disorder has yet to be classified because it is unclear if it is a stand-alone disorder, as it often occurs with other eating disorders or Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). The lack of awareness hurts those who have this disorder. I have orthorexia, and it took years before I finally got the help I needed to get my eating back on track.

My battle with orthorexia began in middle school, when I read something about vegetarians being healthier and living longer, so I decided to become vegetarian. That alone isn’t an issue, but my brain started thinking about all of the others things I ate that weren’t good for my health. In health class we watched a video about how sugar is a drug and more addictive than cocaine, and sugar became scary for me. I slowly, and then all at once, cut any added sugar (any sugar not naturally occurring, such as in fruit, was completely out).

In addition, I started having stomach pain from anxiety, made worse by the elevated anxiety I’d have when eating. When I went to a doctor it was suggested that I try cutting out gluten to see if I have a sensitivity, so I did. My brain then associated gluten with being “bad”, so cutting it out lowered my stress, and I felt better. I then permanently cut out gluten and my stomach issues were reduced greatly. However, since my anxiety wasn’t addressed just by changing my diet, it returned and I was in pain once again.

Dairy was the next to go in the same fashion, and the cycle repeated. I then started cutting out food without first going to a doctor and I developed strange eating rituals. I wouldn’t eat after 8 PM, I had to wait three hours in between eating, over the summer I could only eat at times where the hour was a multiple of three, at least one meal had to be a smoothie, and the list went on.

At its worse, the only foods I would eat were most fruits, most vegetables, oats, rice, maple syrup (in tiny amounts), potatoes, and protein smoothies. I was in the process of cutting out potatoes when I was sent to see a dietician who specializes in eating disorders. At the time I was eating around 500 calories a day because there were so few foods I was willing to eat. However, because I wasn’t concerned with my weight or the quantity I was eating, I wasn’t diagnosed with an eating disorder.

It wasn’t until a few years later that I finally began to eat normally. I only saw the dietician a few times, and once I ate more calories it was deemed that I was okay not to see her anymore, even though I still had extreme fear of certain foods. Due to orthorexia not being a classified eating disorder, I never got the help I needed to recover quickly and learn how to think about food correctly. I still deal with the thoughts of foods being unhealthy and I have to fight to not slide back to restricting types of foods.

While eating natural and nutritious food is a good thing, there is a point where it is taken too far. Dessert is a good thing in moderation. You should be able to celebrate on occasion by eating food with no nutritious value just because it tastes good. Orthorexia is a real disorder that deserves a classification, even just as a subtype. With the new focus on clean eating, we need to be aware of the disorder that is just as debilitating as anorexia or bulimia.