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When healthy eating goes too far…

Text: Alice Howarth, GLAMOUR UK; Photography: People Images

April 19, 2016

When healthy eating goes too far...Coined by American physician Dr Steven Bratman in 1997, the term orthorexia nervosa describes a preoccupation with avoiding unhealthy foods. But how is orthorexia different to other eating disorders, and how can you recognise and prevent it? Professional nutritionist Chloe Madeley fills us in.

What is the difference between orthorexia and other eating disorders?

Orthorexia sufferers tend to want to control their diet in a way that will make them feel “pure” and “clean”. Orthorexics are maniacally concerned with health whereas anorexics are locked into a pattern of starvation.

What are the main causes of orthorexia?

The causes are still up for debate, but people with OCD tendencies are said to be most susceptible to the illness. Typically, orthorexia starts with someone wanting to enjoy a healthier lifestyle and improve their nutrition but becomes a problem when they begin obsessing and fixating on the purity of their food. For people with OCD, their need to feel in control often contributes to their diet becoming this type of eating disorder.

How can you recognise if someone has orthorexia?

Orthorexia is difficult to diagnose as it’s not officially recognised as a medical condition. However, you can clearly distinguish between people who follow a nutritionally healthy diet, people who suffer from dietary intolerance and those that have the illness. If you’re unsure if you’re a sufferer of orthorexia, see whether you answer ‘yes’ to two or more of the below questions – if yes, seek medical assistance immediately:

  • Does eating what you consider to be pure and healthy foods make you feel in control?
  • Does eating what you consider to be pure and healthy foods make you feel as though you’re better than others?
  • Do you spend a substantial amount of your day thinking about and planning your healthy food intake?
  • Do you feel more confident and better about yourself when your diet is more healthy?

What steps should you take if you think you are suffering from orthorexia?

As with most other mental disorders, the best form of treatment for orthorexia is cognitive behavioural therapy, possibly coupled with medication. Admitting you have a problem is a first step and a professional can help you speak through how your obsession started and the underlying emotional problems that may be causing it. Speak to your doctor about a referral to a professional or visit edsa.co.za or montrosemanor.co.za for support.

You’re not alone! Stars such as Zosia Mamet and Demi Lovato have spoken out about their eating disorders too.

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