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Understanding Orthorexia

Understanding Anorexia

Orthorexia is characterised by an obsession with ‘healthy’ eating. Those with Orthorexia often develop or subscribe to a set of strict food rules, determined by their version of ‘healthy’, which then direct and control their eating habits. Orthorexia can therefore present in various ways, as one person’s perception of ‘healthy’ may differ from another’s.

Those experiencing orthorexia will often fixate on these rules and as a result, experience great discomfort when presented with situations which challenge their version of ‘healthy’ eating. For example, if someone else is in control of preparing their food, and they aren’t able to oversee and monitor all aspects of the cooking process, this may cause someone with Orthorexia great distress, discomfort, and fear. As a response, they may reject this food and opt for a ‘safer’ alternative which they can ensure aligns with their rules.

As we live in a society which idealises healthy eating and good nutrition, Orthorexia can be hard to identify and address. It also isn’t specifically classified in the DSM-5 (a guide used by clinicians to help identify and diagnose mental health conditions) and is instead captured within the Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID) classification, meaning it can often go undetected. With statistics suggesting that Orthorexia is becoming ever more prevalent, it is imperative that we are all aware of the key characteristics, and in doing so, understand that it is highly individually dependent.  

If you suspect that you or someone close to you is experiencing Orthorexia, the first thing to do is to contact your GP and ask for a referral to an Eating Disorder Specialist. 

Alongside this, it is imperative that you talk, reach out for help, and start to develop a supportive network of people around you or the individual. This could be a collection of friends, family members, clinicians, and therapists, all of which will provide a different level of support and assistance in the process of dismantling the individual’s unhealthy food rules. Not all of these people necessarily need to understand what Orthorexia is or what the person is experiencing, but they must approach the situation with kindness, compassion, and care, with the intension to nurture a safe space for the individual to talk openly and recover.

We highlighted Orthorexia in our May 2024 newsletter if you would like to read more.