Orthorexia - Orthorexia Nervosa

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Orthorexia - Orthorexia Nervosa
Orthorexia - Orthorexia Nervosa

Video: Orthorexia - Orthorexia Nervosa

Video: Orthorexia - Orthorexia Nervosa
Video: What Is Orthorexia Nervosa? | Eating Disorders 2023, September

"Diseased healthy eaters" (orthorexia)

A balanced and healthy diet is a great need for many people and an important pillar of a conscious lifestyle. In the case of so-called orthorexia nervosa (orthorexia for short), this need goes a few steps further: Because those affected force themselves to eat healthily and are sometimes afraid of becoming ill from unhealthy foods. The phenomenon is characterized by a particularly intensive study of healthy eating. Sometimes strict dietary rules are set. However, there is still disagreement among experts about how the phenomenon orthorexia should be classified medically.


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  • What is orthorexia nervosa?
  • How is orthorexia expressed?
  • What are the differences to eating disorders?
  • What can be the consequences of orthorexia nervosa?
  • What indications are there of orthorectic behavior?
  • Can Orthorexia Be Treated?
  • Whom can I ask?

What is orthorexia nervosa?

Orthorexia nervosa is a sometimes compulsive fixation on the exclusive consumption of healthy food. Those affected define which foods are healthy and unhealthy.

The term "pathological healthy eaters" was first introduced in 1997 by the American doctor Dr. Steven Bratman described. "Orthorexia nervosa" is derived from the Greek and translated means "real appetite". The preoccupation with healthy eating can range to obsession. Some sufferers slip unnoticed into a one-sided diet that can pose a threat to the body. Those affected are often afraid of falling ill from consuming unhealthy foods.

Note According to ICD-10 and DSM-5, orthorexia nervosa is not yet regarded as an independent disease or disorder. "Morbid healthy eating" is currently the subject of scientific research. It is discussed, for example, whether it is “just” an extreme lifestyle trend, a side effect of an eating disorder or obsessive-compulsive disorder, or a separate, definable clinical picture.

How is orthorexia expressed?

Diseased healthy eaters have very strict eating habits. In addition to the fixation on healthy eating and the avoidance of unhealthy foods, this includes a constant (mental) examination of healthy nutrition as well as the establishment of dietary rules and their strict observance. The quality of the food is the decisive selection criterion.

While some of those affected do without individual foods (e.g. household sugar), others delete entire groups of foods. Certain types of preparation or fixed schedules (e.g. stop eating after 6 p.m.) can also shape compulsive behavior. Nutrients, vitamin and mineral content or other vital substances are researched, compared and evaluated with particular care. Foods that do not meet the individually defined health requirements are sometimes assigned to the categories “healthy” and “unhealthy” or even “forbidden” and “permitted” - possibly unconsciously.

Eating something that does not meet their needs creates a feeling of failure, guilt and loss of control. For fear of getting into the situation of having to eat something “unhealthy” (eg a cake) at a party or a meeting, those affected can even withdraw and get into social isolation.

Note Foods cannot be divided into “healthy” and “unhealthy”. Only the composition of the diet as a whole is decisive. One food alone can therefore be neither “healthy” nor “unhealthy”.

What are the differences to eating disorders?

“Diseased healthy eaters” devote themselves less to counting calories, losing weight and their body weight, as is the case with anorexia or bulimia. Rather, the thoughts revolve around the state of health and the consumption of healthy, natural and unchanged food (nutritional-physiological value). Indulgence or former personal preferences, e.g. favorite foods, may fall by the wayside. Eating behavior changes over a longer period of time. Gradually, those affected become more and more inflexible and sometimes obsessively orient themselves towards healthy foods.

Note Anyone who has a high desire to eat consciously and healthily is not necessarily a "pathological healthy eater".

What can be the consequences of orthorexia nervosa?

Since "pathological health eaters" restrict their diet massively in some cases, the choice of food can be one-sided. This means there is a long-term risk of a lack of energy, nutrients and various vitamins and minerals. Malnutrition or malnutrition, weight loss and even underweight can result. In addition to the physical consequences, it can also lead to social isolation and reduced quality of life.

What indications are there of orthorectic behavior?

The appearance of "sick healthy eaters" is possibly characterized by the following characteristics:

  • The thoughts revolve around healthy eating and nutrition.
  • Your own diet is seen as the only correct one (moral superiority).
  • Increasing self-esteem through healthy eating.
  • Feeling of purity and control when all rules are followed.
  • Feelings of failure or guilt when the dietary rules are broken.
  • Missionary (educational) behavior towards family, friends, acquaintances etc.
  • Many foods are taboo because they are rated as "unhealthy".
  • The list of subjectively “forbidden” foods is growing steadily.
  • The imposition of penalties (e.g. fasting days) if dietary rules are not followed.
  • Enjoyment and preferences are increasingly being ignored, only the health aspect counts.
  • Social withdrawal up to isolation, e.g. no meals together, declining invitations.

Can Orthorexia Be Treated?

According to ICD-10 and DSM-5, orthorexia is not an independent disease. Still can be helped. It is important that those affected relearn how to deal with nutrition in a relaxed manner. You can try “forbidden” foods to get used to their taste again. In order not to overwhelm yourself, it may be better to start with only small amounts at the beginning. Since indulgence often takes precedence among compulsive healthy eating, more space should be given to “tasting” and “perceiving”. An attempt should be made to perceive flavors consciously and possibly also to describe them: What do I taste? Does it taste good? How do I feel about it?

Note As part of a balanced diet, individual needs such as enjoyment and preferences should not be neglected. Enjoyment and joy should definitely "snack".

Whom can I ask?

If you or someone in your family or friends has problems with eating habits, you can get in touch with the following contact persons:

  • Dietician
  • Clinical psychologist
  • Psychotherapist

A prerequisite for any treatment success is that those affected admit their disturbed relationship to food. Those affected can be helped, for example, in talk therapy. Together with the therapist, it is worked out whether any psychological complaints are causally involved. A new approach to nutrition can be learned in practical units, for example by cooking and eating together. Ultimately, the joy of eating should be awakened again.