A condition called orthorexia is a fixation on healthy eating.
Beth Stambaugh Published: September 15, 2020
Australian actor Teresa Palmer recently admitted she’s battled a rare eating disorder called orthorexia. The condition is an extreme preoccupation with eating only healthy foods. So, how can that be bad?
“Even healthy habits can become dangerous if they become obsessive,” said Stefanie Schwartz, PhD, a psychologist with Baptist Behavioral Health. “People with orthorexia believe every single thing they eat must meet their stringent nutritional requirements, and they panic if they get into a situation when that can’t happen.”
Like more common eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia, orthorexia is a condition that’s all-consuming. The condition is an unsafe preoccupation with healthy food. It involves checking ingredients and food labels, cutting out entire food groups and spending hours each day planning meals and thinking about food. Some people become so obsessed, they limit the number of ingredients they allow themselves to eat.
“It’s an incredibly restrictive and rigid way to live,” said Dr. Schwartz, who counsels patients with eating disorders to help improve their unhealthy relationships with food. “Eating disorders stem from an obsessive need to be in control. “But most people with orthorexia don’t seek help because they don’t see it as a problem. They believe they’re being healthy.”
Common signs you may have an eating disorder like orthorexia include:
- Eating habits that interfere with daily functioning
- Meal planning that occupies a significant portion of your day
- Extreme anxiety when you can’t adhere to the eating regimen
“In addition to psychological issues, orthorexia can have a negative on interpersonal relationships, too,” Dr. Schwartz said. “People with eating disorders will make up excuses to avoid social events involving food, and their strict eating habits can be hard on their families.”
Left untreated, orthorexia can lead to permanent health damage. As it progresses, it can begin to mimic the same dangerous effects anorexia and bulimia can produce, such as problems with brain function, nutritional deficiencies, brittle bones, kidney failure, infertility and heart diseases, just to name a few.
Behavioral therapy can be helpful with obsessive-compulsive disorders like orthorexia, according to Dr. Schwartz. This type of therapy can help change thinking and behavior patterns.
“You purposefully expose the patient to the anxious feeling but don’t allow them to carry out the compulsive behavior. Over time, the person begins to realize that if they ride the feeling out, the anxiety will dissipate,” Dr. Schwartz explained.
Learning to replace the compulsive behaviors with healthy ones, such as journaling, exercising or taking deep breaths, can be effective. Dr. Schwartz also recommends meeting with a nutritionist to gain a better understanding of the importance of eating a well-rounded diet
For actress Teresa Palmer, motherhood made her rethink her eating habits. "I was finally liberated from these judgments that I had surrounding my body, which I realized had existed since I was a teenager," she said.
Baptist Behavioral Health has locations throughout Northeast Florida. If you feel your eating habits are interfering with your daily activities or would like to speak with someone regarding any concerns with your eating habits, make an appointment with Baptist Behavioral Health therapist by calling 904.376.3800.