orthorexia: what exactly is it and does it exist?

So the other day, I posted about my journey to health and I mentioned orthorexia and talking about it in another post. Well now is the time for that post!

Okay first off, what is orthorexia? Orthorexia is when you have an unhealthy obsession with being healthy. What’s wrong with being healthy though? There’s a difference between being healthy and being obsessed with it.

Being healthy means eating fruits, veggies, and whole grains but being able to go out with friends and eat whatever comes up. Then you don’t obsess over it the next day. “Okay so I ate that pizza last night. I need to exercise longer today and eat nothing but salad.” That’s not healthy. Healthy is waking up the next day like any other day. Waking up, not worrying about the previous night.

So if that’s healthy, what is an obsession with healthy? Like I said, it’s waking up the next day obsessing about what you ate. When it comes to going out with friends, you freak out about what there is going to be to eat. More times than not, you won’t even eat that food. It’s a type of restriction. Whether you have anxiety about how the food is prepared or whether or not the food is organic, there is an obsession about what is going into your body. Looking at the back of a cereal box is normal. But analyzing it for a long time, scrutinizing the ingredients used is not. Like I said, it’s an obsession. You slowly begin to restrict and cut out foods until there is almost nothing “safe” to eat. 

As of now, orthorexia is not recognized as an ED. But it is one. Trust me. It is. After dealing with it, I know how much it sucks to freak out about where the food is coming food. (And yes. I would freak out. Bad.) What exactly did I obsess over? Well…

-I hated white potatoes. If I were to eat a potato, it HAD to be a sweet potato because there are more health benefits to it.

-White rice was also a no-no. Brown rice was way better in my eyes because of the higher nutrition content.

-Salad dressing at restaurants. The high fat content in the dressings scared me. Plus, some of them could have had high fructose corn syrup or hydrogenated oils.

Not gonna lie, it was hard for me to make that list. I know, it’s very short. But that’s because I realized that I still struggle with a few things…

-White flour. Unless it is organic, unbleached white flour, I won’t eat it. But so many restaurants these days have whole wheat breads.

-Unorganic/unnatural yogurt. The high fructose corn syrup scares me.

-Unorganic ketchup. Once again, the high fructose corn syrup.

-Certain frozen yogurts. Because of the high fructose corn syrup. See a trend?

-Unorganic chicken. Right now, I don’t eat chicken unless it is organic. It’s better then it used to be! Before, I wouldn’t even eat chicken.

-Unorganic spinach. I’m scared of salmonella.

-Unorganic/unnatural peanut butter. No hydrogenated oils for me.

So the list of struggles is longer than past obsessions so I’m sure you’re thinking, “This girl is still messed up.” Yeah. I still am. There’s no denying that. But going out to a restaurant is 100x easier than it used to be. Ask my family and friends and they would all agree.

Also, if you were to look at my struggle list, I’m sure it would look like a normal, healthy lifestyle. Sure, it’s healthy. But it’s not healthy when it’s obsessive. That, my friends, is orthorexia. Those foods don’t necessarily hold me back because so many restaurants have different options. So I am not held back by my past obsessions. Now, I consider myself to be healthy with orthorexia creeping in every once in awhile.

All righty. So should orthorexia be considered an ED? HECK YES! Even though it may not seem like there is a problem with being healthy, there is when it becomes over the top. It’s an obsession. It’s something that eats you up inside. It’s real, and it sucks.

For more information on orthorexia, check out these links:

Huffington Post – Orthorexia: Too Much of a Healthy Thing?

ABC – Orthorexia: Obsessing Over Health Food  

Rachel Ray Show – One Woman’s Triumph Over Orthorexia 

What are your thoughts? Does orthorexia exist?
Have you ever dealt with orthorexia?

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21 thoughts on “orthorexia: what exactly is it and does it exist?

  1. I think sometimes there can be an OCD-type aspect to it as well – the obsessive fear of eating foods when you don’t know where they came from or how they were made. That definitely played into my anorexia, although my focus was definitely more centered on calorie-counting and weight loss than on eating “perfectly.” So I think sometimes orthorexia is just one facet of anorexia, but in some cases it’s pretty different.

    Great post!

  2. this is so great and informative Haley! i wish more people would bring orthorexia to attention, it’s a major disorder, and just so sad too. I think i struggled a bit with orthorexia for awhile when i started to recover since I wanted to fuel my body only with good things, but now i realize that wiggle room and imperfection makes like awesome. 😀
    Hope you have a great week my friend!

  3. I completely agree with you! Orthorexia should most definitely be classified as an eating disorder! It is just as dangerous and detrimental as the other forms of ED’s! I see so many people (especially in the blog world) suffering with orthorexic behaviors and it is so clear how harmful it can be. Great post! It is so good that you are shedding light on this subject.

  4. This is really interesting. I’ve read about orthorexia before, but I’m not really sure where I stand on the issue of whether or not it should be considered an ED. To me, an ED suggests something that could potentially do serious damage to your body, and I question whether orthorexia is capable of doing the kind of harm that bulimia or anorexia can do. It seems to me like you would have to be so far gone on the orthorexia scale to have it prove to be fatal, because you’re still getting nutrients if you’re orthorexic, whereas you miss out on much of the nutritional value of food if you’re anorexic or bulimic. I can see where it would be a problem if would hinder your social life to the point where you are incapable of going out to eat for fear of eating something not on your “safe list,” but I still don’t see that as enough to qualify it as an ED.

    Like I kind of just said, I can see how orthorexia *could* get to be a problem, but by and large the principles that feed into orthorexia seem like a pretty good way to live your life. Given the choice between an all-natural and overly processed product, I will always go with the all-natural product. The same is true for whole grains vs. refined grains (and sometimes organic vs. inorganic, but the price difference tends to be significant enough that I won’t always go with the organic option). I really, truly don’t see how eating real food in place of food that has been stripped of most of its nutritional value or so filled with chemicals that it could never possibly occur in nature is a bad thing. Obviously if you’re beating yourself up for days on end because you ate one Twinkie, that’s not a healthy mindset…you have to be able to allow yourself to forgive yourself and move on with your life. I mean, I’m rarely going to turn down a cookie, but I’d much rather eat a cookie that was made from scratch with butter and eggs and other real foods than something made from a magical chemical concoction on an assembly line, you know? I don’t know…I guess I need to give some more thought to the whole thing before I know exactly where I stand, but that’s how I feel about it right now.

  5. I’ve definitely dealt with stuff like this. To the point where I would get really anxious if I realized I overate or didn’t know the nutrition facts of what I was putting into my mouth. Like you said, I might not be COMPLETELY over it, but the fact that I am 95 % better than I used to be is huge! And it’s an accomplishment. So I think that nobody is perfect and as long as your making progress that’s great!!!

  6. I probably have some form of this. I special order everything at a restaurant so it’s just right. And while I don’t limit myself when I go out with friends, I always feel guilty over it the next day if I go overboard. Sweets is a super big weakness of mine. So maybe I’m not obsessed with being healthy, but TRYING to be healthy. One day I want to be one of those people that can maintain my weight without having to write down all my food in a journal.

  7. I can see where this obsession could be considered “unhealthy.” I still refuse to purchase white rice, white flour, conventional produce that is on the dirty dozen list and so on..I won’t refuse to eat these items if I am out at a restaurant, but I do choose for myself to stick with certain food products because I believe they are better.

    Fortunately I can eat pizza made white white flour and not wake up guilty (unless I ate the whole thing..which hasn’t happened before) but I will go out of my way to buy whole wheat crust if I am making it myself.

  8. I definitely still struggle with a lot of the foods you have on your list and while I do think eating healthy is great, it’s not so healthy when it goes to the extremes and it becomes almost impossible to enjoy what you’re eating because you’re constantly analyzing it. Orthorexia is definitely a part of my ED though and I want to work on it!

  9. Thank for bringing attention to this! I totally agree that orthorexia should be an ED. And I think it often comes alongside other EDs/disordered eating too. I’m pretty sure some of my past behaviours were definitely orthorexic. Anytime obsessions start controlling your behaviour, it’s not healthy and it deserves attention!

  10. i was just thinking about this lastnight! i was saying it would be SO hard for me to go to a restaurant and just eat anything because i would be so afraid of how unhealthy it was and what it could do wrong to me! especially now, since im recovering from being sick and have stomach problems- it would make me ‘feel’ really sick, too. so im not sure thats entirely orthorexic; i mean last summer i ate some stuff i didn’t consider perfect. and didn’t freak out over it. so i think my issue is just not wanting to screw my health up when im trying so hard to feel better again.

  11. I’ve definitely struggled with orthorexia too!! It’s definitely not right and I would call it disordered thinking whether or not anyone wants to officially classify it that way. It’s so hard to draw the line, too. I mean obviously HFCS is something we should all avoid, so I don’t buy stuff with it, but like…if it were my only option, would I eat it? I’ve finally gotten to the point where I’d answer “yes” to that, but its taken awhile and of course I still have my days! it sounds like you too are in a much better place 🙂

  12. I’ve dealt with orthrexia — I never got to the anorexia part, but I was obsessed. I’m striving to overcome it right now, and I’m doing better. I still get little thoughts when I eat something that has “while crap” (white sugar, white flour, etc), but I’ve gotten better. It’s as if my strength became my weakness (if you get what I mean); but now, I know that if I eat healthy MOST of the time, having a treat is nothing to be ashamed of (and it should be enjoyed). I want to be able to go out with my friends and enjoy being with them — not just worrying about when my next meal is or what I’ll have (calculate it, etc., because eating something “unhealthy” was bad). Now, having a little sugar in sweet breads is ok. Eating a little HFCS is ok (not the best thing, but it’s ok). Having a little white flour won’t kill me. Balance is what I’ve been striving for, and I think I’ve almost reached it. 🙂

  13. I think orthorexia definitely exists and is probably more prevalent than ever now that everyone seems to be on a health kick! I’m sure some very “normal” people have orthorexia – and they just call themselves super healthy, but they’re actually obsessed with it. Also, I know a lot of people who are losing weight exhibit orthorexic behavior too! I’m sure I’ve verged on the edge of orthorexia, but now I’m learning that there really isn’t bad food – just having too much of something can be bad. I’m glad you’ve recovered to the point where you can eat out and are continuing to recover more!

  14. I definitely know what you mean by orthorexia and yes,in my eyes,it’s an eating disorder just like anorexia and bulimia. Sadly,it’s often sort of like a “side effect” of those,too,so that one actually struggles with TWO eating disorders although only one of them is really diagnosed. :/

  15. Nice post! I agree with you, orthorexia is definitly an ED. I can also see another side that might come into the argument…. if someone is very strict about what they eat because they don’t feel certain foods (not getting specific) are real food due to chemicals ect. Therefore they will not eat certain things (I’ve seen this in others) and this could be viewed as orthorexia but I don’t think it should be. Some are very cautious becuase they want their physical health to be top notch and not put “crap” into their bodies. DOes this make sense? Ahhh. But again, good post. Thank you for shedding some light into this topic.

  16. Love this post! I agree with you completely 100%!!! Orthorexia should be considered an ED, and why is it not I do not get! How is it any different than other ED’s? In a lot of cases with orthorexia they are still harming their bodies and mind with the obsession, many not getting enough calories or nutrients needed.
    Sounds like you are making a lot of progress though, good for you girl!!!

  17. I suffer orthorexia, as well, and it’s the biggest part of my eating disorder(s) that I won’t be able to get over for a long time. It should be considered an ED, though, because it is. Darn doctors. They need to be smarter. There is a really fine line between orthorexia and being careful about one’s health, though. Hmm, this is a toughie.
    Stay awesome and keep up the progress!

  18. Pingback: WIAW goes green! | Health Freak College Girl

  19. I think orthorexia is 100% an eating disorder. I’m struggling with it now. I guess it’s just not something a lot of people know about. Thanks for the post!

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