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You may have heard of bulimia, anorexia, and binge eating. Most of us have and know how serious these eating disorders are.
But have you heard of orthorexia nervosa?
Orthorexia is an eating disorder that causes an individual to become obsessed with eating "healthy" to such an extreme degree that they often miss out important nutrients from their diet in the mistaken belief that it is bad for their health.
And while this disorder is still not formally recognized in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, it is recognized by most physicians and psychologists as an eating disorder as it shows all the characteristics of one.
So, here's what happens when healthy eating becomes an obsession.
The Insidious Nature Of Orthorexia
Orthorexia creeps up on you slowly.
In the beginning, you start with the intention to lose weight. This leads you to modify your diet and add exercise routines to your day. And then the problems begin once the pounds start to shed off.
The dopamine rush triggered by your accomplishment and the positive compliments coming your way quickly create a feedback loop inside your mind where you obsessively count calories, check ingredients, and monitor what goes into your mouth because you don't want these positive compliments and feelings to go away.
Before long you find yourself unable to go to restaurants, since you cannot control the food that comes out of the kitchen, refuse to eat even simple things like a piece of chocolate cake or cookie, and start exercising harder to get rid of the "calories" you allow inside your body.
Every pinch of salt is measured; every bite of muesli counted.
And the obsessive cycle continues because people around you do not realize what's going on. All they see is someone with an iron will who has successfully shed a lot of weight by eating healthy. In fact, they might compliment you for your dedication to eating healthy, all the while not knowing that their simple compliment actually was making the situation worse.
How To Identify An Orthorexic Individual
Now that you know what orthorexia looks like, how do you judge if your health-freak friend is actually suffering from orthorexia?
The following tips will help you:-
1. They obsessively count calories and ingredients
An orthorexic individual does not look at a salad and say, "Ah! Healthy lettuce and tomatoes!" Instead, they obsessively count how many pieces of lettuce, cucumber, tomatoes, and chicken are in it, how many calories that would amount to, how much condiment was added to it, and how will all of this affect their weight bottom line.
2. Logic does not work on them
An orthorexic individual cannot turn off their orthorexia just as much as a depressed person cannot switch off being depressed. It's not in their control.
So, if your skinny friend refuses to eat even a teaspoon of your birthday cake, even after you tell her that a teaspoon won't make them fat, she probably is an orthorexic.
In this case, don't try to use logic. Instead, meet your friend alone at another time and try to let them know that you feel they might be suffering from an eating disorder.
3. They get anxious when you playfully tell them they cannot eat something as it is not healthy enough
Orthorexia is not always visible. But what makes it worse is playful digs at how they obviously cannot eat a doughnut since they always eat so healthy.
To an orthorexic person who lives for positive validation in the form of being called a "healthy eater", such a dig will worsen their condition and make them strive to eat even "healthier"!
What To Do If You Have Orthorexia?
Like any eating disorder, orthorexia requires the guidance of a doctor, preferably a psychiatrist or psychologist, to understand the root of this problem and then get rid of it.
And positive support from family and friends can help tremendously too.
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