Orthorexia: When Clean Eating Goes Too Far

It's Eating Disorders Awareness week and we're taking a look at one of the country's lesser known but increasingly prevalent disorders.

Food and Fitness blogger The Balanced Blonde

Food and fitness blogger The Balanced Blonde, who revealed in 2014 that she was receiving treatment for Orthorexia

On the face of it, American food blogger Jordan Younger AKA The Blonde Vegan was as healthy as they come. She led a strict vegan diet and her fit food recipes, which she posted daily to Instagram, had helped her rack up an impressive 70,000 followers.

But behind closed doors Jordan was suffering from an unhealthy obsession with food. Coming clean to her followers in June 2014 and changing her name to The Balanced Blonde, she confessed to her fans that she had in fact been having treatment for orthorexia, an eating disorder that’s on the rise.

But what exactly is it? Barry Murphy from Bodywhys, The Eating Disorders Association Of Ireland, explains that Orthorexia nervosa or ON is where a “person becomes focused on eating healthy foods, diet purity or the quality of food consumed.” In short, it’s an obsession with eating only clean foods, without room for cheats and balance.

“This can become problematic when it impacts negatively on an individual’s life,” Barry explains. Sufferers may avoid meeting up with friends, eating out and going on holidays in case it hinders their strict diets, while failure to eat the ‘right’ foods may create extreme feelings of guilt, anxiety and shame.

So what signs and symptoms should you look out for if you think you or a loved one have taken clean eating too far? Unfortunately, it can be hard to spot as orthorexia is often hidden under the guise of a healthy diet, but Barry says sufferers will often have “a preoccupation with the composition and origin of their food and have significant diet limitations.

The obsession with my diet took up every waking hour. It was stopping me from leading a normal life.

“These ‘rules’ may become more complex and detailed over time,” he continues “and efforts spent trying to satisfy these rules may increase and a person may avoid social situations where they are unable to follow these food-related rules. An individual may be consumed by the planning, purchase and preparation of food that they consider healthy.”

For Jordan Younger, Orthorexia effected her as such, “The obsession with my diet took up every waking hour. It was stopping me from leading a normal life,” she revealed on her Instagram.

As for treatment, Barry explains that currently ON is not recognised as a formal disorder, and while there are no treatments tailored specifically to treat it, help is still at hand. “One study suggests that an individual needs to learn that health is not solely based on the quality of food and that it is possible to eat without it becoming an obsession,” says Barry. “Another study suggested treatments promoting nutrition education,” while cognitive behavioural therapy, combined with medication is also an option.

The take-home message? If eating clean and living a virtuous lifestyle has become an unhealthy obsession, it’s important you seek help.

If you or someone you know is effected by any of the issues mentioned in this article please contact Bodywhys on 1890 200 444.

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