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About A Million Ways To Eat Healthy

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In a world in which the media constantly talks, how to lose weight and the latest super food, it’s difficult to turn off the “healthy eating” filter in one’s mind. To add to the problem, we have the continuously changing and conflicting research about nutrition, ensuring a lot of us spend a considerable amount of time consciously or not, figuring out what we should eat. With the current environment, it is not surprising that a new eating disorder is lurking in the shadows. Orthorexia Nervosa is an (unofficial) eating disorder related to the obsession with eating healthy foods. The oxford dictionary defines it as “A medical condition in which the sufferer systematically avoids specific foods that they believe to be harmful.”

This term was coined by a physician Steven Bratman in 1997. It is a combination of the world “Ortho” meaning correct or right in Greek and anorexia. Though it is not currently recognized by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, it is a growing problem. There a quite a few gray areas about it which I would like to go over in this paper. The onset of Orthorexia Nervosa could be for many reasons but the most likely ones are to be for a desire for complete control over one’s future, the illusion of safety, a search for spirituality in the kitchen, the desire to improve one’s health, to overcome other eating and mental disorders as well as being promoted by the media. Once someone develops it, they spend more and more time researching, consuming and preparing healthy foods, cutting out various foods and food groups – to the point where it can cause social isolation or malnutrition.

It is an important to diagnose Orthorexia because it can be a “starter drug” for severe eating disorders like anorexia or bulimia. At the same time it can also be a crutch on which those who suffer from these severe disorders at the time of recovery. Those that have it can also find themselves feeling superior over others who do not eat according to their made up healthy food standards, and also feeling severe guilt for straying from the diet they have prescribed to themselves. The problem with Orthorexia becoming a recognised disorder is that many things about it are variable and not well defined. The there are generic criteria for Orthorexia, but in my opinion some are more important than others. There are two tests used to check for Orthorexia: the BOT and ORTO-15.

Both of these tests are flawed and researchers are yet to come to a conclusion on the scoring, cut off score and if these tests are really going to give us accurate results. I found a study which looked at Orthorexia in Female Dieticians. 500 dieticians were given the test but only 283 responded. The results were fascinating. 52.5% showed no signs of orthorexia, 34.9% shows some signs of orthorexia and 12.8% exhibited signs that they were highly orthorexia. These findings suggested that some women may choose to study dietetics due to underlying eating disorders and look to Orthorexic behaviour to help them cope with it. The second suggestion was that a daily confrontation with healthy foods and nutrition studies could heighten the possibility of forming an eating disorder.

With the number of health blogs, books, news articles, pod casts and celebrities endorsing messages that can fuel orthoretic behaviour, more and more people are being exposed to this risk. As Orthorexia is not officially recognized as a disorder by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, it is not possible to know how many people are suffering from it. I found and summarized a few studies that looked at Orthoretic behaviour in various groups and I was surprised to see such high numbers for people with Orthoretic Tendencies.

These test results also highlight the fact that these numbers may be highly inflated due to a larger cutoff and that the tests may need to be assessed to help get the right answers. After all this research, I am not sure if Orthorexia should be considered a disorder. We live in a world today where there are already so many diseases and disorders, and I believe that those that are highly affected by Orthorexia may have deeper underlying issues that need to be worked on. Having said that, it is important that people are aware that even something like eating healthy can go too far and can have negative effects.

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