A Study of Eating Disorders – Orthorexia

As part of the Soul Wisdom Therapy focus on the whole self, we will begin a post series on eating disorders with a little-known (and newly defined) condition known as Orthorexia.

The American Psychiatric Association has not classified Orthorexia as an eating disorder, however many therapists and nutritionists recognize the symptoms in their patients who, in an attempt to maintain healthy eating habits, carry restrictive diets into an unhealthy obsession.

Symptoms include obsessively thinking about food, increasing restriction of what they’ll eat, and self-punishment or blame when the strict eating plan is not followed. Often their self-esteem is completely tied into the “purity” of their diet. Ironically, although the patient may believe that the eating plan is all that prevents them from contracting health conditions, often the severity of the restrictive diet instead creates health conditions.

When orthorexia becomes severe, people limit their diets to so few foods, or to such a small quantity of those foods, that they lose weight and may suffer from malnutrition, or even Anorexia. Severe health complications can ensue.

When the patient’s main focus is on their dietary obsession, not only dodietes their social life suffer, but their overall quality of life does as well.

Soul Wisdom Therapy’s founder, Deborah Cohen, has worked with a variety of eating disorders, and explains that Orthorexia commonly occurs with other known disorders like Bulimia or Anorexia.

As she says in a recent Sacramento Bee article, “One (eating disorder) can become another, and they can be happening at the same time. They share many characteristics – anxiety, the need for control, isolation, low self-worth. The more eating disorders that are involved, the more serious the client’s mental health status can be.”

Treatment can revolve around the underlying emotional conditions that lead to the obsession with what the orthorexic considers to be healthy eating, as well as learning ways in which to be flexible and less restrictive.

If you know of anyone who is extremely careful about the foods they eat and has a very limited diet it is best to not shame the person, and in fact, they may have legitimate reasons for their limited food choices.  But if you know the person very well and you suspect that they are overly obsessed about what they eat, you might suggest they take this quiz.

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