Dedicated to eating healthy? Great. Obsessed with eating healthy to the point that’s impacting your general health and mental well-being? You actually might be in eating disorder territory.
While it might not be officially classified as a technical disorder in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or DSM—psychologists and nutritionists are reporting seeing an uptick in an unhealthy obsession with only ingesting healthy food, a condition called orthorexia.
Unlike anorexia which centers around how much you eat, orthorexia is about what you eat. Health experts say food trends like gluten-free, and a focus on knowing where food is from, has only served to push people with a tendency towards restrictive eating into alarming patterns.
The term orthorexia is nothing new—Dr. Steven Bratman coined the term in 1997—but it first made news last summer when vegan food blogger Jordan Younger shared that she had been suffering from it. By being hyper-restrictive with what she ate, Younger attested that her period had stopped and she was even suffering from panic attacks in the grocery store.
“I had known in the back of my mind for a while that I had developed many fears surrounding food, and it was clear to me that I was becoming more and more limited in what I was comfortable eating,” she told Fast Company.
Younger found herself getting more and more compulsive with the disorder, egged on by the fact that she was posting everything she was eating onto Instagram, and constantly comparing herself to other food bloggers.
Obviously, a dedication to healthy eating is beneficial, but dramatically limiting the nutrients you consume can have dangerous physical consequences including kidney malfunction.
Like those who suffer from anorexia, people with orthorexia face a number of social issues including avoiding group dinners and, like Younger, major anxiety from everyday situations like food shopping.
As for how to treat orthorexia, experts cognitive therapy which attempts to manage the patient’s feelings so they can change their behavior.