Orthorexia nervosa is a modern day condition born out of the desire to eat healthier. It’s where the obsession of eating all the “right” foods and cutting out the “bad” foods gets out of hand. That doesn’t sound too serious right? Unfortunately, orthorexia can result in grave mental and physical health issues that have experts concerned.
The incidence of condition is growing rapidly as more people choose to ditch food groups in order to attain the perfect healthy lifestyle. It may start with you weeding out the carbohydrates in your diet to lose a dress size or two. Then you may consider removing dairy because you’ve heard it’s inflammatory, and then ditching alcohol because you know it can cause weight gain.
While being conscious of your eating habits, you’ve scoped out many of the popular wellness bloggers and their Instagram feeds. As a result, you feel it’s necessary to ditch grains and gluten altogether, and before long meat gets the flick too.
What started out as a simple weight loss diet of removing carbs, eventually turns into an obsession of eating nothing processed or refined, no animal products, no grains and no gluten. Your diet may have gone from cooked foods, to eventually being only raw and of one food group.
Not only that, you scroll for hours on fitness and diet social media platforms. You become obsessive about going to the gym, and you spend any free moment in the kitchen making everything from scratch and photographing it for others to see.
The poster child for orthorexia
“Wellness expert” Jordan Younger has unwittingly become the poster child for orthorexia, a condition coined by US doctor Steven Bratman in 1996. The 23-year-old ran a popular health blog known as ‘The Blonde Vegan’ where she had hundreds of dedicated followers reading about the benefits of mindfulness, yoga, and her raw vegan diet.
At the time, Younger accredited her strict diet free of animal products and cooked foods to having cured her stomach issues and made her a healthier, happier individual. Her blog featured recipes of smoothies, salads and raw treats, and she even sold detox diet plans to over 40,000 people worldwide.
That all changed mid 2014 when the blogger uploaded a post on her site titled “Why I’m transitioning away from veganism”, a diet that she said almost killed her.
Eating became everything to Younger and before long her hair was thinning, her skin orange, and her period stopped.
“I started living in a bubble of restriction. Entirely vegan, entirely plant-based, entirely gluten-free…”
Orthorexic sufferers may look like a picture of health
Dietitian Tania Ferraretto says the fixation of clean eating is on the rise. “We are seeing an increasing incidence of orthorexia and this seems to be parallel to the increase use of social media” she tells abc.net.au.
“People are getting their information from lots of different sources, and most of these sources are actually very un-credible, and providing potentially dangerous information.”
Professor Peter Gibson, the head of gastroenterology at Alfred Health, agrees telling Dailylife.com.au that he has noticed an increasing number of people adhering to diets that are too restrictive, one that is depleted in important nutrients.
“By the time they come to see us they’re just eating chicken and rice and it’s totally inadequate for their nutritional needs.”
Fettaretto says many of these people fall under the radar, because they appear to be healthy and eating great food. “I mean, when I was orthorexic, everyone thought I was really happy and healthy. Even I thought that for a while” says Younger. The blogger has since rebranded her website ‘The Balanced Blonde’ and now consumes a variety of food groups, including animal products.
People with the condition aren’t limiting their calories so it’s about achieveing an unhealthy weight. They’re limiting the types of food they’ll eat.