Health And Wellness

11 Concerning Signs You're Suffering From Orthorexia

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You eat healthily — in fact, most of your day revolves around what you're going to eat. You're proud that you eat clean and share your meals constantly via social media.

But could you be too obsessed with what you're eating and not eating? If so, you may be suffering from orthorexia, also known as orthorexia Nervosa.

What is orthorexia?

The term orthorexia was originally coined by Dr. Steven Bratman in 1997. The word "orthorexia" is derived from anorexia and ortho, meaning straight or right.

Unlike anorexia, which is an eating disorder characterized by self-starvation and excessive weight loss, orthorexia restricts foods that aren't sufficiently clean, healthy, or wholesome.

Essentially, it's an eating disorder where the individual develops an unhealthy obsession with clean or healthy eating.

Between 6 to 90 percent of individuals suffer from the disorder, though it's hard to determine the exact percentage of commonality, due to the disagreement in "diagnostic criteria." 

What causes orthorexia nervosa?

While this may begin as watching what you eat or trying to add more whole foods to your diet, it can soon turn into an obsession, developing into orthorexia.

Research has found that people with obsessive-compulsive tendencies, or those who previously suffered from eating disorders, are at higher risk. Other risks include anxiety, the need for control, having a perfectionist drive, and focusing on good health for a career (think: of athletes, those in the healthcare industry, and even musicians).

What are the signs of orthorexia nervosa? If you notice these signs in yourself or someone you know, seek the help of a trusted professional.

Here are 11 signs you or someone you know is suffering from orthorexia:

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1. You obsess over a healthy diet

You go from one meal to the next, frequently thinking about what you should and shouldn’t eat. Your initial intent is just to eat healthily, but as time goes on you may become obsessed with specific ingredients and healthy eating trends.

Research shows that orthorexia has some overlaps with OCD, with sufferers spending more than 3 hours per day researching, acquiring, and planning their meals.

People with orthorexia are often concerned about the level of processing a food has undergone, whether it has been exposed to pesticides, what additives it contains, and what packaging it comes in. 

2. You judge others for their dietary choices

You feel disgusted or frustrated when you see others eating foods that you deem to be unhealthy. Your research has brought you to a conclusion about what not to eat, so it's upsetting when you see people around you making different food choices.

You may even find yourself restricting the time you spend with others in order to avoid people who don’t follow your rules. Your judgments about their diet make you validated because you feel better than others because of your dietary control.

You may feel compelled to flaunt your eating habits in order to seek further validation.

3. Your diet influences your emotions

Placing so much emphasis on a diet creates a link between food and your mental state. You may begin to connect eating healthy with success and joy.

When you follow your strict rules, you experience superficial happiness. If you slip up or break a rule, you feel upset.

Instead of using your diet to supplement a joyful, fulfilled lifestyle, you’re placing all of your happiness in food, seeking to attain a pure life through perceived “clean” eating. Allowing your eating habits to dictate your mood can have seriously damaging effects on your health and mental well-being. 

4. You eliminate certain foods or entire food groups from your diet

Believing certain ingredients or food groups to be unclean or unworthy of eating, you cut them out of your diet completely.

Your fixation on food is solely related to a perceived need to optimize your health, rather than religious beliefs or concerns for sustainable agriculture, environmental protection, or animal welfare.

Toxic diet culture has made you fearful about certain ingredients, so you choose to avoid them entirely. You may find yourself frequently checking nutritional labels to feel reassured by your food choices. 

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5. You're anxious about the way food is prepared

Orthorexia causes people to feel anxious when certain food preparations are out of their control. If you go out to eat or have to eat food prepared by someone else, you might find yourself feeling stressed about how it was made.

To you, you’re afraid about the health of the food but, in reality, this is a genuine fear about losing control over your diet. This might mean you avoid restaurants or any other meals where you’re unsure of the origins of the ingredients.

6. You constantly compare yourself to others

In the world of social media, it's easy to compare your lifestyle to millions of others. Social media is a common catalyst for eating disorders and self-image issues.

While orthorexia is not defined by a person's desire to reach a certain body type, social media is often used to idealize certain dietary choices and spread misinformation about healthy eating.

A research study found that the prevalence of orthorexia was significantly higher among social media users. Forty-nine percent of respondents exhibited behaviors associated with orthorexia, compared to just 1 percent in the general population.

7. You experience guilt or shame when you eat certain foods

When you break your rules or give in to temptation, your self-image and self-worth depreciate significantly. You feel bad about yourself for eating things that you have deemed to be unhealthy, and feel as though you’ve let yourself down.

One study states that when a person is suffering from orthorexia, transgressing their rules can cause a period of self-loathing and may result in setting even more stringent guidelines as a punishment. 

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8. Your personal relationships suffer due to your fixation on food

Your anxiety around healthy eating may manifest as social anxiety or a reluctance to be around friends and family.

A study shows how those with unhealthy or obsessive eating disorders are often perceived negatively in social situations. This results in feelings of shame, which can cause those with orthorexia to withdraw and isolate themselves.

So much of our social interactions revolve around food, so you find it difficult to interact with others in an environment that is a source of anxiety for you. 

9. Being around 'unhealthy' food makes you feel sick

Orthorexia is based on a fear of being “unhealthy.” 

In order to legitimize this, you may find yourself making associations between certain foods and disease or illness. This breeds a need to control your diet by all means to avoid sickness.

Eating or even looking at certain foods can make you feel unwell, so you actively avoid these ingredients. This may also be what is pushing you away from others because you feel the need to control their diets out of fear for their well-being. 

10. You experience frequent mood swings

By placing much of your happiness and fulfillment in your diet, you leave yourself vulnerable to extreme emotions.

You may find yourself switching from feelings of euphoria to periods of intense self-loathing depending on what you eat. These mood swings can increase instances of anxiety or depression.

In addition, by cutting out certain foods, your body is not getting enough nourishment to regulate your mood and balance your emotions. 

11. You go to extreme lengths to achieve a 'healthy' diet

Not only have you cut out certain foods or researched healthy eating extensively, but you may also even find yourself obsessing over prepping meals or cleaning your food.

Orthorexia can also cause people to go on unhealthy cleanses or fasts. Intermittent fasting is commonly associated with orthorexia and other eating disorders because it creates a dangerous link between health and cutting down food intake.

The lengths you go to in order to achieve your ideal diet can further distance you from people or make you feel more obsessive about your eating habits.

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If you or someone you know suffers from an eating disorder, contact the Helpline for support, resources, and treatment options, or call 1-800-931-2237.

Alice Kelly is YourTango’s Deputy News and Entertainment Editor. Samantha Maffucci is an editor for YourTango who has written hundreds of articles about relationships, trending news, entertainment, numerology, and astrology.