Orthorexia -- when healthy eating isn't healthy.
Naperville Sun Healthware column:
Orthorexia —When healthy eating isn’t healthy
March 5, 2013
Yes, you can have too much of a good thing — even when that “good thing” is an interest in healthy eating.
Psychiatrist Steven Prinz, medical director of the eating disorders and anxiety programs at Linden Oaks at Edward, reports seeing an increase in cases of orthorexia, a condition in which a focus on healthy eating becomes obsessive. As the obsession progresses, the person places more and more restrictions on what they will eat, requiring food that’s organic, with no fat, artificial ingredients, sweeteners, etc. And, they may spend as much as 90 percent of their waking hours thinking about their food.
“Eventually, some patients with orthorexia will eat only a few select fruits and vegetables,” Dr. Prinz says. “The danger is that they become deficient in protein, iron, B vitamins and other essential nutrients. They lose an unhealthy amount of weight, even though that’s not their intention. They’re more concerned about the quality than the quantity of food.”
In addition to the physical risks, there is an emotional and social cost. Some people with this problem avoid going to restaurants or the homes of other people even for special occasions — if “unpure” food might be served. They become increasingly isolated and depressed.
“For both anorexics and orthorexics, restricting food can contribute to depression by lowering serotonin levels,” Dr. Prinz says. “But it’s hard to know if it’s a cause or effect of the eating problem. An existing biochemical deficiency in serotonin may also predispose someone to an eating disorder.”
Another risk factor for both types of eating problems is being a perfectionist, Type A, self-critical personality.
“For some people, when life seems out of control, they try to control it through eating,” Prinz says. “For people with orthorexia, a feeling of self-worth is tied to eating only pure, ‘healthy’ food and, in some cases, exercising excessively.”
Unlike most other eating disorders, the majority of people suffering from orthorexia are male.
Treatment for orthorexia starts with a visit to the doctor to check for physical problems caused by a lack of key nutrients. Follow-up sessions with a dietitian can help the patient learn the importance of eating foods from all the food groups.
“Sorting out the underlying issues that led to the orthorexia is key to getting well,” according to Prinz, who recommends seeing a psychiatrist or other therapist with expertise in eating disorders.
“We see these patients — who get therapy, and get back on track with nutrition — on their way to recovery,” Prinz says.
For immediate assistance and a free and confidential assessment, call the Linden Oaks 24/7 Help Line at 630-305-5500.
Naperville, Illinois (IL) - Edward Hospital and Health Services