Being picky about what you eat and not eating unhealthy foods is excellent. To give up fast food, replace carbohydrate garnish with vegetable salad and animal fats for vegetable oils, many try to live by these rules and succeed. However, some go further, turning a healthy habit into an obsession. “A person may have an unhealthy fixation on something originally healthy,” writes Dr Steven Bratman, who coined the term orthorexia. “Think about exercise addiction or workaholism.”
The line between a healthy habit and an obsession is blurred, and a person rarely notices that he has crossed this line, but for those around him, the difference is more prominent. You may have observed such people in your environment: they are in a state of constant anxiety about what they ate, eat or intend to eat. Orthorexics’ thoughts revolve around food, and more importantly, their whole life revolves around it.
Such people spend their free time looking for healthy organic food, preparing it correctly and planning the next lunches and dinners. They refused invitations to visit – the wrong food will be served there. They cannot eat in most restaurants because they are not sure that they are prepared according to strict health guidelines. They cannot travel. By focusing on healthy eating and only on it, they greatly impoverish their lives.
WHICH FOOD IS HEALTHY?
Orthorexia is not recognized as a disease: there is no evidence that such eating behaviour is harmful to health. However, the number of people who have an unhealthy fixation on a healthy diet is estimated by researchers at 6.9% of the total number of those surveyed. There is a possibility that their number is growing. “I see more orthorexics than a few years ago,” says Ursula Philpot, a British Dietetic Association member.
If people limit themselves to the amount of food they eat with other eating disorders, then orthorexics may have an average or even overweight. They are concerned solely with the quality of their food and are continually introducing new dietary restrictions based on their idea of healthy food. ”
Here lies the danger: if the disorder progresses, a person can deplete his diet so thoroughly that he stops getting the necessary nutrients from food. The problem is aggravated by articles in magazines and the Internet, entries on forums, which describe the various horrors awaiting consumers of packaged juices or cocoa. Suppose a person does not have a sufficiently developed critical attitude to information. In that case, such emotional shouts can become a reason to exclude product after product from the diet until, for example, only stewed farm cabbage is left there.
Some studies 2 show that orthorexics have lower education levels on average compared to people who are merely trying to eat healthily, which means that their perceptions of wholesome food can be somewhat chaotic.
VOLUNTARY ISOLATION ORTHOREXICS
Education is only part of the problem, which, as with most eating disorders, goes deeper. “Considering the issues of problem food intake, it is essential to take into account that the symptoms refer us not so much to the problem of food consumption, but the problem of a person’s relationship with the world. They indicate a person’s ability to accept something from the world or total distrust, a desire to keep his world in isolation. Refusal to eat means refusal to accept something in the world,” says psychoanalytic therapist Anatoly Dobin.
Orthorexics defines himself through what he eats, and he establishes other people in this way. To those who, in his opinion, eat incorrectly, a person with such a fixation treats with poorly concealed arrogance and tries to distance himself from the “unworthy society.” Since the requirements can be stringent: brown rice without salt, steamed broccoli, three times filtered water – almost the entire society turns out to be unworthy. Man condemns himself to isolation in a cocoon of false self-righteousness. No one will ever be able to offend him, reject him: he refused everything that could harm him and everyone who could hurt him by denying recognition.
HOW TO SOLVE A PROBLEM
That is why working with patients with orthorexia Nervosa is so tricky – they, like anorexics, refuse to acknowledge the problem. “Fighting with the patient about changing his eating behaviour is pointless,” says Anatoly Dobin. – Often, this behaviour is his only way to declare a living child within himself, in need of care, acceptance and autonomy. It is much more beneficial to express an understanding of mental pain and suffering, which take on this form of expression and sometimes put it on the brink of life and death. Also, the desire to “take away” what is felt to be the “main” achievement and manifestation of autonomy cannot cause negative feelings and opposition. ”
Fortunately, recognizing the problem practically solves it. Stephen Bratman, who went through a period of fixation on healthy food before becoming a researcher of this phenomenon, was helped by common sense: he once realized that guidelines for good nutrition contradict each other: sweet is not, but honey is good; eggs are an excellent source of protein, any animal protein is a poison, and so on. The realization that he was following a controversial philosophy put Dr Bratman on the road to recovery.
The prospects for resolving the emotional problems associated with eating disorders are brightest. “A recovered orthorexia will continue to eat healthily,” writes Karin Kratina, Nutrition Therapy Associates, Florida, an eating disorders specialist, “but will begin to understand healthy eating differently. He will understand that food will not make him better than he is and that it is irrational to build his self-esteem on the diet’s quality.
He will stop describing himself as “a person who eats healthy food” and will expand the scope of definitions – a person who lives, works, has fun. He will understand that while food is essential, it is just a tiny aspect of his life, and that there are more critical things in the world. “