Orthorexia Nervosa: The Consequence of the 'Clean Eating' Trend?

So this week is Eating Disorder Awareness Week, something I feel very passionately about and have a massive interest in. 

I wanted to discuss on here a lesser known eating disorder, that I am actually writing my dissertation on; 
Orthorexia Nervosa. 

Founded in 1998, Orthorexia Nervosa is classified as an obsession towards healthy eating, that can be triggered through today's media, and in particular, social media platforms. The obsession can stem from witnessing people's highlight reels on platforms like instagram, the rise in the infatuation of 'clean eating' and feeling like you have to always be perfect.

During the 'clean eating' trend, foods were labelled as either good or bad. Which lead to a lot of people believing that they could never eating things like chocolate again because they were bad and would make their body 'dirty' for eating them. However, we know that this was just another form of dieting and has had a big impact on people. 

Celebrities and social media influencers all started celebrating their 'clean living' and how amazing they felt with their kale and avocado buddha bowl. But I think that the turning point was the BBC documentary 'Clean Eatings Dirty Secret', which helped to break down the diet once and for all. However, this stage didn't just disappear, it left a lot of people with disordered eating habits and the beginnings of eating disorders, for example, orthorexia. 

A lot of the symptoms of Orthorexia are related to Anorexia Nervosa and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), yet the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) still have not classified Orthorexia as an official eating disorder. The DSM is a handbook that is used by health care professionals across the globe to be able to diagnose different mental disorders. 

Orthorexia is also very common among people who have previously suffered with eating disorders in the past. On the outside they can appear to be watching what they eat for their health, but on the inside they could be feeling guilty and obsessing over the semi-skimmed milk they had in their tea this morning, because they ran out of skimmed. 

Someone who has the symptoms of orthorexia, could be diagnosed with anorexia or 'Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorder' (OSFED) which means that an eating disorder is present but it does not 100% fit in with the other possible disorders. There are campaigns and a lot of people who have orthorexia who are campaigning to get the disorder on the DSM so it can be officially diagnosed by a medical professional. 

Some of the most common symptoms include but are not limited to:

  • Cutting out certain foods or whole food groups in an attempt to make the diet more healthy 

  • Increased focus on what you are eating; this can sometimes interfere with other parts of your life, e.g. going out with friends, work etc 

  • Feeling anxious, guilty or 'unclean' when consuming foods that you would perceive to be 'unhealthy' 

  • Low mood and sometimes depression

  • Obsession with a healthy diet

  • Checking the ingredients and nutritional labels of all food items

  • Low energy levels

  • Weight loss

  • Feeling weaker 

  • Tiredness 

(Those last two can be a consequence of becoming malnourished) 

A full list of all symptoms, including the behavioural, physical and psychological categories can be found on the BEAT website. 

Personally, I believe that Orthorexia Nervosa should be classified as an official eating disorder. The rise of social media and the access that we have to news, and peoples lives 24/7 has a real impact on our mental health and I believe that this cannot always be negative. 

Something to remember is that no one ever asks for an eating disorder and it is not a problem with food, it is a serious mental illness and should be treated as soon as the signs appear for a better chance at recovery. 

If you recognise any of the symptoms in yourself, or someone that you know, you should seek advice from a doctor. Although there are currently no clinical treatments developed especially to treat Orthorexia, it is still really important to see someone to help 

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