Orthorexia Nervosa

Orthorexia Nervosa is a condition that has only recently entered the discussion of eating disorders in the community of Psychology. Sutter Healthcare defines the condition as, “an obsession with eating proper foods”. It is a condition that I come across every few months when first meeting patients during their initial consult at the clinic. It often comes up as I review the paperwork and see a list of supplements or food allergies that is so long that it requires a separate printed out piece of paper to list all of them. Usually the diet is extremely restrictive with an initially well thought out approach to sensible eating becoming an all consuming quest to ingest more and more vitamins, supplements and less foods that they perceive to be harmful. The supplements often become more important than the food itself and the person’s ability to take pleasure in eating becomes limited as they worry about calories, mercury, pesticides, toxins, GMO crops, PH, and so on. These are all things that we should be thinking about when we shop but not things that should make us live in fear. When we eat it should be a true pleasure born of cooking with our hands and shared with our friends and family.

People who suffer from this obsessive condition can place grave and even life threatening danger in certain foods. One patient suddenly began eliminating all products which may have come in contact with the world’s oceans because of Fukushima and the Japanese Tsunami. We should all consider the impact on pollutants in the ocean but to suddenly and fearfully start avoiding large amounts of food, not to mention stockpiling Iodine tablets, because of a highly publicized media event is not healthy if not balanced by the scientific evidence on the issue.

These patients are especially vulnerable to alternative healthcare practitioners and health food stores where they are surrounded by advice, driven by practitioner profits, and isles of supplements and superfoods from all over the world that promise to make them even healthier. This seems so appealing because it promises exactly what the illness craves, the illusion of even better levels of health through super fruits from Brazil, berries from China, or mushrooms from Tibet without any thought given to their traditional uses or therapeutic doses in medical practice. Part of the illness is that each person will only try a new product for a few weeks before deciding that is in fact not helping them be healthier and may in fact be making them sick. This prompts a switch to a new product and a new promise of better days just around the corner.

As recommended on the Sutter Health website, “if you think you or a friend suffers from something that sounds or feels like this description of orthorexia nervosa, you should visit either a nutritionist or doctor for help”. Your visit should always be to a wholistically minded practitioner who honors your concerns and education about food and works with you to make you both physically and mentally at peace with your food.



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