A new eating disorder: What you need to know about orthorexia

Posted at 7:09 AM, Nov 01, 2016
and last updated 2016-11-01 07:22:05-04

HOLLAND, Mich. -- A new trend is emerging that adds to an already growing list of eating disorders.

It's called orthorexia nervosa.

According to dietitians, orthorexia is on the rise and can even affect kids.

As with all mental illnesses, there are signs and symptoms. If you are affected orthorexia, you aren't so much obsessed with thinness, as with anorexia, rather you're obsessed with pure and healthy foods.

In extreme cases, people with orthorexia are more willing to starve themselves than eat food they consider unhealthy.

The obsession leads to patients spending hours preparing food and fixating on ingredient lists, says Pamela Smith, a dietitian at Holland Hospital.

Those affected will measure portion sizes, plan meals several days ahead, and may even avoid social situations in an effort to avoid eating what they consider unhealthy food.

"So all of the sudden they won’t eat with their families some of the foods they normally ate before," said Smith. "It can get to the point where they don’t eat foods unless they prepare them."

Pamela Smith, Dietitian at Holland Hosptial

Smith says orthorexia often times starts off being very innocent, but "before they know it, they’re excluding food groups and actually putting themselves at risks for malnutrition."

It is important families eat meals together and that parents model healthy eating habits for their kids, Smith says. If you or your loved one is struggling with an eating disorder, seek professional help.

Options for treatment and recovery include, but are not limited to:

  • Focus on more than just food
  • Challenge the perfectionist thoughts
  • Relearn how to feed the body again
  • Relinquish food control
  • Find balance (emotional, psychological and spiritual

Do you or a loved one have orthorexia? If you answer yes to four or five of the questions below, it means it's time to relax about food. If you answer yes to all of them, it means you have an obsession with eating healthy food and should possibly seek help.

  • Do you spend more than three hours a day thinking about your diet?
  • Do you plan your meals several days ahead?
  • Is the nutritional value of your meal more important than the pleasure of eating it?
  • Has the quality of your life decreased as the quality of your diet has increased?
  • Have you become stricter with yourself lately?
  • Does your self-esteem get a boost from eating healthy?
  • Have you given up foods you used to enjoy in order to eat the 'right' foods?
  • Does your diet make it difficult for you to eat out, distancing you from family and friends?
  • Do you feel guilty when you stray from your diet?
  • Do you feel at peace with yourself and in total control when you eat healthily?