There is no doubt eating healthily is an important part of looking after yourself. Yet anything can become dangerous if you take it to extremes.
For some people, the desire to eat healthy, “clean”, unprocessed foods becomes a life-ruining compulsion. The condition is known asorthorexia, a term coined in 1997 by Dr Steven Bratman.
“It can, in fact, often bear more resemblance to obsessive-compulsive disorder in that it is characterised by a fixation on righteous eating, eating only ‘pure’ foods and trying to avoid contamination by food,” says Susan Ringwood, chief executive officer for eating disorder charity Beat. Anecdotally, professionals are reporting an increase in individuals suffering from symptoms of orthorexia, but the condition still does not have a formal medical classification and, as such, isn’t regarded as an “official” eating disorder. Yet, having seen orthorexia in action several times, I know only too well that it can be just as harmful and upsetting as other major eating disorders, because it involves the same intense, joy-sucking preoccupation with food and body.
The only difference is that, unlike anorexia, where food intake is restricted, or bulimia, where food binges are followed by some form of purging, orthorexia always involves an intense compulsion to stick to any single way of eating food, thinking and behaving around food.
Orthorexia isn’t the same as following a specific eating plan for ethical reasons, or because of food intolerances. Yet the line between the two is often blurred, which is why orthorexia can go undetected or unnoticed, as in the fitness industry.