Christina M. Gilchrist is a Registered Dietitian in New Port Richey as well as an Eating Disorders Specialist. She counsels clients about how nutrition impacts the body and mind. In her work with eating disorder clients, a common trait she has seen pop up is something called “Orthorexia.”
What is “Orthorexia”?
While this term is not an official medical diagnosis, more & more professionals are beginning to use it. Orthorexia is defined as an obsession with only eating food one considers to be “healthy food”. This can be a bit subjective because, as we all know, there are many confusing & sometimes misleading messages out there about exactly what is healthy for us.
Christina says: “Of course, I want to encourage my clients to eat more vegetables, but I also want clients to enjoy how food tastes. . . . When the body is completely deprived of its favorite foods, this can spark overeating and binge eating” leading to a whole new path of health issues.
Warning signs of Orthorexia
NEDA (National Eating Disorders Association) notes warning signs to include
Compulsive checking of ingredient lists and nutrition labels
Cutting out an increasing number of food groups (all sugar, all carbs, all dairy, all meat, all animal products)
An inability to eat anything but a narrow group of foods that are deemed ‘healthy’ or ‘pure’
Unusual interest in the health of what others are eating
Spending hours per day thinking about what food might be served at upcoming events
Showing high levels of distress when ‘safe’ or ‘healthy’ foods aren’t available
Obsessive following of food and ‘healthy lifestyle blogs on Twitter and Instagram
Christina adds that in her office she sees an inability to be flexible with food, suddenly becoming vegan, consuming only organic or gluten-free foods, eliminating processed foods, and avoiding eating at restaurants.
“A dangerous example I have seen in my office is children and adolescents removing vital food groups from their diet such as dairy products. This puts them at greater risk for osteopenia and later osteoporosis due to deficient calcium and vitamin D intake, which developing children need.”
How do we treat Orthorexia?
Clients with Orthorexia typically work with both a dietitian and a psychotherapist to return to a truly healthy relationship with food and their bodies. Treatment might focus on increasing food variety, a return to the enjoyment of food, restoration to a healthy weight if needed, and developing a loving acceptance of themselves, and tools for genuine self-care.