Orthorexia Nervosa: the “Other” Eating Disorder
This project is a requirement of the GOA Abnormal Psychology Course. Using the process of design thinking, a challenge in the world of mental health was identified, interviews and research were undertaken, and a solution prototype was developed. Below you will find information about the identified area of concern and my proposed solution. Please feel free to provide feedback on this prototype, using questions such as “How might we…”, “What if….?”, “I wonder….”, “I like…”, and “I wish.” Keep the comments positive, please. For more information on the process of Design Thinking, click here.
Orthorexia Nervosa is an eating disorder characterized by the obsession with eating only healthy food. Although it is not an issue to be aware and cautious of the nutritional content in food, people with orthorexia become so fixated with proper eating that it damages their wellbeing. In contrast to other eating disorders, sufferers of orthorexia are more concerned with healthy eating than being thin. Orthorexia is not recognized by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders because the diagnostic criteria for the disease has not been agreed upon and some of the symptoms lineup with those of anorexia. Due to the lack of research on the illness, it is unknown whether it is a stand-alone eating disorder, a form of an existing eating disorder, or a form of obsessive-compulsive disorder. It is also unknown how many people, precisely, are affected by orthorexia.
- Educate peers about the causes, symptoms, and treatment options.
- Reduce stigma relating to eating disorders.
- Explain prevalence of Orthorexia Nervosa.
Since there is a lack of information on orthorexia nervosa, many people may be suffering and not really know why. The fixation on eating healthy is very evident across the globe, especially in America, consisting of thousands of diets and other healthy regimens designed to lose weight and improve health. Dieting has become somewhat of a fad, and because of this, orthorexia has been on the rise. Many people know nothing about the disease, so with an increase in education and advocacy, hopefully more treatments will be found and it will be added to the DSM. There is also a current debate on the validity of orthorexia. Some people believe that it is not an actual disorder. This belief increases the stigma associated with it.
Causes: Eating disorders, in many cases, occur with other disorders such as anxiety, panic disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder and alcohol and drug abuse problems. There is also evidence that heredity may play a role in the development of eating disorders in certain people, however, these disorders also impact people with no prior family history.
- Compulsive checking of ingredient lists and nutritional labels
- An increase in concern about the health of ingredients
- 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
- Body image concerns may or may not be present
Treatment: There are currently no treatment options specifically designed to treat those with orthorexia, so in most cases, they are treated as anorexia and/or obsessive compulsive disorder patients. Therefore, treatment includes psychotherapy to increase the variety of foods eaten and exposure to anxiety provoking foods.
I conducted a student survey and collected the answers of 130 of my peers. I started by asking what people thought they knew about eating disorders in general. I wanted to be able to gage what the general knowledge on this specific branch of mental illness was at my school. The results show that majority feel like they know the basics of eating disorders, but no one feels as though they know nothing. My next question asked people to name the first eating disorder they thought of. Not surprisingly, most people thought of anorexia first, followed by bulimia. I was surprised to see that two people wrote down Pica, however, I suspect these students also fell under the “total expert” category on the first question. My final question, in an effort to keep the survey short so I could get the most answers, asked if people knew about orthorexia. Almost everyone had never heard of it, and a few people knew I little bit. I took this survey once to ensure it was running properly, so I am the one “total expert”. I have done a lot of research on how little is known on the disease, so I wanted to gage it for myself. My results match what I found in my research, and I hope that those who took my survey felt compelled to do some of their own research on orthorexia.
Now that you are informed on orthorexia nervosa, be an advocate. Educate others on the disorder so they can become informed too! So little is known about orthorexia that you can make a HUGE impact by spreading information. Help de-stigmatize eating disorders.
I will continue to spread awareness and educate my community on orthorexia through presentations and visual representations. If you would like to get involved, please spread the word about orthorexia.
Please take this survey once you have finished reading and watching: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/D9PMKFQ
APA members. Exception, www.psychiatry.org/news-room/apa-blogs/apa-blog/2016/06/orthorexia-can-healthy-eating-become-unhealthyhttp://www.orthorexia.com/.
Brytek-Matera, Anna. Orthorexia Nervosa–an Eating Disorder, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder or Disturbed Eating Habit? Archives of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy, 2012, www.archivespp.pl/uploads/images/2012_14_1/BrytekMatera55__APP1_2012.pdf.
“Orthorexia.” National Eating Disorders Association, 22 Feb. 2018, www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/learn/by-eating-disorder/other/orthorexia.
Zamora, M.L. Catalina. “Othorexia Nervosa. A New Behavior Disorder?” pp. 1–3., xn--essstrungen-aargau-h3b.ch/media/archive1/fachpersonen/diagnostik/differentialdiagnostik/Orthorexia_NewEatingDisorder.pdf.