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What is Orthorexia?

Orthorexia nervosa is a term used to describe a problematic obsession with healthy eating. Unlike other eating disorders like anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa, which focus on the quantity of food consumed, orthorexia is characterized by an excessive preoccupation with the quality and purity of food.

Individuals with orthorexia are often overly concerned with eating foods that they consider to be “pure,” “clean,” or “healthy.” They may meticulously plan their meals, avoid certain food groups (such as foods containing artificial additives, preservatives, or genetically modified ingredients), and may spend significant amounts of time researching and preparing their food. This preoccupation with healthy eating can become so extreme that it interferes with daily life, relationships, and overall well-being.

Key features of orthorexia nervosa include:

  1. Obsessive focus: Individuals may become fixated on the nutritional content and quality of food to the point where it dominates their thoughts and behaviors.
  2. Rigid dietary rules: They may impose strict rules about what they can and cannot eat, often eliminating entire food groups or specific foods they deem unhealthy.
  3. Physical and psychological distress: Despite the pursuit of health, orthorexia can lead to nutritional deficiencies, weight loss, social isolation, anxiety, and feelings of guilt or shame if they deviate from their strict eating regimen.

It’s important to note that orthorexia is not currently recognized as a formal diagnosis in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). However, it is increasingly recognized as a problematic behavior that can significantly impact an individual’s physical and mental health.

Treatment for orthorexia typically involves psychotherapy, particularly Radically Open Dialectical behavioral therapy (RODBT), to help individuals challenge and modify their rigid beliefs about food, reduce anxiety related to eating, and develop a healthier relationship with food and their bodies. Nutritional counseling may also be beneficial to ensure balanced and adequate eating habits.

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