Eating well is an important factor in maintaining good health—but for some, it can become an unhealthy obsession. There’s a form of disordered eating called orthorexia, which occurs when a person is excessively preoccupied with eating only foods she or he considers healthy.“A typical orthorexic will not eat anything that isn’t 100 percent organic, and nothing processed or with preservatives,” says Michelle Morand, director of Victoria’s Cedric Centre, which treats eating disorders. “Those are all good guidelines for choosing food. But for people with orthorexia, the focus isn’t really about health; it’s about creating restrictions. They will go hungry rather than eat a food that isn’t ‘acceptable.’” Morand has seen more cases of orthorexia in recent years, perhaps because of an increased emphasis on the “right” foods.
While orthorexia is relatively new (and is not recognized in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), as with all disordered eating it stems from insecurity. “Those feelings create anxiety, so the person uses control over food to numb distress,” says Morand. An anorexic is preoccupied with the quantity of food; an orthorexic with its quality. This focus on food can lead an orthorexic to social isolation, limited nutrition and, if she eats “incorrectly,” self-loathing. If you’re struggling with any disordered eating, talk to a doctor.
Web exclusive January 2011 Best Health magazine