Orthorexia is a disordered eating pattern characterized by an excessive preoccupation with eating healthy food or a rigid adherence to strict diets. It can lead to social isolation, anxiety, and physical health problems if the diet is not balanced and lacks important nutrients.
What is orthorexia?
Orthorexia is a term used to describe a disordered eating pattern characterized by an excessive preoccupation with eating healthy food or a rigid adherence to strict diets. Unlike other eating disorders, such as anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa, the focus of orthorexia is not on the quantity of food consumed or weight loss, but on the quality and purity of the food.
People with orthorexia often become fixated on the nutritional content of their food, and may eliminate entire food groups or categories from their diet in an effort to eat "clean" or "pure" foods. This can lead to social isolation, anxiety, and physical health problems if the diet is not balanced and lacks important nutrients.
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), but it is recognized as a legitimate concern by many mental health professionals.
What are the symptoms of orthorexia?
The symptoms of orthorexia can include:
- Obsessive focus on food quality and purity.
- Strict dietary rules and restrictions that go beyond current dietary recommendations or cultural norms.
- Preoccupation with the origin, preparation, and composition of food.
- Spending excessive amounts of time thinking about, planning, and preparing meals.
- Anxiety or distress when healthy foods are not available or when the person is unable to adhere to their dietary rules.
- Social isolation or withdrawal from activities that involve food or eating with others.
- Feeling a sense of moral superiority or self-righteousness about their diet.
- Continued adherence to the diet despite negative consequences, such as malnutrition, weight loss, or physical health problems.
- Disturbed body image, fear of becoming "impure" or contaminated by eating "unhealthy" foods.
How can a dietitian help with orthorexia?
A dietitian can play an important role in the treatment of orthorexia by providing nutritional counseling and support. Here are some ways a dietitian can help:
- Develop a balanced meal plan: A dietitian can help create a meal plan that is balanced and meets the individual's nutritional needs while still accommodating their food preferences and restrictions.
- Provide education on nutrition: A dietitian can provide education on the importance of balanced nutrition and the risks of excessive restriction or elimination of food groups. This education can help reduce anxiety and fear around food.
- Address fears and concerns: A dietitian can help address fears and concerns related to food and nutrition and provide strategies for coping with anxiety or distress related to food.
- Provide support and accountability: A dietitian can provide ongoing support and accountability to help the individual make progress towards their nutrition goals and address any obstacles that may arise.
- Collaborate with other healthcare providers: A dietitian can collaborate with other healthcare providers, such as therapists or physicians, to ensure a comprehensive and coordinated approach to treatment.
It's important to note that treatment for orthorexia often requires a multidisciplinary approach that may involve a team of healthcare professionals, including a therapist, physician, and dietitian.
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