Yesterday I searched ‘#cleaneating’ on Instagram, this retrieved 22,918,298 results.

In recent years there has been immense growth in the realms of healthy eating. There are endless dietary theories driven by the notion of achieving the upmost righteously healthy state. The famous can be seen endorsing raw foods, blood type, sugar-free and paleo diets. All manner of vegetables are being blitzed, blended and spiralised to achieve complete diet purity. Meanwhile the food industry is more than obliging in offering us virtuously healthy products at un-virtuously high prices; the irony therein is that the fewer ingredients a product has the more it will cost you.

Micro-thinking about micronutrients has left the realms of body builders and those with illness-related deficiencies, and permeated through to the general public. As seems to be common for many aspects of our society, we are unable to approach this fad of healthy eating in moderation. Socially, it is not uncommon to see a sense of hierarchal ranking as individuals discuss their bizarre niche healthy eating tendencies. If the juice you are drinking is the classic orange, as opposed to green, you are the lowest common denominator. Food behaviours are being used to create an identity.

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‘If the juice you are drinking is the classic orange, as opposed to green, you are the lowest common denominator’

The concept of a balanced diet has become warped; regardless of whether the primary motivation was wholesome, such fixation on what we are consuming can lead to a form of mental restriction. Food becomes an obsession.

Can following such a regimented restrictive diet really nourish the body and mind? In vigorously analysing and interrogating every potential mouthful, are we starving our minds of tasty freedom and abundance of flavours? And what happens when this fixation leads to a fear of foods which do not have ingredients labelled for inspection?

This relatively new phenomenon has been observed by medical professionals and the condition has been called Orthoexia Nervosa. The term originates from the Greek orthos, meaning “correct or right,” and orexis, meaning “hunger or appetite”. It is a fixation on righteous eating. Orthorexia can be distinguished from anorexia in the fact that its motivation is dietary purity, not weight loss.

There is no suggestion that adhering and enjoying a healthy diet identifies you as an orthorexic; the motivation to eat well is entirely isolated from this psychological condition which, with innocent beginnings, can turn into a life-suspending issue. The condition can lead to nutritional deficiencies. It has damaging consequences socially. Sufferers’ schedules are dictated by food; they become uncomfortable entering social situations which may challenge their dietary vigilance. An internalised battle of self-restriction and punishment leads to a neglect of relationships. The aim to cleanse the diet leads to a cleansing of all other colourful aspects of life.

Steven Bratman, MD, who defined orthorexia in 1996 described his battle with the condition “I pursued wellness through healthy eating for years, but gradually I began to sense that something was going wrong.The poetry of my life was disappearing. My ability to carry on normal conversations was hindered by intrusive thoughts of food. The need to obtain meals free of meat, fat, and artificial chemicals had put nearly all social forms of eating beyond my reach.  I was lonely and obsessed… I found it terribly difficult to free myself.  I had been seduced by righteous eating. The problem of my life’s meaning had been transferred inexorably to food, and I could not reclaim it.”

A series of questions have been compiled by NEDA , The National Eating Disorders Association. They aim to help identify whether an individual may be developing the signs of orthorexia.

  • Do you wish that occasionally you could just eat and not worry about food quality?
  • Do you ever wish you could spend less time on food and more time living and loving?
  • Does it seem beyond your ability to eat a meal prepared with love by someone else – one single meal – and not try to control what is served?
  • Are you constantly looking for ways foods are unhealthy for you?
  • Do love, joy, play and creativity take a back seat to following the perfect diet?
  • Do you feel guilt or self-loathing when you stray from your diet?
  • Do you feel in control when you stick to the “correct” diet?
  • Have you put yourself on a nutritional pedestal and wonder how others can possibly eat the foods they eat?

 

For more information on this condition visit: https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/orthorexia-nervosa