The Illusion of Orthorexia

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Orthorexia is a term used to describe an unhealthy preoccupation with healthy eating. You know the type: these people usually have a long list of foods they can’t eat, they read labels meticulously, and can immediately spot a “bad” food or ingredient. And they frequently judge or criticize the food choices of others.

While orthorexia isn’t yet recognized as a clinical eating disorder, it is felt by some therapists to be an area of increasing concern. In 1997, Steven Bratman introduced the concept to describe individuals who were obsessed with eating to perfection. The word ortho, derived from the Greek language, means “right” or “correct.”

The following behaviors are examples of possible signs of orthorexia:

  • Increasing reliance on supplements to achieve optimal nutrition.
  • Avoiding a large number of foods without input from a health professional.
  • Feeling guilty or anxious when deviating from safe foods.
  • Judging others for not adhering to a similar eating style.
  • Avoiding food prepared by others and avoiding going out to eat.

But aside from being impossible to achieve, having an objective to eat “perfectly” can also lead to malnutrition, not to mention disordered eating. Any time you eliminate a large number of foods or food groups, you may also be excluding vital nutrients. This kind of meticulous eating also requires a great deal of time and energy, which can add a great deal of stress.

Despite our endless pursuits of perfection in many areas of life, we must remember that orthorexia is an only an illusion. Healthy eating requires a balanced approach, and the 8 Dimensions of Self-Care offer a practical framework for designing a healthier lifestyle.

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