Although not known as anorexia nervosa or bulimia, nor is it equally well documented, a recent study indicates that orthorexia nervosa can also have serious emotional and physical consequences.
"In reality, orthorexia goes beyond healthy eating," said study co-author Jennifer Mills, associate professor of health at York University in Toronto. "It is a healthy diet taken to the extreme, where it starts causing problems to people in their lives and they start to feel out of control."
The research review of the disorder published worldwide appears in a recent issue of Appetite.
Mills and his collaborator, Sarah McComb, examined the risk factors and the links between orthorexia and other mental disorders. Unlike other eating disorders, orthorexia has not yet been recognized in standard psychiatric manuals.
Healthy eating brought to the extreme
There are no clear lines dividing a healthy diet from the extreme nutrition of orthorexia.
The foods that a person with orthorexia could avoid are the same as a person with healthy eating habits who can avoid, for example, preservatives, anything artificial, salt, sugar, fat, dairy products, other animal products, genetically modified or non-organic foods.
It reduces to avoiding that those foods lead to an obsession, that is to spend an excess of time and energy thinking and worrying about what to eat. Some people could eliminate many food categories and eat only a very small number of things. People with orthorexia are generally less interested in reducing calories than the perceived quality of their food.
"They often use more and more time to think about the foods they have to buy, particular foods, which makes it really difficult for them to live their lives," said Lauren Smolar, who was not involved in the review, director of programs at the National Association eating disorders (NEDA), a non-profit organization. "It can cause malnutrition or weight loss in a really difficult and potentially dangerous way."
A person with orthorexia could focus on both types of food and how the food is prepared that eating something that is not done at home is impossible.
"It can lead to all kinds of problems, such as isolation or not being able to eat in other people's homes or in a restaurant, due to the fear that the food is not prepared in a very pure and clean way. bring someone to feel that this is taking over their lives, "said Mills in statements collected by journalist Cara Roberts Murez, in an article published by HealthDay News.
Cultural trends could fuel these fears, warns Mills. With internet and social media, people have unlimited access to information: part of the information is good, and some is not based on scientific research.
Food trends that limit certain foods are worrying, said Smolar, who added that diets are one of the main triggers of eating disorders. All foods are good in moderation, he said, and it's better to have a different diet.
Although many think that eating disorders are a problem affecting young women, it seems that men and women experience orthorexia in the same way, the study found.
People who follow a vegan or vegetarian diet or who have a bad body image have a higher risk.
In some, the underlying cause is another eating disorder, and eating clean is considered a socially acceptable way to limit calories, Mills said. In others, an obsessive-compulsive disorder or anxiety disorder can manifest itself in the need to feed itself in this rigid way.
"In this sense, it is very similar to what we see in other types of obsessive-compulsive disorders, in which someone might be afraid of getting sick or being exposed to germs if they don't wash their hands enough or if they don't do something in a very way particular, "said Mills.
How to get help
Orthorexia must be taken seriously, said Mills. Talk to your primary care physician for any concerns. Going to a psychologist who specializes in anxiety disorders, eating disorders or body image could be useful.
"With increasing awareness, more and more people are recognizing symptoms and seeking opportunities for help," added Smolar. "It's something I think we still have a lot to learn."