Advertisements
Orthorexia is a digitally transmitted condition that is recognized as a mental health disorder, a doctor has warned
Advertisements

Orthorexia is a digitally transmitted condition that is 'vying' to be recognized as a mental health disorder, an expert has said.

The illness is characterized by a person becoming obsessed with 'clean eating', and in the process, may become socially isolated or suffer malnutrition.

But since orthorexia was first coined two decades ago in 1997, it is still not clinically recognized because there are no clear symptoms.

However, Dr. Cristina Hanganu-Bresch said whether it is a mental illness or not, the consequences are certainly real.

Advertisements

Writing in the Medical Humanities journal, she said Facebook, Twitter, and more crucially Instagram, have become vectors of the illness.

Orthorexia is a digitally transmitted condition that is recognized as a mental health disorder, a doctor has warned

Orthorexia is a digitally transmitted condition that is recognized as a mental health disorder, a doctor has warned

Research shows people with orthorexia tend to follow social media accounts that portray images of healthy food and fit, tanned bodies.

Dr. Hanganu-Bresch is an associate professor of writing and rhetoric at the University of the Sciences, Philadelphia.

Advertisements

In her report, she said: "Orthorexia is a putative new eating disorder for a place in the DSM."

DSM is the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, an influential guidebook used by doctors all over the world.

All eating disorders are serious mental illnesses, eating disorder charity Beat states, and need to be treated quickly.

Dr Hanganu-Bresch wrote: "Orthorexia seems real enough, even though it may be culturally bound and may have an upcoming expiration date."

Orthorexia nervosa (ON) is loosely defined as an obsession with eating only 'pure', natural or organic foods. Some define it as 'when healthy eating goes too far'.

Advertisements

People showing symptoms eat more fruit and vegetables, cut out food groups such as white carbohydrates, shop in health food stores and rarely drink alcohol.

WHAT IS ORTHOREXIA?

Orthorexia was defined in 1997 by Dr. Steven Bratman.

It is not currently recognized in a clinical setting and eating disorder.

If someone visited the doctor with the symptoms, they would not be officially diagnosed with 'orthorexia', although the term may be brought up when discussing their illness.

Instead, eating disorders that can be diagnosed as anorexia, bulimia, or binge eating disorder might be diagnosed as 'other specified feeding or eating disorder' (OSFED).

Advertisements

Orthorexia refers to an unhealthy obsession with eating 'pure' food, according to eating disorder charity Beat.

The obsession with eating healthy or clean is often used to cope with negative thoughts and feelings, or to feel in control, like other eating disorders.

Someone using food in this way might feel extremely anxious or guilty if they eat food they feel is unhealthy.

It can also cause physical problems, because someone's beliefs about what is healthy may lead to them cutting out essential nutrients or whole food groups, leading to malnutrition.

Orthorexia bears some similarities to OCD and anorexia.

Advertisements

Eating Disorder Hope list the common behaviors to be aware of:

  • Elimination of entire food groups attempting a 'clean' or 'perfect' diet
  • Severe anxiety regarding how food is prepared
  • Avoidance of social events involving food for fear or being unable to comply with diet
  • Thinking critically or others who do not follow strict diets
  • Spending extreme amounts of time and money in meal planning and food choices
  • Feelings of guilt or shame when unable to adhere to diet standards
  • Feeling fulfilled or virtuous from eating 'healthy' while losing interest in other activities once enjoyed

There is an overlap with ON and both obsessive compulsive disorder and anorexia, sharing traits or rituals and intrusive thoughts for the former and perfectionism and guilt about food for the latter.

ON may fall under the umbrella term "cyberpathy" in which information is spread through popular social media accounts, Dr. Hanganu-Bresch said.

She noted ON attracts 'digital donkeys' who are searching for inspirational health advice.

"Orthorexia nervosa and its many suggested avatars (among which are healthy anorexia, organorexia and nutrichondria) could be subsumed under the umbrella of cyberpathies, spread through the" viral "content of popular blogs and Twitter, Facebook and Instagram accounts," Dr Hanganu -Bresch said.

Advertisements

Memes, pictures of "healthy" and colorful meals and tan, muscular bodies in yoga, enthusiastic product endorsements and nutrition tips and animal sages are multiplying in unknown numbers, evangelizing the population in the Gospel of health.

"The confessed orthorexic sufferers have social media accounts filled with thin and glowingly fit bodies, and they sometimes admit that an implicit goal is an ideal (low) body weight."

A 2017 study by University College London found the prevalence of ON is much higher among social media users – 49 per cent Instagram users surveyed were found to have ON symptoms.

Writing in the journal The National Library of Medicine, the researchers said Instagram is by far the medium most likely to have that effect compared to other social media platforms such as Twitter because it is 'the platform of choice for the healthy eating community'.

ON is normally seen among well-off people because it is often relied on being able to afford cleanses, organic juices and a gym membership, Dr Hanganu-Bresch said.

Advertisements

"It is a disorder of abundance and rigidity, and also a disorder of privilege, both relying on and generating costly practices."

Holistic physician Steve Bratman was the first to describe ON, writing in a 1997 yoga journal.

He described his own obsession with eating clean and pure and said: "Most (orthorexicists) have to resort to iron self-discipline, reinforced by a great sense of superiority over those who eat unhealthy foods."

Mr Bratman later wrote, 20 years later, that when he coined the term "orthorexic nervousness," he had no intention of suggesting a new eating disorder.

Much of the research into the condition is anecdotal and there is no clear way of diagnosing it.

Advertisements

Eating disorders charity Beat says ON is not medically recognized because it doesn't have its own specific treatment pathway.

Clinicians have not identified a distinct way to treat it the way they have anorexia, bulimia, or binge eating disorder, for instance.

"We still don't know what that is," said clinical psychologist Dr. Jennifer Mills, an associate professor at York University and co-author of a paper on the September issue of the journal Appetite.

Dr. Mills said estimates of prevalence 'are everywhere'.

. (tagsToTranslate) dailymail (t) health