Eating disorders and disordered eating come in all shapes, sizes, and guises. Individuals who say they’ve never known an individual with an eating disorder may not realize that they actually have. For example, bulimia goes undetected quite often because many who suffer from this disorder tend to have a normal weight. In addition, many individuals (in my experience) do not even realize that the behaviors of binge eating, may also be a full-blown eating disorder.
One type of disordered eating — not yet categorized as an eating disorder — that was coined by Dr. Steven Bratman in 1997 — and has recently become more prevalent — is orthorexia nervosa: “a fixation with healthy eating, to the point where it becomes a crippling compulsion, described as ‘a disease disguised as a virtue’¹.”
This disorder — like other eating disorders — is also greatly impacted by the media. Not only are we constantly bombarded by images of thin women and men — we are also bombarded by ads and marketing for “clean” eating. I just googled clean eating and the webpages and blogs seem to go on forever. Not only that, but “Instagram has 26 million posts with a clean eating hashtag.”
While there is nothing wrong with eating the types of foods that eating ‘clean’ promotes, it can become unhealthy when an individual starts to cut out food groups entirely. Heavily restricting and only eating a few types of foods, actually can create malnourishment- even though the misconception is they are eating healthy or ‘clean.’
For example, individuals who decide to completely cut out animal products may become iron deficient or anemic. There is nothing wrong with that lifestyle choice, but one has to be extremely mindful of their diet (and possibly take an iron supplement). Also, individuals who decide to cut out all grains may be missing out on insoluble fiber and a variety of B vitamins, and may need to find the nutrients in something else.
“One of the problems with orthorexia is that in some ways it is more socially acceptable than other disorders. Stand in any gym locker room and you can overhear a woman admit she allowed herself a piece of fruit that day, or a man bemoan messing up his macros.”
Another danger of orthorexia is the obsessing that happens in the mind when we say this food is “good” and this food is “bad”. It starts to distort thinking and can end up leading to other disordered eating or eating disorders.
Carrie Armstrong, a London-based author and TV personality said she became orthorexic that “left her unable to walk.” She became obsessed with what she put in her mouth, cutting out most foods. In the end before seeking help, her hair was falling out and her teeth were crumbling because of the lack of nutrients her body was getting.