Urging to Eat Healthy Food But Turning to Severe Malnutrition – Understanding Orthorexia Nervosa

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There are various eating disorders experienced in human beings.

Anorexia nervosa is one in which an individual has intense fears of gaining weight and this obsession leads to poorer intake and loss of weight.

Bulimia nervosa is another eating disorder characterised by an urge of rapid consumption of large amount of food in a short period of time, self-induced vomiting and diarrhoea, excessive exercise, strict dieting or fasting and an exaggerated concern about body, shape and weight.

Both of these are classified as separate disorders but there is significant overlap between the two. Also these eating disorders are normally an outcome of expectations of the society for thinness and are common among adolescents and young persons specially women.

Orthorexia nervosa

Yet another eating disorder which has now caught attention of media and medicos is Orhorexia. It is a mental disorder coined by Steven Bratman but is not a recognised term by the American Psychiatric Association. The term has bee derived from Greek where ‘ortho’ means right or correct and ‘orexis’ means appetite. The literal meaning of this term is ‘correct appetite’.

Unlike other two eating disorders it has nothing to do with quantity of food or a desire to look thin but is purely an issue of quality. There is a yearning for perfectly healthy food. Such a tendency can be found in any age group ranging from kids to adult.

Concerns of orthorexics:

– Such persons make too rigid rules to regulate their intake. Any deviation would be painful and they cannot enjoy other types of food.

– There is an obsession about pure food and planning about its procurement is done well in advance. The obsession reaches the scale of obsessive compulsive behaviour by virtue of self-imposed rules.

– Such persons are too rigid and this adds to their psychological vulnerability about eating. This can lead to many problems even social isolation because ascertaining purity of food may keep them away from others.

– Every aspect of food is always weighing heavy on their minds. It may range from the source of food including maintaining its purity till it is served in the plate to the constituents of the food with their calorific count and the way they are going to affect after consumption inside the stomach.

– Related to the food are other stringent standards laid down like artificial colours or flavours, sweetener, preservatives and any other issues related to the originality of the food. Even storage with other food, say in a fridge can disturb and prompt them to avoid eating a favourite dish. Many may even go to the extent of sterilising their knives or choppers. All this can prove to be time-consuming.

All this cannot be termed as good eating habits as orthorexians are too rigid and this adds to their psychological vulnerability about eating. This can lead to many problems even social isolation because ascertaining purity of food may keep them away from others. If it goes to an extreme degree, it can cause severe malnutrition and weight loss and lead an orthorexian to dangerous consequences. This can really go to the extent of a deadly disorder.

Hunger is a physiological phenomenon and it should not become an extreme psychological issue. An urge to eat healthy food should not turn to severe malnutrition.

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