Orthorexia: Uncovering A New Healthy Obsession with Holly Arnold
Can your healthy lifestyle become obsessive? It sure can, putting clean standards above the limits can be somehow dangerous for your health, and you might not be even aware of this. Not a while ago, we ask Holly Arnold a Sydney-based qualified, practising Clinical Nutritionist with a Bachelor of Health Science (BHSc) about this controversial and on Vogue topic.
With a wealth of experience in nutritional support, Holly’s mission is to empower people towards an enhanced appreciation for health by giving people wellbeing tools to live and breathe a healthy and happy life.
A Q&A with Holly Arnold
CF: Could you please tell us what orthorexia is about?
HA: Orthorexia is the obsession with eating foods that are deemed to be healthy.
Think of it as an obsession with the practice of ‘clean eating’.
While it’s wonderful that there is now such an emphasis on our health and improving our overall diet and wellbeing, it can come at a cost if that drive for optimum healthy becomes all-consuming, creates rigid rules and barriers in our life and disrupts normal functioning.
CF: What is the difference between healthy eating and eating disorders? There are any
HA: It’s important to understand that you can care about your health and want to be healthy without having an eating disorder. They are two very different things and wanting to eat healthily does not equal to eating disorders. While orthorexia is typically placed under the umbrella of ‘eating disorders’ alongside anorexia and bulimia, it is not yet formally recognised by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.
Eating disorders are incredibly complex and despite what many people believe, are usually about far more than just-food.
Symptoms can include but are not limited to an obsession with your weight and body image, thinking about food all of the time, a fear of eating around other people, feeling out of control around food, feeling like you need to restrict what you eat and overexercising.
CF: Is Orthorexia similar to anorexia? If not which are the differences between both?
HA: While orthorexia and anorexia are disorders centred around an obsessive attitude towards food and the driving force influencing the behaviour is more often than not a sense of control and perfection.
However, in orthorexia and anorexia, the focus of why a person is controlling food obsessively is different.
For people struggling with anorexia, food is being used as a way to control their body image and weight, whereas those struggling with orthorexia, are concerned about how a certain food will impact their health.
CF: How Social media is contributing to orthorexia?
HA: Orthorexia was certainly an issue before the rise of social media, but from the data we have available and from my personal experience in clinical practise I think it is definitely fair to say that social media is contributing to a rise in the incidence of orthorexia.
While I’m sure many of the platforms responsible set out with best intentions, the perfectly curated feeds, immaculate smoothie bowls and never-ending lists of what it’s made without do have a significant effect on audiences.
By promoting their personal way of eating, which in most cases is restrictive in one form or another and usually demonises a particular food group, they are sending messages that certain foods are bad. When in reality we know that there is no good and bad when it comes to food, it’s quality and quantity.
I also think that we are just generally so bombarded with ‘wellness information’ that you can become so consumed by healthy eating and lose the sense of balance that we once innately had. Over time this can be incredibly influential and once you get drawn in, it can be very hard to find a way out.
My advice with social media is to take it with a grain of salt.
Unfollow anyone who is promoting an unrealistic way of living, or who makes you feel less valuable and lowers your self-esteem.
Healthy eating is important and we should all be striving towards more nutritious meals wherever we can, but it’s also just as important that we are kind to ourselves and understand that there is room within a healthy lifestyle for living imperfectly. It’s what we do 80% of the time that matters.
CF: What are the health risks and is there any available treatment options?
HA: Orthorexia commonly involves the restriction of certain foods or food groups which increases the risk for malnutrition and nutritional deficiencies. However, with orthorexia, it is often mental health that takes the biggest toll as when you become so ruled by eating healthy you begin to damage your wellbeing. This fixation on healthy eating can bring immense stress and anxiety to the individual, which in turn has systemic physical repercussions throughout the body.
Additionally, obsessive exercise is also a component for many people with orthorexia which can have its own impact on health.
We currently have no specific clinical treatment in place for orthorexia, however, many experts who specialise in eating disorder management and obsessive-compulsive disorders can work together with nutritionists or dieticians on a holistic model individualised for the patient. Treatment addresses both the mental and physical aspects of the condition to help the patient work towards a more balanced sense of self and approach to eating.