As a general practitioner doctor in a busy clinic I see a my share of patients struggling with eating disorders. You are probably familiar with terms like ‘bulimia’ and ‘anorexia nervosa’ or even ‘body image disorders’? Eating disorders come in various forms and can be complex to identify. The sooner a potential issue is recognised, the sooner we (and other supporting professionals like dietitians, psychologists or counsellors) can help.
What is orthorexia?
In recent years there has been an increase in various types of ‘clean’ eating. These come in various guises – perhaps fat-free, no carb diet, cutting out certain food groups and eating only specific food as they are the “super-foods”. There is nothing wrong with good intentions for a healthy lifestyle but when the behaviour becomes obsessive, and life and thoughts revolves strictly around this regime and schedule, and one starts to feel anxious and unsettled if this lifestyle is not always met that you may be looking at a condition known as ‘Orthorexia’.
Orthorexia is a condition where a person is motivated to eat in a way they see as “perfect” or “pure”, often involving very strict and inflexible eating behaviours. The Greek origin the word orthorexia is ‘orthos’ meaning ‘correct or right’. While orthorexia is yet to be officially recognised as an eating disorder, health professionals are seeing an increasing trend of this condition and recognising orthorexia as being part of the eating disorder spectrum alongside the more widely known conditions like anorexia nervosa and bulimia. In Orthorexia, there is no obsession with body weight and shape but with food.
As such, a person with orthorexia may experience nutritional deficiencies due to eating a limited range of foods. This can make them feel tired and low in energy and may cause them to avoid social events for the fear of having to eat foods outside of their comfort range. Over time, this can cause anxiety and affect social interactions and relationships with family and friends.
How do we know if we are just a ‘health nut’ or we have crossed the line?
The Bratman Test for Orthorexia is a 10-question checklist developed by Dr Steve Bratman, who first coined the term ‘Orthorexia’ in 1996.
- Do you spend more than three hours a day thinking about your diet?
- Do you plan your meals several days ahead?
- Is the nutritional value of your meal more important than the pleasure of eating it?
- Has the quality of your life decreased as the quality of your diet has increased?
- Have you become stricter with yourself lately?
- Does your self-esteem get a boost from eating healthily?
- Have you given up foods you used to enjoy in order to eat the ‘right’ foods?
- Does your diet make it difficult for you to eat out, distancing you from family and friends?
- Do you feel guilty when you stray from your diet?
- Do you feel at peace with yourself and in total control when you eat healthily?
If you answer ‘yes’ to four or more of the questions, you may benefit from seeking support around your eating behaviours.
A good place to start is a GP, psychologist or dietician. If you are not sure you may like to look at the links below.
If you are not sure as to what to do next – please book in to see your GP and they can guide you accordingly.
Dr Tsin Uin Foong is a trusted family doctor with over 20 year’s experience. Known for her kind, holistic approach she is based at Osler Health Raffles Hotel Arcade clinic. T: 6332 2727