MINNEAPOLIS - Healthy eating is a priority for most of us these days. But, what happens when good eating goes bad? Orthorexia nervosa is a type of eating disorder that takes healthy eating to the extreme. With the increased interest in juicing and raw foods, this type of disordered eating is on the rise, especially among young adults.
Orthorexia is defined as an obsession with eating a diet of specific healthy foods. Coming from the Greek word, ortho "correct" and orexia, "appetite," it's a type of disordered eating that focuses on clean eating. And that often means raw fruits and vegetables and juicing as the only source of nourishment.
The pattern usually begins with the elimination of food categories, like dairy or gluten based foods, which are replaced with raw foods. The lack of protein, low calorie intake and strenuous exercise eventually add up to major physical and psychological concerns.
Eating disorder programs, like The Emily Program provide treatment for this challenging disorder. Dr. Jillian Lampert. Senior Director of the Emily Program says, "I think it's really about trying to attain something, trying to manage emotions, trying to somehow bridge this gap between good health and media messages and how people feel in their bodies."
Lindsey, 24, struggled with orthorexia during her middle school years. A talented gymnast, she became fixated on her weight and eating a rigid diet of fruits and vegetables.
Like many orthorexics, Lindsey gradually pulled away from friends and family. She preferred to eat alone and spent 2-3 hours a day walking off any of the calories she'd taken in. It was a a very difficult time. 'I was just so hungry almost all the time, you lose that feeling of hunger. You don't know how to read body language, the signs that your body's giving you telling you that it's hungry."
Yet, she couldn't stop thinking about food and surrounded herself with images of appealing dishes and recipes she knew she would never make. Then, while researching eating disorders one day, Lindsey realized she had a problem. She spoke to her mother and started a treatment program. She struggled with her disorder for a few years, but has been in recovery for six years. Lindsey recently started a new job and she has a young daughter. She is living the healthy life she had worked so hard for.
Even with the increase in awareness, only about 10% of those with eating disorders seek treatment. The warning signs, especially for parents, can be subtle, according to Dr. Lampert; "If your child starts to isolate from their friends and from social activities around food with friends, that's a big warning sign. As is a lot of talk about food and weight and having to have foods prepared just a certain way or an over concern about exercise. You want to look for those extremes, you want to look for messages that don't feel balanced. If you're concerned as a parent, you're probably right."