Orthorexia: How healthy eating turns into illness for some

Eating disorder orthorexia: A healthy diet can also be unhealthy
More and more people are paying attention to a balanced diet. Although this is fundamentally to be welcomed, the desire for healthy food becomes obsessive for some people. Experts then speak of the eating disorder “orthorexia”.

Healthy eating can become an obsession
More and more people are paying close attention to what foods they eat. Some of my whole grains make us healthier, others swear by the best sources of protein. Still others increasingly rely on so-called "clean eating" without processed foods, on vegan dishes or the paelo diet, with which you can lose weight through Stone Age food. When your own healthy diet becomes a constant constraint, experts speak of orthorexia as an eating disorder.

No recognized clinical picture
In technical jargon, the eating disorder is referred to as “orthorexia nervosa”. It is not a recognized clinical picture, but: "Orthorexia is synonymous with a disease-related disorder that should not be confused with healthy eating per se. Rather, it is a compulsive occupation with supposedly healthy food, ”said Christa Roth-Sackenheim, chair of the professional association of German psychiatrists (BVDP) in a message from the dpa news agency. “Those affected sometimes set very bizarre rules about what is considered healthy for them. There are basically no limits to your imagination. ”

Focus on food quality
Although orthorexia has been described in the scientific literature for over 15 years, there has so far been hardly any confirmed research results. It is known that when it comes to orthorectic eating behavior, the focus is on quality, i.e. the selection of certain foods. In contrast, anorexia or bulimia focuses on the amount of food consumed.

According to Prof. Anette Kersting, director of the clinic and polyclinic for psychosomatic medicine and psychotherapy at the University of Leipzig, orthorexia can be the start of an eating disorder. “Orthorectic eating behavior is a risk factor for anorexia or bulimia. Studies show that appropriate eating behavior often occurs at the beginning or after a treated eating disorder, ”said the expert, according to the news agency.

Mostly affected women
According to the information, women are particularly affected. "The motives can be very individual: fear caused by food scandals, the desire to live sustainably or alleged disease prevention," reported Martin Greetfeld, specialist in psychiatry and psychotherapy, about his experiences with those affected at the Schön Klinik Roseneck in Prien am Chiemsee.

“Often, orthorexia is a secondary symptom of depression or anxiety disorder. The changed eating behavior is used to counteract the feeling of meaninglessness or loss of control in one's own life, ”said Roth-Sackenheim.

Orthorexia often remains undetected for a long time
If the changed eating behavior leads to physical or social impairments, or if those affected suffer from it, then orthorexia requires treatment. But: "As with anorexia patients, there is little insight into orthorexia that one's eating habits are harmful," says Kersting.

Therefore, orthorectic eating behavior often remains undetected for a long time, according to Roth-Sackenheim. "Many sufferers only go to the doctor if they get symptoms of malnutrition, such as insomnia, skin problems or general exhaustion."

Detect and treat early
As the dpa report goes on to say, successful treatment is made difficult by the ideological component of orthorexia. “Affected people are sometimes very afraid that the therapy will make them sick. The path to normalized eating behavior is particularly difficult, ”said Greetfeld.

Kersting turned to family and friends of people at risk: “The transition from healthy eating as a virtue to pathological behavior is fluid. Those affected can hardly judge this themselves. Here the environment is also required to be attentive. ”There is a good chance that restrictive eating habits will not turn into an eating disorder in the long term. The prerequisite for this is that the problem is identified and dealt with at an early stage. (ad)

Author and source information

Video: How an eating disorder affects the way a person thinks (October 2021).