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Orthorexia Disorder

In 1996, Steven Bratman coined the term Orthorexia Disorder, when he observed a large number of his patients being overly health-obsessed. The term was used, not as a diagnosis, however to help patients understand that ‘over’ healthy eating may not be as beneficial as they thought. Today, orthorexia disorder is not recognised as a disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-V). However in recent years the trend to be healthy and ‘eat clean’ has become more prevalent. shifanews

Orthorexia versus eating disorders

Orthorexia disorder, unlike anorexia nervosa and bulimia, does not focus on the individual wanting to be thin or lose weight. However, the individual fixates on eating healthy to the point where it becomes a crippling compulsion. Other traits associated with this condition include an obsessive focus on the choice of food, planning, buying, preparation and consumption, discomfort when meals are not planned in advance and a belief that food is only a source of health rather than pleasure. Also a persistent belief that eating obsessively ‘clean’ is health-promoting despite evidence of malnutrition. shifanews

Orthorexia focuses on the quality of the food, whereas the focus in anorexia and bulimia is on the quantity of food intake. As a result of this condition, individuals are likely to spend hours obsessing and stressing over their food, which can lead to low self-esteem, social isolation, severe anxiety or depression. shifanews

Does it fall under eating disorder category? shifanews

It is argued whether this condition would fall under an eating disorder (such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia) due to the primary focus being on healthy diet and lifestyle. However, others argue that it fits more neatly with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) due to the fixation on only eating clean food and the sense of control the individual exhibits. Regardless of which category orthorexia falls under, the effects of this psychological condition can cause detrimental physical, psychological and social effects on the individual over time. shifanews


In an American study, it showed that more than 90 percent women are more prone to developing an eating disorder in comparison to men. And in 86 percent of cases they develop before the age of 20. As mentioned above, this condition is still under-going research in order to provide a better understanding as well as helping professionals identify the condition within the general population. It is still a condition that has not been recognised in many countries around the world, including Pakistan. Further research  can help create awareness and help to overcome such effects. shifanews

Diagnosis and Treatment

Though orthorexia is not diagnosable, it does however still require treatment for those suffering the identified traits of the condition. Treating an individual suffering from the disorder would entail similar methods to that of anorexia, bulimia and even OCD, which would first include the individual recognising their behaviour and understanding what caused the obsession. Once this is established then the individual can be offered cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) in which the professional can work through the condition with the individual by helping them change their thought process and beliefs surrounding what they eat. shifanews

The writer is a Forensic Psychologist in UK

orthorexia disorder, orthorexia versus anorexia

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