Open up any magazine or scroll through your Instagram feed and you’re bound to come across an article about the “wellness movement.” Especially if you’re an avid reader of this blog. But as of late, the press around wellness has taken a serious turn, and the focus has shifted away from fluffy ideas like skin brushing to more serious topics like the rise of a newer eating disorder, or as some call it OCD, known as Orthorexia nervosa.
Orthorexia nervosa, a term coined by an American doctor named Dr. Steven Bratman in the late 1990s, is when a person becomes unhealthily obsessed with righteous eating—and the purity or quality of food—to an extent that their physical or mental health suffers. Often times this disorder is associated with restrictive eating and an obsession with things like clean eating, veganism, raw dieting, juicing, gluten free, sugar free and other limiting diets that essentially take “healthy” eating to a dangerous place.
Symptoms include anxiety around “bad foods,” dietary inflexibility, a concern with physical health at social and emotional expense—which can all lead to malnutrition and a second disorder known as anorexia.
Of course, there are some people who can dedicate their lives to good health and still be mentally well, just as there will always be people who suffer from disordered eating “healthily” or otherwise, but I wanted to bring this up on my site given the rise of cases and severity of the damage this can cause.
I spend a lot of time here, and on social media, sharing my own experience with wellness, “clean eating,” and what some can argue may be my own obsession with things like organic food and non-toxic beauty. Because of that, I feel a sense of responsibility to open up the dialogue about orthorexia here on the blog. I personally don’t feel like I struggle with this disorder, but I am undoubtedly inundated with wellness/clean/restrictive eating whenever I open my Instagram feed, walk through a grocery store (kale, coconut oil, protein powders, chia seeds, oh my!) or drive through LA (aka land of workout studios and lean bodies). Personal problem or not, I can absolutely understand how the interest in a healthy lifestyle can spiral into a full blown disorder that can cause permanent damage on ones’ body or mind.
The scary thing about this disorder is that it stems from a good place. It usually starts with the intention of getting healthy, losing a little weight, working out more, eliminating toxins, etc. but for some people, it becomes the primary driver of everything they do in their lives to an unhealthy degree. I hope that by writing about this, it sparks more conversation and helps drive the conversation back to what I believe wellness is all about: properly nourishing oneself physically and emotionally.
Any thoughts on this? Is this something you’ve been reading a lot about too?
Links for further reading on the topic:
Why we fell for clean eating via The Guardian
The Unhealthy Truth Behind ‘Wellness’ and ‘Clean Eating’ via VICE
If you are struggling with an eating disorder and are in need of support, please call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237. For a 24-hour crisis line, text “NEDA” to 741741.