National Eating Disorders Awareness Week Shines Light on Relatively New Disorder on the Rise

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Quest to eat a ‘pure’, healthy, or raw diet can cause some to spiral into paranoia about food, putting them at risk for severe health implications.

Walterboro, SC (February 23, 2021) – National surveys estimate that 20 million women and 10 million men in America will have an eating disorder at some point in their lives.  Anorexia and Bulimia are household words but many may not be familiar with a diagnosis on the rise - Orthorexia. First diagnosed in 1998, it means an unhealthy obsession with ‘pure’ foods and ‘healthful’ eating. 

This means something way beyond Keto or gluten-free. “Many times eating disorders start when patients feel like they have lost control of other things in their life, and/or from a lack of self- esteem, or constantly being put down by friends and family to lose weight,” says Caron Sharp, Clinical Nutrition Manager at Colleton Medical Center. 

Often, to maintain a ‘pure’ diet, people with orthorexia severely limit the variety of foods that they eat. They may restrict themselves to raw, local, organic or unprocessed goods, for example or exclude refined grains, gluten, soy, specific foods or even entire food groups, such as dairy and meat. Doing this can make them feel virtuous and even provide an initial boost to their self-esteem, but it can also lead to a real fear of eating certain items. 

Warning signs of orthorexia

Since there’s no official criteria for diagnosing orthorexia, pinpointing it comes down to recognizing when clean eating morphs into an unhealthy obsession. The following behaviors may be symptoms:

  • Fixating on ingredients, nutrition labels and the content of food in general
  • Spending significant time each day reading, researching, planning and thinking about how, when and what you’re going to eat 
  • Avoiding more and more foods because you consider them to be unhealthy 
  • Continuously narrowing the number of foods you consider to be healthy or pure
  • Rejecting food at restaurants or social gatherings, or other foods that you did not prepare yourself  
  • Becoming very anxious when healthy or “acceptable” foods are unavailable
  • Feeling extreme guilt or stress after eating foods classified as unhealthy or impure
  • Orthorexia is a serious condition, and people with symptoms should seek help from a healthcare professional. As it progresses, it can lead to physical and mental health problems that mimic those of Anorexia such as; malnutrition, calorie deficits, anxiety, social isolation and extreme weight loss. In worst-case scenarios, it may even become life-threatening.

    It’s important to address both the physical and mental health effects of orthorexia. A mental health professional can address traits of obsessive-compulsive disorder as well as related anxiety and depression. 

    “The core of the treatment”, Sharp says, “is working to uncover if there is a fear of certain foods, educating the patient on normal nutrition so they do not feel like they are over eating, as well as educating them on the ‘normal’ amount that they should be eating.”

    If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder contact the National Eating Disorder Association hotline at (800) 931-2237 or visit nationaleatingdisorders.org.

    About Colleton Medical Center: Located in the heart of Walterboro, Colleton Medical Center (CMC) has a longstanding history as a leader in the community with a commitment to patient-centered care.  CMC is an HCA facility, with 135 beds, offering both inpatient and outpatient medical services, as well as 24/7 Emergency Care for adults and children.  Named a Top Performer on Key Quality Measures by The Joint Commission for four consecutive years, CMC ranks in the top 15 percent of U.S. hospitals for quality care.  Committed to quality services and compassionate care, CMC continues to expand and advance to meet the needs of a growing community.

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