Many people have an unhealthy relationship with food or eating caused by underlying trauma or other issues. Orthorexia nervosa (ON) is one example of disordered eating. Often, eating disorders (EDs) are not easy to identify or treat. According to Federal Practitioner, “There is significant debate whether ON is a single syndrome, a variance of other syndromes, or a behavioral and culturally influenced attitude.” Exclusive Hawaii Rehab treats ON and other forms of disordered eating using psychotherapy, behavior modification, and other therapeutic modalities.

What Is Orthorexia?

Orthorexia is a form of disordered eating characterized by an obsession with foods considered “correct,” “clean,” and “healthy.” According to Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment, “Orthorexia nervosa describes a pathological obsession with proper nutrition that is characterized by a restrictive diet, ritualized patterns of eating, and rigid avoidance of foods believed to be unhealthy or impure.” People’s obsession with eating only healthy or “clean” foods can interfere with relationships and their ability to function.

Some of the risk factors for developing ON include:

  • Perfectionism
  • Neurotic tendencies
  • Dissatisfaction with body image
  • History of dieting
  • Peer pressure
  • Exposure to extreme diet and body image media
  • Extreme religious or spiritual beliefs surrounding food
  • Trauma-related to food or body image

College-age women have the highest risk of experiencing ON. Some studies indicate higher education may be a significant factor in the development of ON and obsession with eating “healthy” or “correct” foods. Sometimes, people spend hours each day focused on sharing their views on food, preparing food, or completing food-related rituals. ON has the potential to cause severe stress, anxiety, and physical health issues.

The Dangers of Restrictive Eating

Restrictive eating has the potential to cause severe, complex, and permanent health problems. The human body needs to consume a balance of essential vitamins and minerals every day to ensure it continues to function properly. Malnutrition is one of the most common side effects of ON.

Individuals who do not get enough essential nutrients are considered malnourished even if they have a healthy body weight for their age and gender. According to the previously mentioned article by the Federal Practitioner, “Despite a focus on eating, orthorexia nervosa may lead to malnourishment, loss of relationships, and poor quality of life.” Exclusive Hawaii Rehab provides clients with the information and resources they need to identify and replace unhealthy eating behaviors.

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Common Signs and Symptoms of Orthorexia

Individuals most likely to experience ON spend a lot of time preoccupied with creating and maintaining a healthy lifestyle. The motivation for only eating “healthy or clean” food usually includes a desire to abstain from junk food or empty carbs. While the goal is typically positive, the execution may lead to severe dietary restriction and malnourishment.

Some of the signs and symptoms of ON include:

  • Extreme concern over the quality of food ingredients
  • Avoiding foods prepared by others out of concern that they may not meet certain quality standards
  • Extreme concern over “good” or “bad” foods
  • Physical signs of malnutrition, including extreme weight loss
  • Spending an excessive amount of time researching food and planning meals
  • Limiting meals to only pre-approved “healthy” options

A clinical diagnosis is essential to ensure people with ON get the treatment and support they need to develop a healthier relationship with food and body image.

Potential Long-Term Health Side Effects of Orthorexia

People who limit the types of food they eat often do not have the nutritional education to recognize if their meal plans are missing essential vitamins and minerals. Ignorance, misinformation, or disinformation may cause some people to avoid certain vital nutrients.

Some potential long-term health issues related to orthorexia include:

  • Increased risk of developing mental health disorders
  • Muscle and organ damage caused by severe malnutrition
  • Long-term metabolic issues
  • Increased risk of developing additional eating disorders
  • Social isolation and relationship issues
  • Heart problems caused by lack of essential nutrients

The long-term health effects are largely reversible if the condition is recognized and treated early. Orthorexia has similar treatment rates as anorexia nervosa. According to the National Institute of Health (NIH), some researchers have reported that “about half of patients recover completely, 30 percent partially recover and 20 percent remain severely ill.” People concerned about ON should seek professional treatment to ensure the best possible outcome.

Experience True Healing

Our deeply-caring staff and the surrounding natural beauty offer an unparalleled healing experience.

Treatment Options for Orthorexia at Exclusive Hawaii Rehab

Clinicians at Exclusive Hawaii Rehab are certified to treat primary and secondary mental health disorders, substance abuse, and EDs. Treatment plans are personalized to each client’s unique needs and preferences to reduce stress and improve the effectiveness of treatment. Clients are not forced to eat certain foods and instead are guided through the process of creating a healthier relationship with food.

Exclusive Hawaii Rehab offers the following:

  • Psychotherapy
  • Psychiatry
  • Nutritional coaching
  • Psychoeducation
  • Peer support
  • Community engagement
  • Aftercare planning
  • Alumni services

Every client is treated like part of the family and given the support they need to fully heal from the effects of orthorexia and any co-occurring conditions. Clients are encouraged to use alternative holistic therapies and build healthy social bonds to improve the effectiveness of treatment.

Addressing Co-Occurring and Underlying Issues

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is an effective tool for treating disordered eating and co-occurring conditions. ON is often caused by underlying issues impacting a person’s sense of self-worth, self-confidence, and self-image. CBT and other treatments offered at Exclusive Hawaii Rehab help clients identify and replace maladaptive thoughts, beliefs, and behaviors related to eating and food.