We are all quite familiar with anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorders—orthorexia, on the other hand, may be a condition less known to those outside the eating disorder community. Defined as “healthy or righteous eating”, orthorexia refers to people who follow severely limited diets as a result of only consuming “healthy” foods. In may start out innocently by someone trying to cut back on red meat and add more fish, but instead one’s eating habits develop into more rigid behaviors where too many foods are avoided in an extreme manner. What results is someone with a very limited diet who will only eat certain foods prepared a certain way.
Those with orthorexia may also exhibit signs of anorexia or even bulimia; in less extreme cases it may present as more of a disordered eating picture or EDNOS diagnosis. Either way it is important to challenge these thoughts and behaviors in a therapeutic and nutritional environment.
As a registered dietitian, there are many therapies that can be helpful for this population. Using cognitive behavioral techniques we can challenge the thoughts behind the rigid eating behaviors. Slowly introducing a more balanced diet is a necessary but often long process. This can be facilitated by eating meals that include “unhealthy” or “taboo” foods with your client. I have personally found this to be one of the most helpful techniques.
As we approach the holiday season it is important to enjoy all different types of foods and embrace it as part of the celebration.