I sit across from the teen girl in my office, listening to her explain her typical diet, which consists of oatmeal, almond milk and banana, quinoa, tofu, broccoli and black beans, apples, bananas and spinach. Her diet is void of essential fatty acids, sugar, meat, dairy, sodium and any refined carbohydrates, all foods she has deemed to be unhealthy. Her Mom scheduled the visit, asking me to speak to her daughter and give her advice on a healthy diet. She had concerns that her daughter’s diet had become limited, with her attempts to become healthier. She informed me prior to the visit that her teen daughter hadn’t had her period in a few months and had lost some weight, but didn’t have an eating disorder since she “wasn’t skinny” and was eating regular meals.
Unfortunately, this has become too common a scenario with young people I’ve been working with recently. It often starts with a new diet to eat healthier such as vegetarian and slowly turns into orthorexia. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics defines orthorexia as an unhealthy fixation on eating healthy or “pure” foods. This disorder is typically characterized by an extreme obsession avoiding foods perceived to be harmful or unwholesome. The main concern with those afflicted with orthorexia is the quality of food vs. the quantity. Like anorexia and bulimia, orthorexia can lead to malnutrition, weight loss and health concerns. While orthorexia is not listed as an official diagnosis in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, health practitioners who have observed these conditions have begun to list it as such. Like other eating disorders, there is hope for treatment of orthorexia. Seeking help from a qualified therapist to address underlying issues and a dietitian to help normalize eating and return missing food groups can lead to successful treatment.