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People with an eating disorder typically become obsessed with food, body image, and weight. The disorders can become very serious, chronic, and sometimes even life-threatening if not recognized and treated appropriately. Eating disorders are complex medical and psychiatric illnesses.  Males and females may develop eating disorders as early as elementary school.  Although eating disorders are more commonly diagnosed in females than in males, and more often during adolescence and early adulthood than in older ages, many cases are being recognized in men and women in their 30s, 40s, and older. Several decades of genetic research have shown that eating disorders frequently co-occur with other mental illnesses like major depression, social anxiety disorder, and an obsessive-compulsive disorder.

The American Psychiatric Association classifies five different types of eating disorders in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, 5th Edition (DSM-5): anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder, avoidant restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID) and other specified feeding and eating disorders (OSFED).

Orthorexia, although not formally recognized by the DSM-5, is an obsession with healthy eating to the point that it becomes unhealthy. Although being aware of and concerned with the nutritional quality of the food you eat isn’t a problem in and of itself, people with orthorexia become so fixated on so-called ‘healthy eating’ that they actually damage their own well-being.  Studies have shown that many individuals with orthorexia also have an obsessive-compulsive disorder.  Like anorexia, orthorexia involves restriction of the amount and variety of foods eaten, making malnutrition likely.

One Blogger’s Obsession With Clean Eating Nearly Killed Her:

Some of the signs of orthorexia may include:

  • Compulsive checking of ingredient lists and nutritional labels
  • An increase in concern about the health of ingredients
  • Cutting out an increasing number of food groups (all sugar à all carbs à all dairy à all meat à all animal products)
  • An inability to eat anything but a narrow group of foods that are deemed ‘healthy’ or ‘pure’
  • Unusual interest in the health of what others are eating
  • Spending hours per day thinking about what food might be served at upcoming events
  • Showing high levels of distress when ‘safe’ or ‘healthy’ foods aren’t available
  • Obsessive following of food and ‘healthy lifestyle’ blogs on Twitter and Instagram
  • Body image concerns may or may not be present

If you are concerned that you or someone you know may have an eating disorder, a short screening tool has been developed for individuals 13 years old and up.

If you would like to talk with someone, a toll-free National Eating Disorder helpline is available at 1-800-931-2237.

For further information on eating disorders:

[image description: Christina Rice has long hair a black top and short jean shorts. She is very thin.)

Christina Rice has long hair a black top and short jean shorts. She is very thin.)

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