The Presence of Orthorexia Within the Fitness Community
A condition that not many people, coaches or amateurs alike seem to understand fully. The prevalence of this condition within the industry is forever growing due to misinformation and poor understanding of what it means to have “good nutrition”. Firstly, we must understand what it means to be orthorexic, according to NEDA (National Eating Disorders Association) orthorexia can be defined as “having an obsession with proper or ‘healthful’ eating” and research into this shows a strong correlation with obsessive-compulsive disorder along with possible other eating disorders such as anorexia.
Many individuals are oblivious to the existence of such a condition and deem their eating habits as being “dedicated” etc, when in reality their association with food is exceptionally unhealthy and with possible health repercussions further down the line.
“Good” vs “bad” food
For clarification purposes, there is no such thing as a “good” or “bad” food item, all have their place in a healthy, balanced diet. The difference between what is considered “good” and “bad” food choices is down to nutritional content/value. Fruit, vegetables, meat and other unprocessed foods are considered healthy due to their rich vitamin, mineral and macronutrient make up, along with generally being low in calories. On the other hand, foods such as crisps, sweets and chocolate etc are demonised as “bad” foods due to their exceptionally high calorie content per serving.
The truth is that with ALL foods, if eaten in excess, they will have detrimental health repercussions, consistently eating in caloric excess will always result in weight gain and correlating health conditions, this rule applies for all foods not just those that are deemed as “unhealthy”, the only difference being the caloric content per serving is typically lower in “good” foods which means that the volume of food in which it would take to reach caloric excess is greater. Although we are able to eat larger portions of foods deemed to be “healthy”, it is also important to recognise that an excess of vitamin/ mineral rich foods can lead to chronic hypervitaminosis of fat-soluble vitamins A and D if multivitamin supplementation is included in an excessively vitamin rich diet.
The so called “bad” foods are unnecessarily avoided and are important in their own way for the health (sometimes sanity) of many people, a simple pick me up snack during the day or a biscuit with a cup of tea in the evening should be enjoyed by everyone whether you’re aiming for a caloric deficit or not. The misconception with these foods is the simple principle of moderation, a biscuit in the evening will not be detrimental to your health goals, but a packet will. These little treats are what makes a healthy, balanced diet sustainable and typically, most people focussed on “clean eating” tend to exclude these completely from day one and in turn it results in a failed attempt. Allowing these indulgences are crucial for mental health, especially when making large lifestyle changes and should be enjoyed as opposed to criminalised.
Warning signs of orthorexia
- Compulsive checking of food labels
- Excessive concern for health of ingredients
- Body image issues
- Excessive restriction of certain food groups
- Distress when there is little “healthy” food available
Possible health repercussions
- Muscular atrophy
- Poor sleep
- Vitamin deficiencies
- Weakened immune system
The warning signs along with health repercussions of orthorexia are not limited to those listed above and can be extensive and correlate highly to those of other eating disorders such as anorexia. These are serious medical issues and should be addressed to your doctor if you feel concern.
In conclusion, I feel that orthorexia is a condition that could be mitigated through a stronger presence of important information present in regards to the importance of variation, freedom and fulfilment one should receive from their everyday eating habits. Every food can be enjoyed in moderation as a part of a healthy balanced diet.
By Tireoghain O’Neill
(Beat provides Helplines for adults and young people offering support and information about eating disorders. These Helplines are free to call from all phones.)
Helpline: 0808 801 0677
Studentline: 0808 801 0811
Youthline: 0808 801 0711