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What is orthorexia?

Cover Media logo Cover Media 3/8/2020
Teresa Palmer posing in front of a window © Dennis Van Tine/Geisler-Fotopres/picture-alliance/Cover Images

Australian actress Teresa Palmer recently opened up about suffering from orthorexia between 2009 and 2012.

"I was incredibly clean with my eating, so I didn't have anorexia or bulimia, but I had something different, which is when you become so obsessed with the amount of calories you're putting into your body, everything had to be of the highest quality," Teresa recently explained on the Mamamia Me Before You podcast. "It was exhausting to log every calorie and to just be so overly conscious of the food I was putting into my body."

So what is orthorexia exactly?

Coined in the late '90s, the term orthorexia refers to an unhealthy obsession with eating pure, healthy food. Although being concerned with the nutritional quality of your food isn't a problem in itself, people with orthorexia become fixated on so-called "healthy eating" and use it cope with negative thoughts and feelings, or to feel in control, and will become guilty or anxious if they eat food they feel is unhealthy.

The condition isn't as well-known as others because it is not formally recognised by medical professionals and a person exhibiting symptoms would not be diagnosed with orthorexia, although the term may be brought up when discussing their illness. Eating disorders that cannot be diagnosed as anorexia, bulimia, or binge eating might be diagnosed as "other specified feeding or eating disorder" (OSFED).

What are the symptoms of orthorexia?

According to the experts at America's National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA), symptoms can 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, an inability to eat anything but a narrow group of foods that are deemed 'healthy' or 'pure', and showing high levels of distress when 'safe' or 'healthy' foods aren't available.

How can it be treated?

There are no treatments specifically for orthorexia, but it is generally treated as a variety of anorexia and/or obsessive-compulsive disorder. Sufferers will usually undergo therapy to help forge a healthier relationship with food and to increase the variety of food they can eat.

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