Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Orthorexia Nervosa: When Healthy Eating Becomes A Harmful Obsession

CHICAGO, Sept. 14, 2011 /PRNewswire/ -- Eating a healthy diet today can be challenging for many people, given the vast food choices available in our country and the often contradictory information found online and in the media. Certain individuals in pursuit of health, can become lost in the maze of nutrition and inadvertently turn their desire for healthy eating into an eating disorder called "orthorexia nervosa."

"The severity of orthorexia nervosa mirrors the severity of other eating disorders such as anorexia or bulimia," said Juliet Zuercher, registered dietitian and nutrition coordinator at Timberline Knolls. "Since orthorexia nervosa is not a recognized diagnosis in the DSM-IV, it's important to identify and understand the nuances of the disorder in order to treat the problem as effectively as possible."

Orthorexia nervosa was coined in the past decade by Dr. Stephen Bratman in his book titled Health Food Junkies, Orthorexia Nervosa: Overcoming the Obsession with Healthful Eating. Zuercher believes the prevalence of this eating disorder has escalated with the advent of organic foods, increased awareness of the benefits of sustainable agriculture and "going green" in popular culture.

"I believe our culture continues to be utterly confused about how to eat," adds Zuercher. "Some vulnerable individuals cling to this 'eating religion' for purity sake, but it can take a dangerous turn."

Orthorexia nervosa is treated much the same as anorexia nervosa with some key differences. These include: acknowledging the motivation behind the behavior, understanding the desire for purity and righteousness, and helping the individual to identify the unintended consequences of their radical eating. Orthorexia nervosa is rarely about body image, but sometimes it's viewed as a welcome side effect. After proper weight restoration is achieved, allowing ample time to explore new ways of eating and suggesting healthy, mindful types of activity that can be productive is recommended.

Zuercher reports some common signs of orthorexia nervosa include:

  • Dramatic weight loss (more than 10 lbs. a month)
  • Changes in mood and personality
  • Isolation
  • Spending long periods of time acquiring, preparing and eating food in very particular ways
  • Hair loss, brittle nails, dry skin, cracked lips, poor skin color
  • Irregular sleep patterns
  • Loss of job, relationships
  • Shirking responsibilities
  • Memory loss, distraction

About Timberline Knolls Residential Treatment Center:

Timberline Knolls is a leading private residential treatment center for women and adolescent girls (ages 12 – 65+) with eating disorders, substance abuse, trauma, mood and co-occurring disorders. Located in suburban Chicago, residents receive excellent clinical care from a highly trained professional staff on a picturesque 43-acre wooded campus. Women and families seeking Christian treatment can opt for specialized Christian-based therapy. For more information on Timberline Knolls Residential Treatment Center, call us at 877.257.9611.

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