Orthorexia hidden in modern society

Graphic by Julie Alter

Graphic by Julie Alter

Kate Ridoux

Over the past several years, the line between diets and eating disorders has grown increasingly thin. So thin, in fact, that those who cross it may be unaware of the dangerous impact it can have on their physical and mental health.

Worldwide, many people are taking “healthy” or “clean” eating to such an obsessive level that Dr. Steven Bratman in 1996 named this condition “orthorexia.” The National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) defined orthorexia as “an obsession with eating foods that one considers healthy.” Individuals with orthorexia often avoid certain foods or entire food groups that they perceive to be “harmful” or “unwholesome.”

Nutritionist Dr. Sondra Kronberg, a national liaison for the NEDA, attributed this condition’s prevalence amongst adolescents to social media in an interview with CBS on Feb. 25, 2015.

“There’s this element of clean eating that’s mixed into their obsession. They will eat only organic, or they will become obsessed with foods that may contain chemicals. All of this is driven by the media culture of our time,” Kronberg said.

Many social media icons such as Kendall Jenner and Alexis Ren have made their claim to fame with their healthy and active lifestyles. While they do not directly promote any obsessive or unhealthy eating behavior, many of their followers may take their healthy eating to extreme levels in an attempt to emulate their lifestyles. Several blogs, including Sand ‘n’ Smiles, compile “eating/diet guides” to inform their readers of ways to eat meals inspired by Ren and other “It” girls.

Senior Rachel Van Brunt of Wall thinks that many teens may see a healthy lifestyle as a way to be trendy.

“Teens probably feel pressured to fit into the ‘healthy lifestyle’ mold,” Van Brunt said.  “At this point, it’s become more of a trend than a lifestyle.”

Van Brunt said living off of Whole Foods, Playa Bowls and kale, wearing athleisure and doing trendy workouts has become the “cool” thing to do.

While eating wholesome foods and exercising is a great way to improve one’s overall health, eliminating entire food groups or exercising excessively can have life threatening consequences like vitamin, mineral and caloric deficiencies, according to the organization BeyondOCD.

In today’s society, even healthy eating and frequently exercising can have drastic impacts on youth, and orthorexia is just one example of this, Kronberg said.

“It may begin with good intentions of trying to eat mostly organic, clean, or healthful foods. But in time, things tend to get narrower,” Bronberg said. “For instance, [orthorexians] might go from eating only the meat of grass-fed animals to eating no meat at all. It just keeps being ‘not good or pure enough,’ and as time goes on the patient has very little choice of what they are even willing to eat.”

A softening in rigidity within eating and allowing yourself to eat a variety of foods, nutritious or not, can help combat the disorder.

According to the NEDA, if you or someone you know answers yes to one or more of the following questions, a personal or professional examination of eating and lifestyle should be conducted to show whether or not your behaviors match that of orthorexia.