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Disordered Eating and Orthorexia

Updated: Mar 13, 2023

What is disordered eating and orthorexia?


Disordered eating happens when habits develop due to feelings of guilt, disgust, or anxiety before or after eating. These habits may include avoiding entire food groups, avoiding foods with specific textures without a medical reason, binge-eating, compensating with exercise based on caloric intake, tricking oneself into feeling fuller with less food, fasting to lose weight, intentionally skipping meals, vomiting/using laxatives to control weight, or often participating in fad diets. The signs and symptoms may include chronic weight fluctuations, rigid rituals around food and exercise, preoccupation with weight or body image, or feeling a loss of control around food.


Orthorexia is a term used that is characterized by an increase in concern about the health of ingredients in food. In someone with orthorexia, dietary restrictions that are intended to promote health may end up leading to detrimental consequences such as malnutrition or social isolation. Examples of orthorexia include compulsive checking of nutrition labels, cutting out an increasing number of food groups (such as all carbs, all dairy, all animal products, etc..), unusual interest in the health of others, or feeling distressed when “safe” or “healthy” foods are not available.


Disordered eating and an eating disorder are slightly different. Disordered eating is used to describe a wide range of harmful eating behaviors but may not warrant a diagnosis of an eating disorder. An eating disorder has a specific criterion. Eating disorders may include anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, or binge-eating disorder. There are many health risks that may stem from disordered eating or eating disorders.


Who is affected?


Disordered eating, eating disorders, or orthorexia may affect anyone of any age, race, gender, sexual orientation, or body size. They often start with teens or young adults but may start at a very young age or well into adulthood. Disordered eating may also coexist with another disorder such as anxiety, depression, substance abuse, trauma, or obsessions with compulsions.


Wellness Culture


Wellness culture is similar to diet and fitness culture. The media has a major influence on how people view wellness. Today's wellness culture primarily promotes that a certain body type depicts wellness. It instils the belief that staying up to date on fad diets, supplements, or skin regimens is the only path to health, that perfectionism and wellness are synonymous, or that the pursuit of health is the pursuit of wellness. It seems as if wellness culture has been isolated from criticism or how it may affect one’s health negatively. This is commonly a driving force that leads to poor body image. In turn, this may cause disordered eating, unhealthy exercise habits, overvaluing weight/size/shape, changes in self-worth, or disconnect in relationships.


True Wellness


True wellness lies in our values. Our values may include connection, safety, integrity, family, love, unity, creativity, or freedom. Wellness also comes from balance. To obtain true wellness there is a balance among the pillars of health which include sleep, exercise, nutrition, stress management, relationships, and lifestyle. For example, when sleep is lacking, exercise should be skipped for a day and returned to once sleep is replenished. With a lack of balance, exercising despite minimal sleep, would lead to an unhealthy outcome. It is equally important to align our values with the pillars of health. For example, if we value family, then our lifestyle should reflect that value. One shall not miss out on a family event due to a preoccupation of “wellness culture” such as running to make up for calorie consumption. Becoming aligned with our values while balancing all our needs physically and emotionally will ultimately lead to the success of finding true wellness.


Take Action


If you or someone you know has been affected by disordered eating, you may utilize the following resources:

- Ask your primary health care provider

- Call or Text NEDA (National Eating Disorders Association): (800) 931-2237

- For crisis or immediate help, text “NEDA” to 741741 to be connected with a trained volunteer.

- For treatment in Michigan, visit https://sanfordbehavioralhealth.com/ or call (844) 448-7700

- If you are a clinician in need of additional education, attend: The Eating Disorder Summit 2023, April 13th from 8am-4:30pm located in Midland, Michigan. For more information or registering, contact Lisa Rector at lrector@sanfordhouse.com


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3 Comments


Thank you for giving in depth explanations on disordered eating, Dr. Hamilton!!

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As a certified health work and a clincal mental health counseling intern, I can’t love this enough. There is so much truth here. I’ve seen this in clients…the obsession of reading labels and following fad diets particularly. It truly is about balance and honoring our values.

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Aayush Agarwal
Aayush Agarwal
Mar 13, 2023

This is very helpful!!

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