Health and nutrition have been a key focus in recent years so when I started my degree in 2017 and needed to an area to focus my dissertation on, I wanted to focus on something close to my heart. I used to eat really unhealthy and have also had an unhealthy relationship with food where I believed that dieting (i.e. eating less than 1200 calories) was the only way to lose weight. This mind frame completely changed when the focus shifted to ‘energy in, energy out’ and building muscle was more of a ‘goal’ than losing weight. Fast forward a few years and the unhealthy relationship I previously had with food was manifesting in different ways, ‘If I eat this chocolate bar, I will feel sluggish and it will ruin my gym session later’. Although my focus was more on health than weight loss, similar thought patterns still remained and I became very fixated on what I was eating.
I came across the term ‘orthorexia’ online about 3/4 years ago. Orthorexia describes a pathological obsession with proper nutrition that is characterized by a restrictive diet, ritualized patterns of eating, and rigid avoidance of foods believed to be unhealthy or impure (Koven et al., 2015).
Orthorexia is a relatively new phenomenon which has had very little research conducted in the field. Orthorexia can affect social relationships, contribute to mood disorders and in rarer cases, loss of periods and extreme weight loss. There have been arguments as to whether this should be categorized under an eating disorder or obsessive-compulsive disorder as there are some overlapping characteristics. Anorexia and Bulimia Nervosa are marked by a chronic concern for the quantity of food being consumed, whereas, orthorexia has been characterised by an over-concern with the quality of the food consumed (BodyWHYS, 2019).
According to research which suggests that the presence of two or more of the following may be an indicator that an individual is suffering from orthorexic tendencies:
I began my own research and also found increasing numbers of individuals that were reporting disturbed behaviours due to a desire to eat clean and healthy food. I conducted interviews and found that individual’s relayed similar behaviours that were being backed by current research. I believe that attitudes toward health and fitness in Ireland have dramatically changed in the past decade with the online fitness movement contributing to the spread of health information, shaping new ideas and concepts around ‘healthy eating’ and could be a cause for this new phenomenon. The #thinspo has been replaced by #fitspo but have we just replaced an obsession with being stick thin (which flooded our media 2 decades ago) with an obsession to eat clean and build muscle? We’ve gone from food labels gaining our attention to buy them by being ‘low fat’ to now being ‘high in protein’.
While I believe eating healthy and remaining active is extremely important, I also believe that we need to have some balance in our lives. As women especially, we can put a lot of pressure on ourselves to look a certain way and fit into ‘societal standards’ and while it is so refreshing to see celebrities post unfiltered photos, body image issues remain a huge problem in modern society.
There is still a lot more research that needs to be done on this topic but it’s something that I feel passionate about and want to contribute to further in the future. If you feel you are suffering from negative thoughts related to food, diet or body image, please reach out and seek help from someone you trust and can talk to. If you are interested in reading more on this topic, my research is posted up for free to download on Research Gate: Click here to read
Hi my name is Jade. I’m 25 years old. I studied counselling and psychotherapy for my masters degree at ICHAS and I’m currently working towards my counselling accreditation. I have a passion for food, health and fitness and like to take a more natural approach in life. When it comes to healing, I like to incorporate a variety of methods into therapy plans. I believe healing comes from an integrated approach and it’s important to look at all areas of the mind, body and spirit in order to restore balance. How food impacts our mind and body is an area which I’m also really passionate about. Many of us have unhealthy relationships with food which deserves more focus and attention on.