Most of us will be aware of anorexia and bulimia but how about orthorexia nervosa? I suspect many will be oblivious to the illness - not heard of it even, let alone know what it is.
Orthorexia is the term for a condition that includes symptoms of obsessive behaviour in pursuit of a healthy diet. People with Orthorexia will be obsessed with defining and maintaining the perfect diet, rather than an ideal weight. They will fixate on eating foods that give him or her a feeling of being pure and detoxed.
You may think it's a contradiction that being too healthy can be unhealthy? In the reality, those suffering have a distorted idea or perception on healthy eating. The strict diets can be dangerously restrictive and linked to anxiety, depression and other mental health problems.
Like many of less common eating disorders Orthorexia is classified under the 'catch all' diagnosis 'Eating Disorders Not Otherwise Specified' (known as EDNOS) or the miscellaneous category, simply put. There's concern that previous warnings about an eating disorder caused by obsessive healthy eating haven't been taken seriously and that the problem is continuing to grow.
This week, Men Get Eating Disorders Too launched a campaign to officially classify it as as an psychological illness. As a charity, we've seen a noticeable increase in sufferers that show the signs and are slipping through the net for diagnosis and treatment.
Despite previous warnings about the eating disorder caused by obsessive healthy eating it is largely unrecognised, misunderstood and often dismissed by medical professionals. While it may not be parallel to anorexia and bulimia it can impact on the health and well-being of sufferers if left untreated. Often sufferers will become pre-occupied on their safe foods, cutting out certain food groups that can escalate leading to malnutrition and deficiencies. In one case, as reported on Five Live, a sufferer described her eating disorder to the point where she was only eating water based foods.
Carrie Armstrong, recovering Orthorexia sufferer, said: "Usually it will start off where you cut something out of your diet and you are going to feel a slight improvement. So for me I cut out meat and then I cut out all animal products and then I cut out cooked food altogether and then stopped eating vegetables altogether to the point where I was only eating organic fruit.
"The funny thing with orthorexia is that why I understand why eating disorder groups are slightly resistant is that you can display the same symptoms of someone who wants to eat better or more healthier. Actually it's a controlling thing and it's a feared based thing so those with orthorexia don't do it to get the high of restriction, they don't stop doing it because they are afraid to."
In some circumstances Orthorexia can be life-threatening if left untreated. Kate Finn died of a heart attack from Orthorexia induced starvation in December 2003. Her eating behaviors become so restrictive that she died after being diagnosed with anorexia a short while before her passing.
Steven Bratman, author of 'Health Food Junkies,' explained: "Nonetheless, she brought her weight down so low she ultimately died from it. Most often, orthorexia is merely a source of psychological distress, not a physical danger. However, emaciation is common among followers of certain health food diets, such raw foodism, and this can at times reach the extremes seen in anorexia nervosa. Such 'anorexic orthorexia' is just as dangerous as anorexia. However, the underlying motivation is quite different. While an anorexic wants to lose weight, an orthorexic wants to feel pure, healthy and natural. Eating disorder specialists may fail to understand this distinction, leading to a disconnect between orthorexic and physician.
Whatever the motivation, there's nothing healthy and natural about starving yourself to death! If you're obsessed with healthy diet, and yet people tell you that you are seriously underweight, please take Kate's story to heart. You may not be anorexic in the ordinary sense, and yet what you have may kill you."
Any cynics that rubbish Orthorexia as a 'fad' or a 'diet gone wrong' needs to think again. It's a serious and potentially life-threatening eating disorder that needs to be recognised officially and urgently...