ballet, heath & nutrition, mental health

What is Orthorexia Nervosa?

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Orthorexia Nervosa (n.) – an obsession with eating foods that one considers healthy


The three main types of eating disorders – anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder –  are very complex and deadly conditions that can destroy the health, productivity, and relationships of the sufferer. These psychiatric disorders do not appear suddenly or unexpectedly; there are often several symptoms leading into a diagnosis of a full-blown eating disorder. Orthorexia is a one of those symptoms.

Unhealthy Obsession with Healthy Eating: Is Orthorexia an Eating Disorder?

“Orthorexia is not currently recognized as a clinical diagnosis in the DSM-5,” (National Eating Disorder Association) which is why it can only be considered a symptom, but when thinking about how eating disorders develop, along with the desperate yearning to be thin, it often begins with the innocent desire to have a healthier diet.

The subtle difference between those pursuing a healthy diet versus orthorexics is the mentality about food. Orthorexics become obsessed with food quality and purity. It is a restrictive diet; constantly counting calories and the numbers on the scale, much like anorexia. Ironically, the person so completely dedicated to healthy eating suffers from very poor health.

Dance and Orthorexia

In the world of dance, the topic of eating disorders is often swept under the rug, only to be talked about behind closed doors and in hushed voices. I strongly admire people like Laura Capelle from the Royal Danish Ballet and Sarah Badger who freelanced in New York City because of their courage to speak openly about their struggles with bad eating habits. I write about eating disorders, although I have never personally suffered from one, to be the loud voice in a silent crowd. I believe that it is important to be educated on all aspects of eating disorders – more so than just the three main types – especially as dancers. I can assuredly say that I feel the pressure to eat healthier – and eat less – when I am surrounded by fellow dancers. It is pressure like that than can cause someone to suffer from orthorexia.

Healthy eating comes with the territory of dance, but not all dancers are orthorexics. In fact, most aren’t. We understand that in order to dance, we must eat a balanced diet. It’s quite important for injury prevention and to have a long-lasting career.

Can #Fitspiration Trigger Orthorexia?

5cf54e364c297ecc8a327f1b421763f7This is purely my opinion, feel free to disagree with me, but I say yes, the negative fitspiration on the Internet can be a trigger for orthorexia. The trending hashtag, which is tagged in over 30 million photos on Instagram, often depicts photos of skinny girls in the gym holding their green breakfast smoothie ready to “take on the day” in their new, expensive, Nike exercise wear. I understand the meaning behind #fitspo, and all of the good intentions (not all fitspo is negative), but this fad is creating a whole other ideal body image for young women and men, and it is sabotaging their self-esteem. When self-esteem is low, it is easier to fall into bad eating habits to try and fit the perfect body standard. “Society pushes healthy eating and thinness, so it is easy for many to not realize how problematic this behavior can become,” (National Eating Disorder Association). Fitspo is basically saying, “All you have to do is workout constantly and only eat greens, and you’ll look just as good as me!” To a point, yes, that’s true, but this just adds fire to the fire of those who are already susceptible to bad eating habits. Moral of the story: Only view positive fitspo if you don’t want a low self-esteem. Thanks Internet, once again for all of the negativity.

Treatment for Orthorexia

Although Orthorexia cannot be diagnosed by your doctor, professional help may be needed depending on the severity of the behavior. Recovery is all about admitting that their is a problem and changing your thinking habits about food and yourself.

For more information about orthorexia, visit www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/orthorexia-nervosa

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