Orthorexia: Who, What & Why

My professor assigned us research papers for our final and I came across the most healthy eating disorder that is poisoning the nation one “inspo” picture at a time.

Scrolling through your Instagram feed, you easily view a handful of individual and original pictures and posts. These include your aunt’s dog in a bee costume, the new food restaurant your friend tried that was #todiefor, your favorite fitness guru’s latest go-to workout plan, and Kylie Jenner’s newest lip line. Looking at those four examples alone, there’s a wide variety. Stepping back, one thinks, “Why do I follow these accounts?” For pleasure? Inspiration? Or just the mere excitement to be caught up on what your friends and family are up to?

With the number of Instagram users increasing rapidly, there’s an account to follow for almost everything. Australian Instagram user Essena O’Neill published a news article several months ago on her negative experience on the social media app. O’Neill, who ran an “inspo” account, posted pictures of her model perfect physique weekly, followed up by paleo inspired meal plans and picture perfect looks with subliminal ads included in favor of the designer at hand. A year after running this account, she came clean, confessing that she edits her pictures and “wasn’t free.” She felt tied down from sponsoring companies as well as the self-made responsibility she put on herself to keep up with the high image projected by her account.

A lie she was living for a year that simply “motivated” others to get her look was easily transformed by a body contour app or high fashion clothes. This article brought up several questions including my number one, “Do we heavily emphasize the level of athleticism in our look for our personal health and well-being or is it all for show?” In the age of juice cleanses, raw vegan lifestyles, and tummy cinchers used to look like Kim Kardashian, we’re immersed in an overly health conscious country. Losing weight fast is a common trend for our generation to get a quick fix and a slimmer body. Whether it is the lemon juice detox, bath detox, or simply not eating; we’re obsessed.

Being healthy is one thing, but taking it to extreme levels separates the dieter from the normal stereotype. Orthorexia, defined in 1996, is sweeping the youth culture. Orthorexia is not only stereotyped as a disorder but an obsession. This disease varies from person to person depending on their lifestyle as well as mindset. The disease is defined by common habits revolving around an obsession with being healthy and active. Further actions are demonstrated if said person doesn’t follow set rules in regards to eating or workout plans. These actions could include starvation, self-induced vomiting, or a “punishment” like extra exercise to “take back” the consumed calories. It may also be acted on by a minimized meal consumption next time food is consumed due to the previous calorie intake.

With Instagram being a huge factor of this disease, people aren’t simply conforming to the usual eating disorders like anorexia or bulimia. This trend is on an upward increase from the average gym goer or collegiate athletes. Calorie counting is the new unhealthy. Restraining from foods with excess carbs, or any carbs at all, are poisoning the minds of athletes of a variety of ages. Orthorexia is the most common eating disorder found in a large variety of collegiate athlete’s lifestyles due to the pressure that comes from the media and other outside influences.

Orthorexia Nervosa is not currently recognized as a clinical disease. One with an “unhealthy obsession” when it comes to healthy eating may suffer this disease. It starts with a simple attempt to eat “clean.” Over time, this attempt morphs into an obsession with the quality and purity of food. Everyday is a constant struggle to be “good” and to keep a grasp on personal self control. Self-punishment is often used if temptation conquers the resist not to eat.

This obsession starts kicking out major food groups due to their calorie count and overall nutrition facts. These habits soon affect other aspects, including activities, interests, relationships and the person’s overall physical state. A lack of motivation for social activities bares on the orthorexic due to an intake of unwanted calories. This bleeds into simple date nights, social gatherings, or even family nights with your loved ones.

Causes of orthorexia vary from person to person. A recent article published on The Spoon University talks about a female athlete’s pressure to maintain a specific body type. This shifts from athlete to athlete, but there’s often pressure to look a certain way. While some or most will not conform, there’s a large portion of those who will fall under the pressure. Girls who are elite athletes are more likely to have eating disorders than their classmates who simply hit the gym a few times a week to avoid college weight gain. During an upwards of 20 hours of practice a week, these athletes are under tremendous pressure to keep up with grades, a social life and, most importantly, the sport participated in. A higher rate of this condition is commonly found in judged sports like gymnastics or diving unlike quick-paced ones like soccer or lacrosse. Uniforms, Instagram “Inspos” and even comments made by coaches, motivate an athlete’s drive to conform to a certain body shape. This problem is spreading all across the collegiate level in both males and females, but it’s not a new problem. Athletes have suffered from eating disorders for decades, but the acknowledgment of a newer one, Orthorexia, is finally surfacing.

Through the constant pressures media putting certain body images under scrutiny, this trickles down to the middle class following their every move. Movements include one like Aerie’s unedited adds attempt to help break the conforming of body image. As we attempt to break this mold, many efforts backtrack us spread through media. With hundreds of “inspo” Instagram accounts like Essena O’Neill’s, every feed is filled with the how-to of getting a perfect body of clean eating. Although, this lifestyle may fit in one in five women, the other four are striving for an image that simply will never happen due to genetics. With the attempt to fit it, they find themselves in an unhealthy state, unable to recognize their problem. Emphasizing the body image problems endured by college athletes, Orthorexia is experienced by even the fittest of them all. In a world where health dictates most aspects of our lives we question, how healthy is too healthy?


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