Why are people so obsessed with food

Psychiatry, Psychosomatics & Psychotherapy


Orthorexia - obsessively eating healthy

Only selected foods, only certain manufacturers, everything weighed down to the last gram - when supposedly healthy food becomes a life-determining ideology, experts speak of orthorectic eating behavior. That is not healthy.

Obsessed with healthy eating, more precisely with the idea of ​​eating healthily: They are not aware that people with this so-called orthorectic eating behavior often achieve exactly the opposite in their delusion. Orthorexia nervosa, as the technical term is, is not a recognized clinical picture. But: “Orthorexia is to be equated with a disease-related disorder that should not be confused with a healthy diet per se. Rather, it is a matter of compulsive preoccupation with supposedly healthy food, ”says Christa Roth-Sackenheim, chairwoman of the Professional Association of German Psychiatrists (BVDP).

Healthy nutrition is very important today, and strict forms of nutrition are also attracting increasing interest. According to the Allensbacher market analysis, 800,000 people in Germany describe themselves as vegans. Martin Greetfeld, specialist in psychiatry and psychotherapy, warns: "You have to be careful not to pathologize social trends straight away, that's why we speak of orthorectic eating behavior and not of orthorexia as a disease."

There are differences in one important point: “Eating with pleasure takes a back seat. This is the difference to an average vegan who can still eat with relish despite strict rules, ”says Roth-Sackenheim. “Those affected sometimes set very bizarre rules about what is considered healthy for them. There are basically no limits to your imagination. " The preparation of a meal can then take up to several hours. But in the end none of it is eaten because those affected are afraid that they have made a mistake in preparation, the specialist describes. Orthorectic eating behavior thus becomes compulsive.
Even if orthorexia has been described in the scientific literature for a little more than 15 years, there are hardly any reliable research results. One thing is certain: while in anorexia or bulimia the focus is on the amount of food consumed, in orthorectic eating behavior the focus is on the quality, i.e. the selection of certain foods.

Orthorexia can lead to eating disorders

Orthorexia can be the beginning of an eating disorder, says Prof. Anette Kersting, Director of the Clinic and Polyclinic for Psychosomatic Medicine and Psychotherapy at the University of Leipzig. “Orthorectic eating behavior is a risk factor for anorexia or bulimia. Studies show that such eating behavior often occurs at the beginning of or after an eating disorder that has been treated. " It mainly affects young women. Confirmed study results are lacking, however, also for the reasons. "The motives can be very individual: Fear caused by food scandals, the desire to live sustainably or alleged disease prevention," says Greetfeld, describing his experiences with those affected at the Schön Klinik Roseneck in Prien am Chiemsee. Roth-Sackenheim experiences: “Orthorexia is often a side symptom of depression or anxiety disorder. The changed eating behavior is used to counteract the feeling of meaninglessness or loss of control in one's own life. "

Orthorexia is in need of treatment if there are physical or social impairments due to the changed eating behavior or if those affected suffer from it. However: “As with anorexic patients, there is little insight into orthorexia that one's own eating behavior is harmful. For orthorexia patients, this is due, among other things, to the fact that healthy nutrition is fundamentally important, ”says Kersting.

Often orthorectic eating behavior therefore goes undetected for a long time, says Roth-Sackenheim. "Many of those affected only go to the doctor if they experience side effects of their malnutrition, for example insomnia, skin problems or general exhaustion." Kersting, who also heads the department for women and gender-specific questions in psychiatry at the German Society for Psychiatry and Psychotherapy, Psychosomatics and Neurology (DGPPN), also warns: “Orthorectic eating behavior can not only have physical consequences, it can also lead to social isolation This can lead to conflicts, especially if those affected are convinced of their moral superiority. " Visiting restaurants together with friends becomes impossible.

The ideological component of orthorexia makes successful treatment difficult. “Sufferers are sometimes very afraid that the therapy will make them sick. The path to normalized eating behavior is then particularly difficult, ”says Martin Greetfeld, who has been dealing with eating disorders since 2008. In the best case scenario, it doesn't even get to that point. Kersting therefore appeals to family and friends of people at risk: “The transition from healthy eating as a virtue to pathological behavior is fluid. Those affected find it difficult to judge this for themselves. Here, the environment is also required to be attentive. " Detected and treated at an early stage, the chances are good that restrictive eating behavior will not turn into an eating disorder in the long term.

Source: dpa