“Since obsessive compulsive behavior is the root cause for orthorexia, I find it helpful to encourage my clients focus on the many pleasurable and positive aspects of life rather than food,” Cottrill said. “Many of my OCD clients feel the need to ‘count’ something, whether it be fat grams, points or calories. I coach them to count their blessings when this urge strikes. Certainly this does not mean that healthy eating goes out the window, but balance, moderation and pleasure take the place of deprivation, extremism and limitation.”
She said orthorexia can start out with the wish for a healthy diet, but soon spirals out of control.
“In most cases, pre-packaged foods are the first to be eliminated from the diet,” Cottrill said. “From there, meats are often next to go, followed by dairy, non-organics, and so on. One might even reach a point where only raw foods are acceptable, but even then, the obsession might not be squelched. As more and more foods that are perceived as unhealthy are eliminated, at some point, balance is lost and mania sets in. Before you know it, what constitutes good health becomes clouded, as obsession and stress over consuming only morally acceptable foods takes over.”
For people who are already suffering from orthorexia, she said it’s a matter of reshaping the way they think about themselves and food.
“Once orthorexia is identified, the path to recovery often centers around the recognition that diet alone does not make a better person, and that basing self-esteem on the quality of one’s diet is irrational,” Cottrill said. “Some may be able to come to this conclusion on their own, while others who struggle more deeply with the disorder may require professional help to overcome it.”
“At the end of the day, while food and nourishment are important, they are but one aspect of our lives,” she added.