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The New Eating Disorder: How To Identify Orthorexia

National Eating Disorders Awareness week is February 22-28, and in the name of awareness, it's important that everyone understands eating disorders don't discriminate.

They can happen at any age, to race, size or gender.

Anorexia nervosa and bulimia are common eating disorders with which many are familiar. Anorexia occurs when an individual restricts calories, which leads to starvation.

This can progress to lead to extreme levels of malnourishment and being dangerously thin. Bulimia occurs in people who binge on food and then subsequently purge.

However, there is also a new eating disorder that is gaining more attention called orthorexia. This is a type of disorder with which many struggle, despite being unaware of its presence.

Too much of anything is never good and, in short, orthorexia occurs when healthy eating and living becomes an obsession.

Orthorexia means "fixation on righteous eating," and usually begins as a well-intended approach to healthy eating.

However, throughout a period of time, food choices become restricted and health suffers, which leads to the development of a variety of problems.

Additionally, many orthorexics suffer from social anxiety regarding gatherings that involve food, and for this reason, many orthorexics isolate themselves.

The term was originated with Steven Bratman MD, who suffered with this disorder himself.

Although other eating disorders focus more on calories, food and weight, orthorexia includes hints of this obsession, but mainly centers on healthy eating.

After reading up on orthorexia, I found it interesting that many individuals who suffer the disorder regard eating healthy, exercising religiously and focusing on clean food as a means to be "good" people.

The media today somewhat portrays being thin and active as being "good" and "ideal," but does being physically fit or thin determine whether or not you are a good person?

There is a great quote by author and philosopher Eckhart Toll that states,

"You do not become good by trying to be good, but by finding the goodness that is already within you and allowing that goodness to emerge."

Being a "good person" is defined by so much more than how you look, what you eat or how physically fit you are.

We already have so much goodness within ourselves, and it's important to realize that trying to fit a standard won't make us any happier or content with whom we are.

Eating healthy and being physically active are certainly amazing choices, and some that I practice each and every day. However, it's easy to fall into the trap of letting these habits take over your life.

Self-esteem shouldn't be based on your quality of diet, but rather who you are as a person and what positivity you can bring into this world.

The main problem with orthorexia is that it holds you back from truly living your life to the fullest.

Anxiety over food and hitting a gold standard of physical fitness are aspects of this disorder that lead individuals to forget what's really important.

Relationship with the self, level of self-love and relationships with others who enhance our lives and our overall mental wellbeing is what makes people who they are.

Orthorexics find it difficult to free themselves from the obsession of food and thoughts about the pressure (whether from themselves or others) to be physically fit.

Imagine having a conversation with a loved one, and the entire time, you can't devote 100 percent of your attention to that person because you are consumed with intrusive thoughts of food. Clean eating becomes the meaning of life to these individuals.

Treatment for orthorexics can come after they admit to having a problem. Causes of orthorexia can differ and are typically multi-faceted.

The National Eating Disorder Association has a hotline for anyone seeking help.

You can call this number and engage in the many social media efforts to bring awareness to eating disorders and support those who suffer from them.