Orthorexia in Teens: When Healthy Eating Is All that Matters
Orthorexia in teens is very common given young people’s interest in their body image and being accepted by society. It usually affects 28% of the western population. In addition, it’s most commonly seen in young women and college students, as well as in athletes.
What is orthorexia?
First, this word comes from the Geek orthos, which means “correct,” and orexi, which is “appetite.” That’s why this word is used to describe an eating disorder where people are obsessed with eating healthy.
Dr. Steve Bratman first coined this name in 1997. Someone with this disorder spends a lot of their time choosing and looking for healthy foods, as well as planning their diet. In addition, they tend to opt for natural, whole, organic, non-GMO and pesticide-free foods.
Also, they won’t eat any foods with sugar, fat, or that are rich in salt, etc. In short, they’ll always choose quality, healthy foods, but they aren’t concerned with their weight. That’s the difference between this disorder and others such as anorexia or bulimia. However, people with this diet still carry out a very restrictive diet when it comes to the foods and nutrients they’re consuming.
In addition, they usually won’t substitute prohibited foods with other alternatives. Also, they pay a lot of attention to how they prepare their food. For example, they’ll use ceramic silverware and utensils to make sure they aren’t contaminating their foods with metals.
Risk factors of orthorexia in teens
In general, people with this condition tend to be perfectionists. Therefore, they want to be able to control everything, and they can also suffer from low self-esteem. However, they tend to consider themselves superior to those who don’t eat as healthy as they do. This notion of superiority can lead to social isolation.
In addition, they’re usually orderly, meticulous and in need of care and protection. Also, they love to play sports. They’ll avoid alcohol, fast food and high-fat meals, like those that are fried or battered. In fact, they may even avoid olive oil.
If they eat something that isn’t healthy, they’ll start feeling guilty or uncomfortable. In addition, they’ll avoid going out to eat because they’re worried there won’t be healthy options. So, they tend to always make their own food. Therefore, they experience lower quality of life because the pleasure of eating out with friends or doing other activities decreases significantly.
Even their use of social networks, especially Instagram, is related to this disorder. If you were to look at their page, you’d see a large number of healthy food and fitness accounts. In addition, they would follow pages that advertise about diet products.
Orthorexia in adolescents tends to affect people in the upper-middle class. That’s because the types of products they consume are more expensive or are only found in specific stores.
Generally, they take a large interest in food and health. Because of that, they’ll constantly look at the nutritional composition of products, and they’ll plan what they’re going to eat in advance (at least 24 hours before).
What does orthorexia in teens look like?
In the long term, a person with this disorder will lack specific nutrients and may be malnourished. As a result, they’re at a high risk of suffering infections, hair loss, osteoporosis, fatigue and amenorrhea (absence of menstruation). Also, it usually causes low energy and behavioral changes.
Also, those who suffer from orthorexia can have anxiety and depression. In addition, they may not be able to control any of their emotions, such as anger and frustration.
When it comes to grocery shopping, you may notice your teenager spending a lot of time reading food labels. Another sign is if they can’t find a specific product, and they want to go to another store to get it.
Finally, since it affects the mental and eating state, orthorexia requires a joint approach between a psychologist and a dietitian-nutritionist. The objective is to make your teenager see that eating is a social act that requires some flexibility from time to time. In addition, these professionals will offer them tools to help manage their emotions towards food in the best possible way.It might interest you...
All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.
- Victoria Lozada y Carlos Moratilla (2020) Porqué comes como comes. España: Plataforma Editorial
- Hyrnik J, Janas-Kozik M, Stochel M, Jelonek I, Siwiec A, Rybakowski JK. (2016) The assessment of orthorexia nervosa among 1899 Polish adolescents using the ORTO-15 questionnaire. Int J Psychiatry Clin Pract, 20(3): 199-203.
- Turner PG, Lefevre CE. (2017) Instagram use is linked to increased symptoms of orthorexia nervosa. Eat Weight Disord, 22(2): 277-84.
- María Eugenia Brun. (2017) Ortorexia, el nuevo trastorno alimentario en adolescentes. Aleteia. Disponible en: https://es.aleteia.org/2017/06/10/ortorexia-el-nuevo-trastorno-alimentario-en-adolescentes/
- La voz de Galicia. Aumentan los casos de ortorexia: el trastorno de quienes buscan la alimentación perfecta.
- Antena 3 noticias. (2019) Las redes sociales pueden influir en los casos de ortorexia, el trastorno compulsivo de llevar una alimentación sana. Disponible en: https://www.antena3.com/noticias/salud/las-redes-sociales-pueden-influir-en-los-casos-de-ortorexia-el-trastorno-compulsivo-de-llevar-una-alimentacion-sana_201907215d34bfaa0cf2c80663dbaae3.html
- EFE salud. (2016) Ortorexia, la perjudicial obsesión por la comida sana y saludable. Disponible en: https://www.efesalud.com/ortorexia-la-perjudicial-obsesion-a-la-comida-sana-y-saludable/
- Niedzielski A, Kaźmierczak-Wojtaś N. Prevalence of Orthorexia Nervosa and Its Diagnostic Tools-A Literature Review. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2021 May 20;18(10):5488.
- Turner PG, Lefevre CE. Instagram use is linked to increased symptoms of orthorexia nervosa. Eat Weight Disord. 2017 Jun;22(2):277-284.