Ruined Her Health for a Healthy Diet

According to TV2’s report, 23-year-old was struggling with eating disorder “orthorexia,” which made her obsessed with healthy diet. Taking authorities’ advise to eat oily fish three times a week a bit seriously, Opsahl ate fish seven days a week for all meals. 

– I thought it would be wonderfully healthy, she said to TV 2

It was very difficult to eat dinner with the family or friends, because potatoes, rice and meat were unhealthy. When her friends asked why she did not, for example eat bread with the soup, she thought that they were just jealous as she was so healthy and good.

The damage of her diet was revealed during a medical check. The doctor asked if she had taken laxatives, because her intestines had been exposed to excessive laxatives and heavy metals.

– The newspapers have message several times a week, “Eat this and you will be better,” and “Do not eat this because then you get cancer.” One gets a lot of media exposure, and social media on what to eat and not to eat, said Opsahl.

An Increasing Trend in Norway

A quarter of a million people in Norway suffer from an eating disorder. In addition to the most common anorexia, bulimia and compulsive overeating disorders, there has been a marked increase of the unofficial diagnosis “orthorexia.” 

The director of the interest group for women with eating disorders, Kaja Flatøy says that they have particularly noted a significant increase in the group with non-specific eating disorders. It is presented as healthy, or as appropriate lifestyle, but in reality it is a serious illness, she explains.

What is Orthorexia?

Orthorexia – an unhealthy fixation on eating only healthy or “pure” foods – was originally defined as a disordered eating behavior in the ’90s, but experts believe it has been gaining steam in recent years, fed by the profusion of foods marketed as healthy and organic, and by the media’s often conflicting dietary advice. Like anorexia nervosa, orthorexia is a disorder rooted in food restriction. Unlike anorexia, for othorexics, the quality instead of the quantity of food is severely restricted.

“Orthorexia starts out with a true intention of wanting to be healthier, but it’s taken to an extreme,” says Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Spokesperson Marjorie Nolan, MS, RD, CDN, ACSM-HFS, who specializes in working with eating disorder clients. “If someone is orthorexic, they typically avoid anything processed, like white flour or sugar. A food is virtually untouchable unless it’s certified organic or a whole food. Even something like whole-grain bread – which is a very healthy, high-fiber food – is off limits because it’s been processed in some way.”

Orthorexics typically don’t fear being fat in the way that an anorexic would, but the obsessive and progressive nature of the disorder is similar. Orthorexics may eliminate entire groups of food – such as dairy or grains – from their diets, later eliminating another group of food, and another, all in the quest for a “perfect” clean, healthy diet. In severe cases, orthorexia eventually leads to malnourishment when critical nutrients are eliminated from the diet.

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