Other Types of Body Image Disorders, Part II
Updated: Jul 9, 2021
As promised, here is Part II of The Other Side of Body Image Disorders, discussing both Orthorexia and Reverse Anorexia. These are examples of two more clinical conditions that fall under the umbrella of body image disorders and eating disorders. If you want to look back at my latest post, Part I discussed Body Dysmorphic Disorder and Activity Disorder.
Orthorexia is gaining popularity on website search engines, as more people are associating it due to the sweeping health craze in the westernized world. It is defined as an obsession with healthy or righteous eating.
It usually starts out as a diet, as is the case for a lot of people who develop anorexia. Good
intentions taken too far. Someone may have an interest in living a healthy lifestyle by “cutting out processed foods” or “limiting grains and red meat”. But eventually it becomes too rigid, too inflexible and the person finds himself or herself eating only very specific foods that are prepared in certain ways – usually by themselves as they form a distrust in others to prepare their food.
With the health craze sweeping the nation it has become so common to hear key phrases like “paleo” “atkins” “south beach” “gluten free” that it has standardized and changed the way we look at our dietary intake.
Orthorexia is similar to anorexia and bulimia in that there is an obsession about food and ritualized eating behaviors, but with Orthorexia the difference is that it fixates on “the right kind of foods” or “safe foods”. Excess time and energy is spent on food, similarly to anorexia or bulimia but they may not be as fixated on caloric intake or restriction.
As of now, Orthorexia is not a definable eating disorder but research is being done in the medical field to determine if that should change. It has been shown to be a potential for developing a more severe eating disorder down the road, as well as manifesting and establishing rigid thinking, obsessive compulsive thoughts and behaviors, and food distortions.
The limited food that one eats with Orthorexia could pose health problems in that they are not getting their nutritional needs met and are finding themselves medically malnourished. Studies also show that character traits of those with Orthorexia are very similar to those with anorexia and bulimia (perfectionism, overly self critical, need for control, etc.), possibly paving the way to more severe behaviors.
A big roadblock to the treatment of Orthorexia is that individuals believe that they do not need any help. They feel proud and accomplished of their ability to “eat clean” and resist any temptations to eat something not in their control. Until that is things worsen, nutritional needs are not being met, hormonal imbalances occur, sleep and energy levels dwindle, and other changes in mood and relationships begin to surface.
There are other nicknames to this disorder including:
Reverse Anorexia (RA) is mostly attributed to the male population, although there is a very small percentage of female recordings as well. I will use the pronoun “he” when talking about RA due to the majority amount of males with this disorder, although I’m also including the female population.
With RA, one’s goal is to strive for, and do anything to alter their body shape by taking extreme measures to achieve an “ideal” muscular body. Thus, decreasing body fat and increasing muscle mass and overall body size. To have a smaller frame would suggest that one was “weak or puny”.
Behaviors typically found with RA are excessive exercise and heavy weight lifting, the use of diuretics, rigid dieting, extremely high protein intake, dehydration techniques and even the use of anabolic steroids, despite any ill effects or detriment to their physical well being. There is a distinguishable amount of body dissatisfaction with this disorder despite looking muscular, and often leads to dangerous and extreme methods to alter their bodies.
Individuals with RA often find themselves in treatment centers or in therapy mostly because of the underlying psychological illnesses that lie beneath. Cases tend to be complex because a majority of the people with RA seeking therapy do not initially see their body distortions as a problem.
Research in the field of Reverse Anorexia is fairly limited and new, but there is evidence that competitive and recreational body builders are parallel to women with eating disorders in many important ways. In fact, almost 30% of competitive male body builders meet the criteria for Bulimia at some point in their lifetime and also have admitted to binge-eating behaviors as well, due to the nature of food restriction. Depression, obsessive-compulsive tendencies, and negative self image contribute or can predispose one to the development of RA.
Outside of competitive body building, recreational body builders have been found to be fueled by an obsession about appearance that has little to do with competition, therefore leading researchers to believe that these practices are to attain a more attractive body for cosmetic, rather than competitive purposes.
Again, it is not to say that all those who go into bodybuilding have RA. It really depends on
the motives behind bodybuilding, to what extent they go to in order to achieve their goals, and if they feel satisfied when that goal is reached.
So there it is. Although not extensive in information here in this blog, the intention of it is to educate and shine light on conditions and disorders that often go unnoticed or are invalidated.
All four of these conditions are fairly new in the research field and are constantly updated with new information. Although extensive research is limited at this time, it is important to understand that they are each in their own way serious conditions and disorders that need to be intervened and brought to the attention of a professional. There are underlying reasons why individuals with these disorders are engaging in these behaviors that need to be explored and healed properly.
If you or someone you know is going through one or more of these, it is time to ask for help. Take that first big step in calling a counselor who specializes in the treatment of eating disorders, body image, trauma, and the underlying components of these disorders.