Orthorexia Nervosa: The ‘New’ Disorder Blamed on Social Media
No dairy, no gluten, no meat and no sugar. In fact, Ashlee Thomas would allow herself so little food, her parents were forced to do the unthinkable. Force feed their daughter, with a tube, all because she refused to eat.
Appearing on Channel 9’s 60 Minutes program on Sunday, the teenager revealed she became so obsessed with social media and influencers, eating a healthy diet and exercising almost killed her.
In a bid to get fit, Ms Thomas was inspired to exercise and clean up her diet with green juices and short, seven-minute workouts.
But before long, her interest became an addiction that led her to stop eating altogether, a condition known as orthorexia nervosa.
“(There were) comments of what you should eat and what you shouldn’t eat,” she told journalist Alison Langdon.
“I saw this beautiful body, what I saw as perfect, and I wanted to be like that. So I just gospelly followed it.
“When I became quite thin I got more compliments than ever, I got more likes, more followers.
“People were applauding my behaviour, applauding my look and so it just fed my disease thinking that what I was doing was right.”
Ms Thomas, now 17, said she reached a point where her parents were forced to put a tube down her throat so that she could eat.
“They had to shove a funnel down my throat and feed me liquids because I just wasn’t eating anything,” she said.
“My dad would get to the point where he would open my jaw and shove food down my throat just because I was refusing to eat anything. I was dying in front of them.”
American doctor Steven Bratman coined the term “orthorexia nervosa” in 1997, after he developed an obsession with eating healthy food. The term uses the Greek word “orthos,” which means “straight,” “right,” or “correct,” and is a modification of the disorder anorexia nervosa. The US National Eating Disorders Association calls it a “fixation on righteous eating”.
Dr Bratman developed a short questionnaire, the Bratman Test, to help diagnose the condition. Some questions include: “Do you spend more than three hours a day thinking about your diet? Is the nutritional value of your meal more important than the pleasure of eating it? Has the quality of your life decreased as the quality of your diet has increased? Does your diet make it difficult for you to eat out, distancing you from family and friends?”