Grapes, generic
There's a new disorder about: Orthorexia, which is an obsession with health foods. Image Credit: Pixabay

Dubai: While the common eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia and binge eating are prevalent in the UAE as much as in the rest of the world, there is a new disorder on the block — Orthorexia — the obsession with health foods.

With health fads and diets deluging global communities, many people are actually scared to touch anything remotely unhealthy. They prefer the bland, oil free, zero-carb option and get programmed to feel guilty craving for the occasional burger or ice-cream!

Eating healthy food is good, but in some cases when a person systematically avoids all foods that are considered ‘unhealthy’ then it is a serious situation. … it becomes a disorder when it seriously affects the individual’s mental and physical health.”

- Dr Kiren Sahota | Physician

Discussing the different kinds of eating disorders prevalent in the UAE, Dr Kiren Sahota, Family Physician at the Marina clinic of the King’s College Hospital London, told Gulf News: “Like in other communities, the first line of defence for any condition is the family physician. Working in Dubai, I have come across the usual eating disorders that are common in the rest of the world. On an average we get about 1.5 patients per month manifesting symptoms of anorexia, bulimia, binge eating or orthorexia. The last one, orthorexia is yet to be classified as an established disorder, however, worldwide people now report this obsession with health food.”

The job of the family physician is to detect, diagnose and treat at a level where the disorder can be managed and contained or flag off the case for further intervention such as psychological counselling.

Dr Sahota added: “Eating healthy food is good, but in some cases when a person systematically avoids all foods that are considered ‘unhealthy’ then it is a serious situation.”

“People these days are acutely sensitive of health-related issues and obesity. To some extent this is fine. But it becomes a disorder when it seriously affects and individual’s mental and physical health. Like any other medical ailment an eating disorder has physiological, psychological and social perspective. When patients come to us with failing physical health, brittle nails, dry hair and skin rashes and given to bouts of over eating or vomiting, we are able to diagnose specific kinds of disorders,” explained Dr Sahota.

Who suffers most?

She added that while teenagers were most susceptible to be victims of eating disorders and young girls often fell prey to it, eating disorders affect both men and women. “The obsession with body image and the stress to be a certain shape, size and weight is equal on both genders.”

Dr Sahota also pointed out that it was wrong to think that eating disorders are a fallout of modern living, urbanisation and ensuing stress. “While these have aggravated the situation, eating disorders were documented as early as the 14 century and have been part of our society ever since human civilisation began.”

Case study

A 30-year-old youth presented himself at the clinic with high stress, palpitation and shortness of breath. After screening and physical examination Dr Sahota was able to diagnose that the young man had an obsession about health food. “He was perpetually on a diet and obsessed about exercising to the extent that he stopped having family dinners and got increasingly isolated, eventually becoming nervous. I had to conduct a battery of tests to rule out other physical problems such as gastrointestinal infections and other physical conditions. Once I diagnosed the disorder, I was able to talk to him about his relationship with food, his lack of eating and excessive exercising. Luckily, the young man was able to acknowledge and recognise the issues he was combating and with right support and counselling he was able to address his condition.”

Symptoms of eating disorders
• Constipation
• Diarrhoea
• Acid reflux
• Constant bouts of vomiting
• Callouses on index fingers that appear due to induced vomiting
• Brittle nails, dry hair, sunken eyes, poor wound healing due to impaired immune system
Image Credit: Gulf News