orthorexiaThe origins of the new wave of dieting philosophies based on a purist approach to foods and lifestyle can often be traced to an underlying ethos of perfectionism. One of the biggest issues in our digitally washed society is the curse of perfectionism.

Perfectionism by its nature robs any sufferer of their humanity and creates an enduring and pervasive distortion around what it is to be OK and accept oneself. Perfectionism promotes an idealised reality that there is one form of being and doing that we all should aspire to, and it’s an extremist all or nothing goal so you are perfect or you are nothing.

A key facet of perfectionism is body image and how we look. Today we are increasingly told that how we look defines our “personal brand” and we are constantly bombarded via social media with perfectionistic, touched up, air brushed stories and images of supposed role models of the new standard way to be.

All our advertising is dominated by perfectionistic images that are designed to expose a gap between who you are now and where the promoter’s product, service or experience will take you. The new nirvana is available for a price.

As an extension of the body beautiful and the obsessive drive of perfection to get all things just so and right is what we eat. The food and diet obsession takes great day-to-day prominence in the pantheon of all those things we must constantly attend to in order to arrive at, and maintain the perfect state.

This belief system has created an industry of diets and perfect eating theories and their resultant lifestyle level eating rituals. We have now gone beyond diets as a tool to lose weight or gain health, and morphed them into cults and self-identifying narcissistic brands no different from say sexy tech brands such as Apple (pardon the pun!!) or any other glamour association.

Adherents to perfectionistic ideals of any genre are rarely able to receive any incoming objective information without filtering it out and rationalising why their truth is better or the only truth.

Perfectionistic minds tend to wire themselves to accepting only incoming information that confirms their obsessive reality, and will filter out any discordant information that challenges their deeply held belief, however distorted that belief may be. This is also true of any addict who is in denial they have an addiction or problem, and in this common ground of mind process we find how validly we can consider perfectionism as just another form of addiction.

If we put aside the overall problem of perfectionism itself in all its aspects of behaviour, and focus on obsessive dieting as a symptom we can find how harmful it can be for those who somehow find they adopt dieting and food as an obsessive focus in their mind disorder. The term Orthorexia is one term used around this type of obsessive clean dieting philosophy that has had a viral run on social media of late.

American doctor Steven Bratman is attributed to who coined the condition Orthorexia and defined it as an unhealthy obsession with eating healthy food or a fixation on righteous eating. The word is based on the Greek word “orthos” which means “right” or “correct” but Orthorexia is not yet a recognised medical or psychological condition in mainstream circles.

Orthorexia is the glamour child of the perfectionistic disorder when applied to eating and diet. The obsession inherent in this dieting belief system is that adherents must eat only the most organic, the most virtuous, the most ethically traded, healthy food if you want good health.

Clients I have worked with over this issue found that social media kept bombarding them with perfectionistic healthy bodied, smiling people images wrapped around a generic gateway term of “clean eating”. For many it turned out to be the gateway to hell.

If you consider online Instagram and Facebook communities as influencers in the lives of followers, then for the average person of low self-esteem, such followers are often vulnerable, and searching for a solution to that low self-esteem. Perfectionists are normally riddled with anxiety as they moment-to-moment try to create perfection and focus critically on what is wrong with themselves rather than what is right with themselves.

This unrelenting aspect of perfectionism drives their anxiety as they fear criticism or being uncovered as a fraud or being less than capable, which is part of the story they tell themselves as that is who they really are.

This treadmill is one that has no stop button. When applied to clean eating and perfectionistic diets supported by an obsessive online audience connected through Instagram or Facebook, you now have a perfect storm for a digital cult to arise.