Protorexia: the eating disorder you've probably never heard of

You've heard of anorexia, but are you aware of protorexia? Protorexia is the unhealthy obsession with protein-based diets, particularly those involving protein supplements and shakes. While protein is an important part of a balanced diet,  the recent surge of online celebrities and fitness gurus is fuelling an unhealthy obsession with 'healthy eating'.

Those suffering from Protorexia will not only have a concerning relationship with this important dietary compound but will also find themselves cutting out various our food sources if they deem them to be 'unhealthy'. The biggest warning sign is when individuals start swapping meals and whole food groups for protein shakes and bars, in the hopes to cut fat and build muscle in their body.

Study showed men concerned about their use of protein supplements

One study on men who had taken (legal) supplements within the past 30 days found that almost a third were worried about their own use of supplements, and yet 40% had actually increased their intake. This highlights a worrying effect that even when aware of a problem, individuals are unable to curb their behaviour, even if it's putting them in danger. Talking to, Richard Achiro of the California School of Professional Psychology said,

“Because we just assume sometimes that’s what men do, collectively, it’s kind of a normal thing, and in fact they’re overusing these supplements in a way that is damaging themselves and the people around them in some cases. It’s an underlying behaviour men know is problematic, but are unable to change because so few of us men are open to addressing our emotional worlds and sense of inadequacy.” 

You might not consider misuse of protein supplements as an 'eating disorder' but don't be fooled, it can be just as devastating to an individual's physical and psychological health than anorexia or bulimia. In previous years, this behaviour would be more common in men in the hopes to 'bulk up', but current fitness wave sweeping the nation has both men and women alike looking to build their strength.

Excess protein intake 'damaging'

Individuals with protorexia spend a lot of time cultivating their image to exude fitness and health, but in actual fact, the excessive consumption of these products can be extremely damaging. Achiro went on to say,

“Even if they look good on the outside, do they have excessive diarrhoea?  Are their livers and kidneys starting to give out from having to detox toxins? Are they adhering to this regimented style of eating in such a way to compromise their relationships and work life?”

The obsessive nature of this kind of behaviour will manifest just like other eating disorders and mental health conditions. The need for these products will become overwhelming, and start to dictate their daily schedules, stopping the person from being able to enjoy simple activities.

Protorexia a form of new eating disorder orthorexia

"Protorexia is a form of orthorexia," commented Stephanie Moore, Clinical Nutritionist at The Lanserhof Clinic. " Orthorexia is rapidly becoming a commonly used term within the realms of eating disorder diagnoses, where it is used to describe someone who has an unhealthy obsession with eating healthy food."

"With followers aspiring to look and live like their clean-eating idols, healthy food and lifestyle choices can rapidly escalate into extreme behaviours around food choices, time and amounts eaten and exercising routines. An orthorexic person will feel panicked and desperate if they cannot eat and exercise within their rules."

A loss of appetite resulting in weight loss. Anorexia nervosa is a psychological illness in which self-starvation leads to weight loss. Full medical glossary
One of the most used medicines. Full medical glossary
When bowel evacuation happens more often than usual, or where the faeces are abnormally liquid. Full medical glossary
One of the three main food constituents (with carbohydrate and protein), and the main form in which energy is stored in the body. Full medical glossary
One of two bean-shaped organs that are located on either side of the body, below the ribcage. The main role of the kidneys is to filter out waste products from the blood. Full medical glossary
A large abdominal organ that has many important roles including the production of bile and clotting factors, detoxification, and the metabolism of proteins, carbohydrates and fats. Full medical glossary
Tissue made up of cells that can contract to bring about movement. Full medical glossary

An eating disorder characterised by extreme or excessive preoccupation with eating food believed to be healthy.

Full medical glossary
Compounds that form the structure of muscles and other tissues in the body, as well as comprising enzymes and hormones. Full medical glossary
One of a class of drugs that inhibit cholesterol formation in the liver. Full medical glossary
A substance poisonous to the body. Full medical glossary