Orthorexia is defined as a preoccupation with right or correct eating.
People with Orthorexia are extremely focused on eating foods that are self-defined as healthy or pure. Although striving to eat healthily sounds like a worthwhile goal, people with the condition become quite rigid about what they will and will not eat and come to use their control over what they eat as a way to feel virtuous or pure (much like people with other eating disorders use control over food as a way to manage emotions).
As a person with the condition becomes more obsessed with healthy eating and dogmatic about what they will eat they begin to suffer greater consequences from the way their diet controls their life. Social relationships can suffer, as meeting difficult dietary requirements takes up increasing amounts of time, and health too is adversely affected as food intake becomes too limited to adequately meet nutritional requirements.
Some of the ways Orthorexics control what they eat include:
- Never eating anything that contains preservatives
- Eating only certified organic foods
- Eating no foods that contain certain fats, sugars or processed carbohydrates
- Eating only foods they prepare themselves
- Eating only off sterilized utensils
- Only eating foods that have been excessively cleaned or purified
In a nutshell, according to Steven Bratman, the alternative medicine specialist who first identified the condition, "If your focus on healthy eating is interfering with your happiness and social life, you might have a problem."1
Is Orthorexia a Recognized Medical Disorder?
No, orthorexia is not yet recognized as a distinct medical disorder by any major medical group. Some experts see orthorexia as a subtype of anorexia and others, including the doctor who originally identified the condition, feel the disorder is best described as something with elements of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.2
How Is Orthorexia Different from Anorexia?
A person with Orthorexia does not desire to lose weight, rather he or she wants to eat healthily, and this is taken to damaging extremes. People with Orthorexia tend to be proud of their self control and their virtuous eating and will tend to talk about their diet. Although a person with Orthorexia will not seek out weight loss as a primary goal of a dietary plan, due to the restrictions inherent in many extreme diets, weight loss often occurs.
A person with anorexia nervosa does not obsess about eating healthily, but rather about wants to control caloric intake to achieve weight loss. People with anorexia tend to secretive about their diets.
3 Signs of Orthorexia
Do you suffer from Orthorexia? According to The National Eating Disorders Association, three telltale signs of a problem with Orthorexia are:
- You spend an overwhelming amount of time and energy trying to eat healthfully
- Eating foods other than those considered healthy and self-approved results in feelings of guilt or even self loathing
- You use your dietary plan and your control over the foods you eat as a tool to avoid dealing with other issues in your life3
Other warning signs of the disorder include:
- No longer consuming many foods which you consider to be unhealthy
- Allowing yourself to eat only a few types of foods
- Seeking virtuousness from eating
- Finding that the way you eat has a negative influence on the quality of your life
- Experiencing some degree of social isolation due to your preoccupation with a strict healthy diet (for example, rarely being able to eat socially with people
- Judging others for the way they eat4
Page last updated May 18, 2011