We are overwhelmed with advice about healthy eating, clean foods, and cleansing diets almost daily. Some people take this information to heart and begin a special diet meant to improve overall health or add or remove certain foods from their diets to improve a health condition. While it’s true that there are many foods that are considered particularly healthy or therapeutic for certain conditions, it is important to pay attention to when healthy eating is taken too far. In fact, there is a name for healthy eating that becomes an obsession: orthorexia nervosa.
The term orthorexia was named by Dr. Stephen Bratman to describe his own personal experiences with food (Kratina, n.d.). The term literally means “fixation on righteous eating” and is characterized by rigid attachment to food quality and purity. People who struggle with orthorexia become fixated on maintaining very strict diets. For example, a person who takes up a raw or vegan diet may become addicted to maintaining strict eating habits- which can ultimately, and ironically, result in health consequences.
It is important to understand that orthorexia is not considered an eating disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, Fifth Edition (DSM-V). While individuals struggling with anorexia or bulimia have a focus on weight loss and calories, those with orthorexia become obsessed with healthy eating. And it is when healthy eating becomes an all-consuming activity that an individual is considered to be orthorexic.
Orthorexia is supremely isolating. Important social interactions occur around meals, and individuals who are focused on extremely rigid food habits often may withdraw and prefer to eat alone because of the anxiety they feel around foods that may not fit into their diet.
Orthorexia is a disordered eating pattern that can have serious health consequences. Recovery includes therapy and consultation with a registered dietitian to assess current eating habits and address the individual’s inaccurate beliefs about healthy eating (Marcason, 2013).
Kratina, K.(n.d.). Orthorexia nervosa. National Eating Disorders Association. Retrieved from www.nationaleatingdisorders.org.
Marcason, W. (2013). Orthorexia: An obsession with eating “pure.” Retrieved from www.eatright.org.