Have you heard of Orthorexia?

Good nutrition and healthy clean eating is better than a prescription any doctor could write, yet there are people who take an extreme approach to eating whole clean foods. This extreme approach has lead to a new eating disorder.

It’s a condition known as Orthorexia Nervosa, defined as unhealthy obsession and fixation on “righteous eating”.  It may start innocently as a desire to eat a more healthy diet but can quickly spiral into a self-righteous fixation that consumes every thought of food.

The term orthorexia comes from the Greek word “ortho” meaning “right” and is an analogy for anorexia. Healthy eating is not in itself an eating disorder, but when coupled with other obsessive emotional and psychological factors it becomes a disorder.  While not yet recognized as a clinical diagnosis, it seems there are genuine concerns this is real problem for some.

Dr. Steven Bratman first coined the term back in 1996 after his own quest for a healthy diet became obsessive.  In an article posted on National Easting Disorders.org, he is quoted as saying, “I pursued wellness through healthy eating for years, but gradually I began to sense that something was wrong. The poetry of my life was disappearing. My ability to carry on normal conversations was hindered by intrusive thoughts of food. The need to obtain meals free of meat, fat and artificial chemicals had put nearly all social forms of eating beyond my reach. I was lonely and obsessed. I found it terribly difficult to free myself. I had been seduced by righteous eating. …”

For those that succumb to the obsessive idea that meals have to be a certain way, foods must be prepared in manners thought to be healthy and have a rigid eat this not that view of food may be cheating themselves. Their strict approach could leave out healthy fats, whole grains, complex carbs and even much needed proteins.  Taken too far, they may suffer from malnutrition that may have catastrophic results.

There is nothing wrong with clean eating with a focus on a variety of healthy foods offering the macro and micronutrients we all need. It becomes a problem when the diet takes up far too much time and attention, or any deviation leaves one feeling guilty with a sense of self-loathing. At worst, it’s used to avoid facing real issues in one’s life.  It may even leave one believing they are superior to others who don’t follow the same strict obsessive healthy diet.  Similarly, to anorexia, orthorexia is tied, irrationally, to ones sense of self-worth and self-esteem.

If you think you may have a problem, answering these questions will help determine if you do or not. The more you say yes to the more cause for concern.  (source)

  • Do you wish you could just eat and not worry about food quality?
  • Do you ever wish you could spend less time thinking about food and more time with friends and family?
  • Are you paralyzed with fear at the thought of not being able to control what someone is serving at a family gathering even if it’s prepared with love?
  • Do you constantly think of ways foods are unhealthy for you?
  • Do love, joy, play and creativity take a back seat to following the perfect diet?
  • When you stray from your diet, do you feel guilt and self-loathing?
  • Does sticking to the correct diet give you a sense of control?

It is a bit scary to think there is yet another eating disorder that could derail one's health.  If you think you have an issue, you can read more about Orthorexia here.

I am all for reading food labels, avoiding carcinogens, and opting for a range of healthy food options.  I have kids, and trying to get them to eat the right foods all of the time is a challenge. I accept that they will eat the occasional potato chip, or enjoy a candy bar and soda with their friends, but I don’t obsess over it. If I were to obsess over it, it may have negative consequences for them.  I want them to have a healthy relationship with healthy food.  As long as they are getting the right nutrition for their growing bodies, I know they are ok.