Orthorexia Nervosa is a form of disordered eating characterized by going to extremes in pursuit of a so-called healthy diet. Literally translated, it means “fixation on righteous eating.” A person with this condition obsesses over the quality of the foods they eat, in an attempt to perfect his or her diet. This struggle can affect those trying to eat well for health or even spiritual reasons, and is often overlooked due to the perceived value of eating perfectly healthy.
Some traits of those struggling with Orthorexia include the following:
- Spending considerable time–often 3 or more hours per day–thinking about healthful foods and planning what to eat.
- Experiencing guilt, fear or self-loathing when straying from this diet.
- Placing the virtue of the food above the pleasure of eating it.
- Sacrificing relationships and once-enjoyed activities in order to eat the “right” foods.
- Gaining self-esteem and a sense of control from eating healthy foods.
- Looking down on others who don’t eat the same way.
- Becoming socially isolated in order to follow an eating plan.
With orthorexia, healthful eating turns into fanaticism.
The overall quality of life diminishes as the so-called “quality” of the diet increases. It can even reach a point at which physical health is endangered. Although a person with orthorexia may become too thin, their obsession is primarily with eating healthy, not losing weight.
At Risk Groups
People at risk for orthorexia include those who follow very strict macrobiotic, vegan, or raw food diets, but it can strike anyone who obsesses over eating only the “right” or “pure” foods, even if for spiritual reasons.
Orthorexia is not a medically diagnosable eating disorder like anorexia or bulimia. It is a condition identified by Dr. Steven Bratman, MD, who experienced it in his own life and practice, as described in his book Health Food Junkies; Overcoming the Obsession with Healthful Eating. Although it is not widely recognized yet by health care professionals, some academic investigation into orthorexia has begun.
What Do I Do Now?
As with all types of disordered eating, if you or someone you care about struggles in this area, we strongly recommend that you seek out counsel from a therapist, doctor, or nutritionist. Also, there are many videos on this site related to orthorexia, so check them out below or by typing keyword “orthorexia” in the search box. For more information on how to find the help you need, read our article on Finding Treatment.