Orthorexia Is an Eating Obsession

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There's no denying that eating right is important for good health. At least most of the time — it's okay to treat yourself now and then — but for some people, the desire to eat only healthful or pure foods becomes an obsession. It's called orthorexia.

The term 'orthorexia' means 'correct eating.' It was coined by Dr. Steven Bratman, who followed a healthy diet, but over time, developed orthorexia. 

Orthorexia is not an official diagnosis, but it differs from anorexia nervosa in that the focus is on eating healthy foods rather excessive weight loss.

Healthy Becomes Unhealthy

It might seem confusing with so many diseases stemming from eating poor diets, how can eating healthy foods become unhealthy?

People with orthorexia might refuse to eat anything that doesn't fit their definition of healthy food, ever. That might mean they will only eat organic foods or meals that are prepared in specific ways, and there's a good chance they'll completely avoid processed foods, or anything they believe is unhealthy. Plus their reactions to situations that make this difficult may seem extreme to everyone else. 

I think it's important to understand that orthorexia isn't about the structure of the diet itself or the reasoning behind the diet, but how following the diet takes over the rest of the person's life.

Symptoms of Orthorexia

A person with orthorexia reacts strongly to situations that require eating food that's 'off-limits.'

For example, a woman with orthorexia might find herself constantly avoiding dinner dates because she's afraid to eat the food. Or maybe a guy only feels like he's in control of his life when he stays on his rigid diet.


Sometimes, when a person with orthorexia slips up, he or she might feel a profound sense of self-loathing that can lead to self-punishment and an even stricter diet. 

Orthorexia can happen to people of any age or sex. Athletes who often follow strict diets may be prone to developing orthorexia. Usually, orthorexia causes psychological distress, but it can affect the physical health of the sufferer if he or she follows an extremely limited diet, 

Orthorexia can be helped — seek the care of a medical professional who's trained in treating eating disorders.


Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. "Orthorexia: An obsession with eating pure." http://www.eatright.org/Public/content.aspx?id=6442471029.

National Eating Disorders Association. "Orthorexia nervosa."  http://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/orthorexia-nervosa.

Segura-García C, Papaianni MC, Caglioti F, Procopio L, Nisticò CG, Bombardiere L, Ammendolia A, Rizza P, De Fazio P, Capranica L. "Orthorexia nervosa: a frequent eating disordered behavior in athletes." Eat Weight Disord. 2012 Dec;17(4):e226-33.  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22361450.

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