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Orthorexia: Obsession With Healthy Eating

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Can you really be TOO obsessed with healthy eating? An expert explains this potentially deadly disorder.

Obsession With Healthy Eating

Maggie Baumann, MA: Most of us have heard the terms associated with the more common types of eating disorders such as anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating disorder.

However, there are other identified disorders that focus on food -- and one of them is called Orthorexia Nervosa, a term coined by Steven Bratman, M.D., in 1997. Bratman described this condition as a "fixation on righteous eating." The term is derived from the Greek word "ortho," which means "correct or right."

Obsessive-Compulsive Driven Disorder
Someone with orthorexia (males and females are equally affected) has taken the obsession with healthy eating to the extreme. Eating foods that are considered "pure" is the motivation by these specific eaters. Certain food groups are often avoided, such as fats, any foods made with preservatives, animal products, or any other food considered to be "unhealthy."

Raw foodists and vegans are more likely to become orthorexic. People who have a past history of an eating disorder are also at a higher risk.

Eating healthy is something good for all of us to strive for. It's when eating extremely healthy interferes with a balanced lifestyle --and you find yourself socially isolating because you fear eating "unacceptable" foods made by others. Relationships can become impaired and the disorder can negatively affect your whole life.

People who struggle with orthorexia often cite that their foods and eating patterns become very ritualistic. For some, it takes days to prepare a meal from homegrown organic products. Others obsessively catalog every food they eat. Life is centered on how pure the food you eat is, and your self-esteem is based on how well you maintain this purist behavior. If you ate pure, you consider yourself a "good person." If you ate the wrong food, you consider yourself a "bad person."

The medical consequences associated with extreme orthorexics can include emaciation, malnutrition, and even death by starvation due to severe dietary restrictions.

How Does Orthorexia Differ from Anorexia?
Orthorexia may seem like a sister form of anorexia. The physical consequences of both disorders present: extreme low body weight, risks of developing osteoporosis, absence of menses for women, low testosterone levels for men, as well as death from starvation.

However, Bratman says there is a significant psychological difference between the two. Someone with anorexia does not see her/himself as emaciated, but as fat. Where someone with orthorexia is aware of their extreme thinness but is fine with this, as long as they feel pure.

It's important to note that some anorexics may "hide" behind the orthorexic way of living to sustain their low body weight.

Treatment Essential for Return to Wellness
No matter which disorder is at the forefront, treatment is necessary to bring health back to the body. A medical doctor, a dietitian, and a therapist experienced in treating all kinds of eating disorders, including orthorexia, can help those wanting to regain their health and balanced lifestyle back.

The Orthorexia Self-Test
Bratman offers these 10 signs of orthorexia from his book, "Health Food Junkies -- Orthorexia Nervosa: Overcoming the Obsession with Healthful Eating." You could have orthorexia, or be on the way to developing it, if you:

1. Spend more than three hours a day thinking of food.
2. Plan your day's menu more than 24 hours ahead of time.
3. Take more pleasure from the "virtuous" aspect of your food than from actually eating it.
4. Find your quality of life decreasing as the "quality" of your food increases.
5. Are increasingly rigid and self-critical about your eating.
6. Base your self-esteem on eating "healthy" foods, and have a lower opinion of people who do not.
7. Eat "correct" foods to the avoidance of all those that you've always enjoyed.
8. Increasingly limit what you can eat, sayingthat you dine "correctly" only at home, spending less and less time with friends and family.
9. Feel guilt or self-loathing when you eat "incorrect" foods.
10. Derive a sense of self-control from eating "properly."

If you selected more than four of these signs, you may need to assess whether your behaviors and attitudes toward food are balanced. If all of the signs resonated with you, you are engulfed in this obsessive (and potentially fatal) form of eating. Seek help today!

Do you think Orthorexia Nervosa should be considered a disorder, or a lifestyle choice?

next: Is Smoking Pot Safer Than Drinking?
59 comments so far | Post a comment now
abbi August 25, 2009, 12:14 PM

this kind of article is exactly the thing a fatty will read and go “hmm, i could die trying to be healthy… well it’s probably no worse than where i’m at..” and just stay fat and shoveling it in.

I understand that Orthorexia exists, I just don’t think it’s really necessary to bring it up on a site where most people are overweight and trying to shed oh, those 50 or so extra pounds… they need MOTIVATION not something to deter them even more.

really… you should think a little bit more.

PlumbLucky August 25, 2009, 1:00 PM

Wow, that’s nasty mouthed and b!tchy abbi. Blanket assumptions are bad, in case you missed that lesson in elementary school.

Hmmmm…wonder if this applies to my BIL. Numbers 3-8 sure apply. I try to eat healthy, but this is a reality check too.

Emma August 25, 2009, 2:58 PM

Abby, do you personally know everyone that visits this site? have you seen all us in person? that has to be one of the most ignaorant comments I have read in a long time.

[[r u kidding me]] August 25, 2009, 8:01 PM

abbi go f*ck urself

Aurhynn August 26, 2009, 12:08 AM

Yes, I’m overweight (30 lbs or so, but my body is shrinking and getting the cola bottle shape back), but this was a wake up call. At least I have a warning instead of trying to figure out what was wrong with me from trying to eat healthy. Yick.

Peter August 26, 2009, 9:28 AM

Now now be nice, no point in getting personal about this…Abbi is just making a fair point and I agree. I feel its a load of new age nonsense. I feel it is far better for people to have these 10 traits (which is a far cry from the seriousness of anorexia…tut tut for saying it can be seen as the sister of anorexia), rather then eating the majority of junk that is out there. I am obese and feel that we are making more excuses these days. So lets do away with new age excuses and get healthy!!!

Vicki October 30, 2009, 1:17 PM

I have many of these traits but as I read this I just ate my one McDonald’s meal of the month. I think everything in moderation, and I am not 50 pounds overweight, only 10, but I just had a baby 3 months ago, so there you go.

Carol Wyatt November 12, 2009, 11:35 PM

I have to comment on this….I know people with this extreme problem. I consider us healthy eaters in our home, however we have seen this disorder first hand.
My children were attending a Waldorf school and the judgmental attitudes if you ate anything with any preservatives, non organic, from a regular grocery store, any big name cereals, milk (no milk…children drink far too much milk they say…and absolutely no juice!), wheat, processed sugar in any foods, ice cream, and any or all fast food. …You were looked down on and sometimes they would not let their children have playdates at our home. Only their home. My kids came home starving from their house, but their kids loved to come to ours! The families are rail thin, pale, get sick all the time, have obsessions about their pureness in their bodies as you say above, don’t allow young girls and boys any dairy at all, and won’t let their kids eat at restaurants or at parties. They pack their children their own food for birthday parties. It’s crazy! The kids are suffering and will absolutely have osteoporosis. One of my daughter’s young vegan friends’ doctor’s told her to have meat again because she was so low on iron. These people do not go to doctors or take vitamins. My daughter says that they are witch doctors (just kidding). They are not homeopathic doctors, but extremists. It is rampant in the ultra thin Hollywood community. And ironic to see one of these parents drink or smoke constantly but refuse to eat exactly the right kinds of foods, according to them.
I am a big fan of homeopathy, vegans, vegetarians, and anyone who is healthy and fit.
But, this is an extreme and horrible disorder.

Eric June 1, 2010, 4:49 PM

Only bad if taken in the wrong direction. Not excepting poison is perfectly fine. People shouldn’t peer pressure people that do not want to kill themselves by labeling it as “antisocial” and “just a bite will not hurt you”, etc.

Risky Diet July 19, 2010, 10:44 PM

Between me and my husband we’ve owned more MP3 players over the years than I can count, including Sansas, iRivers, iPods (classic & touch), the Ibiza Rhapsody, etc. But, the last few years I’ve settled down to one line of players. Why? Because I was happy to discover how well-designed and fun to use the underappreciated (and widely mocked) Zunes are.

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(weight loss )is best way:do more sport,and eat more fruit(include more vitamine).
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finally,hope to you get pai you guo tea asap.
good lucky

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