Orthorexia: When Eating Healthy Becomes an Obsession


Many of us have tried different diets and we all know people who are consistently gluten-free, sugar-free, booze-free or living a strict paleo lifestyle. While some people need to follow certain strict diets (like people who have celiac disease and actually feel uncomfortable after eating something that contains gluten), others turn into complete health nuts – and not in a good way.

Orthorexia is the new term for people who are obsessed with eating health food. This doesn’t refer to people who consciously try to eat healthy 80% of the time; it refers to people who refuse to touch anything that isn’t organic, free-range,  GMO free or contains any traces of an “unhealthy substance” like food dies (or a carb!).

A preoccupation with health food can lead to psychological, social and physical damages

Orthorexia isn’t an officially recognised eating disorder yet, but it was coined 7 years ago by Dr. Steven Bratman in a Yoga Journal article. Dr. Bratman worked as a chef on an organic farming commune that attracted raw vegans and people with other specialised dietary requirements. He wrote an article based on his observations as a chef at the restaurant and while healthy food choices is generally considered a good idea, a preoccupation with health food can lead to psychological, social and physical damages.

What makes orthorexia different to anorexia is that the sufferer becomes obsessed with maintaining a healthy diet (but not necessarily an ideal weight). Some common behaviour changes that are considered to be signs of orthorexia include the following:

  • Increasingly avoiding certain foods due to an un-diagnosed or self-diagnosed food allergy
  • Increase in consumption of vitamins, supplements and herbal remedies
  • Irrational concern over food preparation techniques
  • Spending an irrational amount of time each day determining what to eat and how to prepare the food
  • Compulsive reading about food quality, ingredients and cooking methods
  • Banning entire food groups for no reason
  • Purging or fasting when self-imposed rules are broken
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