When obesity is a national emergency, a serious dedication to a healthy diet hardly seems like a bad thing. But, for some, a fixation on healthy eating develops into an obsession. If someone refuses to eat food that is not “pure,” starts skipping family meals or dinners out, rejects food they once loved, or can’t bring themselves to eat a meal they haven’t prepared with their own hands, they may be suffering from an emerging disordered eating pattern called orthorexia.
What is Orthorexia?
Orthorexia — an unhealthy fixation on eating only healthy or “pure” foods — was originally defined as a disordered eating behavior in the ‘90s, but experts believe it has been gaining steam in recent years, fed by the number of foods marketed as healthy and organic, and by the media’s often conflicting dietary advice. Like anorexia nervosa, orthorexia is a disorder rooted in food restriction. Unlike anorexia, for othorexics, the quality instead of the quantity of food is severely restricted.
If someone is orthorexic, they typically avoid anything processed like white flour or sugar. A food is virtually untouchable unless it’s certified organic or a whole food. Even something like whole-grain bread — which is a very healthy, high-fiber food — is off limits because it’s been processed in some way.
Orthorexics typically don’t fear being fat in the way that an anorexic would, but the obsessive and progressive nature of the disorder is similar.
Orthorexics may eliminate entire groups of food — such as dairy or grains — from their diets, later eliminating another group of food, and another, all in the quest for a “perfect” clean, healthy diet. In severe cases, orthorexia eventually leads to malnourishment when critical nutrients are eliminated from the diet.
Orthorexics often have misunderstandings about food or nutrition. People with eating disorders know a lot about food and food science, but they don’t always have accurate information. Sometimes their sources are magazines and blogs that might not be reputable.
For more information about eating disorders, visit the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, www.anad.org
Source: Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, www.eatright.org