Orthorexia, also known as Orthorexia nervosa, is a serious eating disorder characterized by an extreme aversion to foods perceived to be unhealthy, whether those foods actually are unhealthy or not. While orthorexia is the subject of academic research, it is not currently formally recognized as a psychiatric disorder.
The OED's first citation for use of the term is a 1997 article in the Yoga Journal (Sept.–Oct. 44) where the writer claims to have coined the term "orthorexia nervosa" by analogy with "anorexia nervosa".
People with orthorexia refuse to eat foods that they think are unhealthy. Rather than just cutting back on less-than-healthy foods, someone with orthorexia will lump broad categories of food together as "bad for you" and avoid all of them entirely.
This might include avoiding foods that aren't organic, or aren't vegan, or are vegan, or are cooked, or are acidic, or are fruit, or aren't fruit (see Fruitarianism), or have too much yang, or contain even the slightest trace of high fructose corn syrup or trans fat or gluten, or that someone might be allergic to despite a lack of obvious symptoms.
Unlike your average vegetarian or healthy eater, someone with orthorexia will obsess over their diet to an unhealthy extent. Breaking their rigid eating rules may trigger an emotional spiral, and the obsession is so severe that their health, well-being, and everyday life ends up suffering.
They may also spend excessive amounts of time researching healthy recipes, judge other people for eating a less "healthy" diet, or obsess over social media accounts about "healthy lifestyles."
Diagnostic criteria aren't clear yet, making the condition not always easy to identify.
Researchers have proposed a 2-part set of criteria.
Obsessive focus on healthy eating
- Behaviors or thoughts: Compulsive behaviors or obsessions related to diet
- Anxiety: feelings of shame, fear, impurity, or other negative things when breaking self-imposed rules
- Severe restrictions: eliminations of large categories of foods (such as food groups) and/or excessive cleanses & fasting
Behavior that disrupts daily life
- Medical issues: malnutrition, serious weight loss, or other health conditions caused by disordered eating habits
- Lifestyle disruption: significant stress and/or difficulties with work, school, socializing, or other areas caused by their beliefs/behavior
- Emotional dependence: self-esteem, identity, body image, or other traits becoming dependent on self-imposed diet rules
Much like other eating disorders, orthorexia can lead to physical problems (such as anemia or malnutrition), impaired cognition, and social isolation. (It's hard to go out to get dessert with your friends if even the idea of eating ice cream makes you panic.)
There is currently no data on the most effective treatments for orthorexia, but researchers recommend options like:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy
- Orthorexia Nervosa on nationaleatingdisorders.org
- The Terrible Tragedy of the Healthy Eater
- Why it’s so easy to believe our food is toxic, on PLOS blogs
- Orthorexia: When healthy diets go too far, San Jose Mercury News, 27-Aug-2014
- Orthorexia, Also Nicknamed the Food Babe Disorder, This Week in Pseudoscience, 7-Sept-2014 (Link now dead and domain squatted)
- When Healthy Eating Calls For Treatment, Wall Street Journal, 10-Nov-2013
- When an Obsession With Healthy Eating Becomes a Dangerous Risk, ABC News, 13-Nov-2014
- Orthorexia: When clean eating spirals out of control, well&good, stuff.co.nz, 12-Nov-2015
- Why we fell for clean eating , The Guardian, 11-Aug-2017
- ↑ Orthorexia: Can Healthy Eating Be a Disorder?, Time, 12-Feb-2010
- ↑ 2.0 2.1 The clinical basis of orthorexia nervosa: emerging perspectives
- ↑ "orthorexia, n." OED Online. Oxford University Press, September 2016. Web. 30 November 2016.
- ↑ Orthorexia: 10 Signs You Should Seek Help Now, Psychology Today
- ↑ Prevalence of orthorexia nervosa is less than 1 %: data from a US sample, Eating and Weight Disorders
- ↑ On orthorexia nervosa: A review of the literature and proposed diagnostic criteria, Thomas Dunn and Steven Bratman
- ↑ Orthorexia: When Healthy Eating Becomes a Disorder, Healthline