Following anorexia nervosa (under eating) and bulimia nervosa (overeating and compensating), orthorexia nervosa (obsessively healthy eating) is the latest eating disorder in the book. It is characterized by a fixation on eating what the sufferer considers to be healthful food, which can ultimately lead to early death.
While anorexia is typically associated with our visual culture and its unreachable beauty ideals, orthorexia seems closely related with our information age and the easy access to facts and figures.
Today so many data about health benefits of our food are available – how it was processed, prepared, etc– and food packages are routinely decorated with scientifically detailed data on their contents. We are suffering from ‘overknowledge’.
While most of us respond to the food-data-overload with an occasional dosage of self chosen ignorance – forget about the facts, grab a burger! – people suffering from orthorexia will spend just as much time and energy thinking about food as someone with bulimia or anorexia.
Taken from the Greek "ortho" (meaning "correct" or "true"), this term was first coined by a Californian doctor, Steven Bratman, in 1997, to describe a "fixation on righteous eating".
Orthorexia, often begins with someone's simple and genuine desire to live a healthy lifestyle. The person may choose to stop eating red meat, but eventually cuts out all meat; then all processed foods, and will eventually eat only specific foods that are prepared in very specific ways.
People suffering from this obsession may display the following signs.
- Spending more than three hours a day thinking about healthy food
- Planning tomorrow's menu today
- Feeling virtuous about what they eat, but not enjoying it much
- Continually limiting the number of foods they eat.
- Experiencing a reduced quality of life or social isolation (because their diet makes it difficult for them to eat anywhere but at home)
- Feeling critical of others who do not eat as well they do
- Skipping foods they once enjoyed in order to eat the "right" foods
- Feeling guilt or self-loathing when they stray from their diet
- Feeling in "total" control when they eat the correct diet
While orthorexia nervosa is not a formal medical condition, many doctors do feel that it explains an important and growing health phenomenon.
If you think you or a friend suffers from something that sounds or feels like this description of orthorexia nervosa, always visit a doctor who can help you.