Although not yet formally recognized as a clinical diagnosis, orthorexia has gained atten-tion in recent years with the rise in organic and natural foods and the “clean eating” movement. While we can all agree that healthy eating has wonderful physical, mental, and emotional benefits; it is possible to have an unhealthy obsession with healthy food (Bratman, 2014).
The term orthorexia was coined by Steven Bratman, MD in 1996 and refers to an obses-sive focus on healthy eating characterized by:
- Preoccupation with dietary restrictions believed to promote health.
- High levels of emotional distress, such as anxiety and shame, in response to food choices perceived as unhealthy.
- Exaggerated fear of disease and/or negative physical sensations after breaking die-tary rules.
- Dietary restrictions that escalate over time that may come to eliminate entire food groups.
The distinction between healthy eating and orthorexia is made when an individual’s rela-tionship with food impairs important aspects of daily life in any of the following ways:
- Malnutrition, severe weight loss, or medical complications
- Distancing oneself from family and friends or other social difficulties
- Difficulties at work or school
- Positive body image or self-worth that is excessively dependent on complying with dietary rules
Additional symptoms that may be of concern include experiencing feelings of anxiety or fear when eating away from home and avoiding eating food that has been bought or pre-pared by others.
A distinguishing factor of orthorexia from Anorexia Nervosa is a focus on food purity or quality rather than weight. More specifically, an individual with anorexia typically re- stricts food intake to lose weight; whereas, a person with orthorexia obsesses over dietary choices and rules perceived as healthy.
This week marks the annual National Eating Disorder Awareness Week and the 2016 theme is titled 3 Minutes Can Save a Life: Get Screened Get Help Get Healthy. This year’s campaign highlights the importance of early intervention to help prevent the onset of a full blown eating disorder, increase the chance of a full recovery, prevent years of struggle, and safe lives. If the symptoms described above sound like you or someone you love, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Recovery is possible! Follow the link below to learn more about NEDAwareness Week and take the screening. You are encouraged to call a mental health professional if you need further assistance.
Bratman, S. (2014). What is Orthorexia. Retrieved on 2/23/16.
Dunn, T.M & Bratman, S. (2016). On orthorexia nervosa: A review of the literature and proposed diagnostic criteria. Eating Behaviors, 21, 11 -17.
Kendra A. Mathys, Psy.D. Clinical Psychologist