Orthorexia: Fixation On Righteous Eating

Orthorexia Nervosa (fixation on righteous eating), is not yet a DSM diagnosis. It’s a phrase coined by Dr. Steven Bratman which describes an eating disorder in which the sufferer fixates on eating only what they define as “healthy food.” The avoidance of certain foods is quite often extreme, ultimately resulting in malnutrition and even death.

“Such people are sometimes affectionately called ‘health food junkies.’ However, in some cases, orthorexia goes beyond a mere lifestyle choice. Obsession with healthy food can progress to the point where it crowds out other activities and interests, impairs relationships, and even becomes physically dangerous. When this happens, orthorexia takes on the dimensions of a true eating disorder, like anorexia nervosa or bulimia,” explains Dr. Bratman.

“Unlike people with anorexia, patients with orthorexia are generally unconcerned about their weight, and do not feel fat. For raw foodists, vegans and fruitarians, what matters most is feeling pure.”

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
*Eating only foods regarded as healthy
*Relying on only natural products to treat an illness
* Feeling guilt or self-loathing when they stray from their diet
* Feeling in "total" control when they eat the correct diet

“The defining feature of orthorexia is obsession with eating healthy food and avoiding unhealthy food. The definition of healthy and unhealthy food varies widely depending on which dietary beliefs the patients has adopted. The usual immediate source of orthorexia is a health food theory, such as rawfoodism, macrobiotics, non-dairy vegetarianism, Ornish-style very-low-fat diet, or food allergies. Note that, in most cases, the underlying diet is itself reasonably healthy (if unreasonably specific). It's in the obsessive approach to diet taken by an orthorexic that the disorder lies,” says Dr. Bratman.

"We're certainly seeing more of this behavior," says Dr Yellowlees. "Like other eating disorders, the issue at the heart of it all is obsession. Part of it is to do with the way we're constantly bombarded with media messages about what's healthy and what isn't. People don't quite know what to believe, so they lose a sense of perspective. They also take a certain enjoyment from refusing food in front of others, as a way of demonstrating their superior commitment to the purity of what they eat.”

“It’s not that I don’t support eating healthy food. It's only that when healthy eating becomes an obsession, it's no longer healthy, "says Dr. Bratman.

Please see sidebar for Resources and Tools.

Sources: http://www.orthorexia.com/index.php?page=katef
Signs and symptoms: http://www.pamf.org/teen/life/bodyimage/orthorexia.html


LJ said...

This is me! :(

BamaGal said...

I've seen people right in the low carb community being guilty of this same behavior. The whole mantra of "food is fuel" can be heard from many. Food is much more than fuel. It should appeal to all the senses. You should enjoy it, savor it. And stop with the guilt already.

Food not only nourishes our body but it can nourish our soul. A healthy mind and spirit are just as important as a healthy body, more important in my opinion.

But that's my 2 cents worth.

MrsMenopausal said...

{{{{LJ}}}} I've been guilty of this, too. Luckily I didn't take it to any extremes but I think it's easy to fall victim to thinking along these lines when your goal is to be healthy.
You might want to check out Dr. Steven Bratman's Book, "Health Food Junkies."

MrsMenopausal said...

Bama, I agree. I think keeping food and eating in the right perspective can be a daunting task at times.

Thanks LJ and Bama for stopping by and for commenting.

Sheridan said...

Mrs. M., this is a terrific post. Thank you.

MrsMenopausal said...

Thanks, Sheridan.

Medusa said...

An absolutely superb post, MrsM :^)

MrsMenopausal said...

Thanks, Medusa.