Orthorexia Nervosa – Healthy Eating or Eating Disorder?

Orthorexia nervosa is a term that refers to an eating disorder in which people are obsessed with eating healthy food. The term was coined in 1997 by Dr. Steven Bratman. Ortho comes from the Greek “orthos,” meaning “correct or right.” Bratman published a book called Health Food Junkies: Orthorexia Nervosa – the Health Food Eating Disorder.

According to Bratman, orthorexia arises when a person is so obsessed with eating only “pure” and healthy foods that they become malnourished.

Many medical professionals have criticized the concept of orthorexia, saying that an interest in eating only healthy food does not indicate that the person has a mental illness or eating disorder.

Bratman says the test of whether a person is orthorexic is to ask the following question: “Do you care more about the virtue of what you eat than the pleasure you receive from eating it?” However, some would argue that eating only for pleasure is disordered eating, whereas choosing foods wisely and “eating to live” rather “living to eat” is the healthier attitude.

So when does a dedication to eating healthy cross the line into an unhealthy obsession? Clearly, if a person is so limiting in their food choices that they are starving to death, there’s a problem. But if a person just wants to eat healthy and is well-nourished and happy while giving up foods other people eat, is it a problem?

Having spent some time in the raw food culture and even attempting a purely raw food diet for three months myself, I have witnessed firsthand how easy it is to slip into an obsession with eating “pure” food. Many raw foodists feel that cooked food is toxic and fear ingesting even one morsel of cooked food. After a few months of eating a 100% raw food diet, I gave it up for the sake of having a social life and being able to eat out at restaurants with friends.

No healthy diet should destroy the quality of one’s life, even if it is technically “healthy.” Of course, there are plenty of people on raw food and other extreme diets who are healthy and happy, so where is the line drawn?

Tell us what you think. Have you ever become so obsessed with healthy eating that it has affected your life in a negative way? Is orthorexia a real disorder or just another made up syndrome?

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3 Comments on "Orthorexia Nervosa – Healthy Eating or Eating Disorder?"

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My daughter has left for college and she has lost some weight 7 pounds or so.. she said she is eating all healthy food and staying away from eating fatting food she does eat but she looks really skinny and all her friends say she looks unhealthy how do i determine if she has an eating disorder

I agree with Becca, (I’m a different Becca, really) in the sense that I don’t eat a big plate of food when it’s “meal time.” I am a person that eats 6 or 7 really small portions of food throughout the day and I’ll get comments like “is that all you’re eating?” to “you’re eating again?” I think by now Americans know that eating less, more often, is healthier, but as a whole, it’s still something we’re not embracing.

I currently eat primarily raw and I’ll indulge in a few non-raw foods on occasion. One thing that is VERY important to note is that just because people don’t eat like you, doesn’t mean they are unhealthy. Sure, there are telltale signs, but I recommend using lots of sensitivity when telling raw foodists or other healthy eaters that what they are doing isn’t right. I told all my friends and family that although I would lose a lot of weight, I was still healthy. And if ever they were worried, that they should talk to me about my choices. Some… Read more »