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The Newest Eating Disorder: Orthorexia Nervosa

Orthorexia is a term coined by Dr. Steven Bratman. “Ortho” simply means straight or correct, while “orexia” refers to appetite. Orthorexia nervosa refers to a nervous obsession with eating proper foods. While anorexia nervosa is an obsession with the quantity, orthorexia is an obsession with the quality of the food consumed.

Given how heavy people seem to be getting in our country, focusing on health should not be a bad thing. However, while it is normal for people to change what they eat to improve their health, treat an illness, or lose weight, orthorectics may take the concern too far. While it is normal for people switching diets to be concerned with what types of food they are eating, this concern should quickly decrease, as the diet becomes normal. Orthorexia, in contrast, is when a person is consumed with what types of food they are allowed to eat and feel badly about their selves if they fail to stick with their regimen.

People suffering with this obsession about what they eat may find themselves:
• 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 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.

Often orthorectics will “punish” themselves by doing a penance of some sort, if this “fall from grace” does occur. While orthorexia nervosa isn’t yet a formal medical condition, many professionals do feel that it does explain an important health phenomenon. If you or someone you know suffers from something that sounds or feels like this description of orthorexia nervosa, you should go visit either a nutritionist or doctor.

1) Bratman, Steve. “Health Food Junkie–Orthorexia Nervosa, the New Eating Disorder.” 1997.
2) Billings, Tom. “Clarifying Orthorexia: Obsession with Dietary Purity as an Eating Disorder.” 1997
3) Davis, Jeanie. “Orthorexia: Good Diets Gone Bad.” November, 2000.
4) Fugh-Berman, Adriane. “Health Food Junkies: Orthorexia Nervosa: Overcoming the Obsession with Healthful Eating–A Book Review.” May 2001.
5) Dennis, Tamie. “Booster Shots.” Los Angeles Times, 7/09

Photo credit: Meg and Rahul

This post, The Newest Eating Disorder: Orthorexia Nervosa, was originally published on by Nancy Brown, Ph.D..

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