What Is Orthorexia and Why Is Everyone Talking About It?
While it has yet to be recognized in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), a new eating disorder has been receiving widespread attention since an article about it from Broadly went viral recently.
Orthorexia, an eating disorder characterized by an unhealthy obsession with healthy food, has been around since the term was first coined by Dr. Steven Bratman in 1997, but it is just now being widely recognized.
“Orthorexia is defined as an unhealthy obsession with healthy food,” Dr. Bratman told Broadly. “It’s not the diet that is orthorexia, it’s the diet that could lead to it. The more extreme or restrictive the diet, the more likely it could lead to orthorexia.”
Pinpointing the disorder in the modern world of organic beef, GMO-free vegetables, and other healthy eating fads can be tricky. Just because someone takes care in choosing their food doesn’t automatically mean they have orthorexia.
Like anorexia, orthorexia often starts with seemingly innocuous healthy choices. However, there is a line between choosing healthier alternative for food and devoting hours laboring on what to eat and drink.
Broadly cites a blogger who followed a similar path for bringing the disorder into the mainstream. Jordan Younger is a 25-year-old California lifestyle blogger who became a raw vegan and frequently wrote about her experiences to tens of thousands of followers. Over time however, she found she was becoming obsessed with cleanses and “became riddled with anxiety about the food she ate.”
After reading the symptoms of orthorexia, Younger finally realized she had a problem.
“Once I started talking about experience with orthorexia on my blog and national news picked up on it, a flood of people came forward saying they identified with me,” said Younger, whose Breaking Vegan book recently came out. “We’re talking tens of thousands of messages. It’s been a year and a half and I haven’t stopped hearing from people. It’s not that number anymore; it’s a couple people a day now, but it showed me how many people feel inadequate and feel that living a balanced life is not enough.”
One issue which has complicated matters and prevented wider recognition of the disorder is that it is often misdiagnosed as anorexia. Broadly spoke with Kaila Prins, a health and wellness coach who suffered from orthorexia but was improperly diagnosed.
I was not not eating. I was just eating so healthfully and so restrictively that I was very sick,” Prins noted to Broadly. Bratman said in a blog post that orthorexia is related to but quite distinct from anorexia.
“The primary feature distinguishing orthorexia from anorexia is that while a person with anorexia focuses on weight, a person with orthorexia obsesses about purity. People with anorexia possess a distorted body image in which they see themselves as fat regardless of how thin they really are, whereas those with orthorexia constantly struggle against feelings of being unclean or polluted by what they have eaten, no matter how carefully they monitor their diet,” he wrote.
“Both conditions involve control, but whereas an anorexic seeks continually to reduce weight, an orthorexic feels compelled to achieve ever great heights of dietary perfection; to feel entirely clean, pure and transparent. Sometimes people recovering from anorexia ‘graduate’ to orthorexia, keeping their disordered eating habits and moving the focus from weight to purity.”
Eating healthy can be an important step in living a healthy active lifestyle, but it is important not to take things too far or let eating choices rule your life.