Obsession With Healthy Foods, Also Known as Orthorexia

Obsession With Healthy Foods orthorexiaObsession with healthy foods, also known as orthorexia nervosa (a non-medical term) is characterized by people who take healthy eating to a new level.  These individuals become obsessed with eating, planning meals, buying only healthy foods, a preparing only healthy foods.  This obsession can be to a point where the individual considers these things their primary goal and will let every thing else in their lives go. An obsession with healthy foods is like any other obsession; it isn’t healthy.

In 1997 Steve Bratman, M. D., a physician in Fort Collins, Colorado, coined this phrase to identify individuals with the disorder of obsession with healthy foods. He claims that, in some cases, the orthorexia can be so severe it can cause death or severe malnutrition.  The type of diet persons with orthorexia often follows consists of very few items and these items don’t supply the proper nutrition to keep them going physically, mentally, or emotionally.  So, even in less severe cases someone who has orthorexia can lose self-esteem because they are often hungry and crave things they don’t think they should have.  The loss of self-esteem comes from blaming themselves for these perceived weaknesses.

Individuals with this obsession with healthy foods will often avoid foods with additives and preservative which is just fine.  However, they might restrict their diet even further by focusing on just a few vegetables or fruit as what they perceive to be the only healthy foods.  Someone else might restrict their diet in a different way.  One individual ate only unsweetened oatmeal, skim milk, and egg whites.

There are several indications to tell if you have orthorexia:

1.   Do you spend three hours or more a day thinking about food, shopping, preparing, talking to friends, or chatting on line about food? If so, perhaps you should change your focus a bit.  There’s too much in life to spend that much on healthy eating.

2.  Do you plan tomorrow’s food today?  Personally, I don’t have a problem with putting a meal plan together for the next day but if that’s your only pleasure then there might be a problem.

3.  Do you take more pride in what you eat than the enjoyment of eating it? You need to enjoy what you eat to be truly satisfied by it.

4.  Now that you’ve decided to make this drastic dietary change, how is the rest of your life? When just one thing takes over your life, be it food or anything else, the rest of your life will suffer.

5.  Are you becoming more regimented in your eating? When yesterday’s food isn’t pure enough for today or next week you could be becoming more rigid than is healthy.  Be careful you don’t start gaining pleasure from denying yourself.

6.  Do you refuse to eat out or at someone’s home because their food might not come up to your standards? Do you think of food while watching a favorite movie or your kids play?

7.  Do you feel better than someone else because you’re eating “right”? Individuals who have orthorexia have a tendency towards feeling superior over those who don’t eat like they do.

8.  Do you feel guilty if you eat something you feel you shouldn’t? Orthorexics often feel shame when they eat something from their forbidden list and then compensate by eating an even more restricted diet.

9.  Are you isolated because of your diet? When a diet is restricted by the incorrect boundaries a person can find themselves not going to restaurants or to friends homes.  If these individuals want to go out, some have been known to bring their own food in containers in order to stay on their diets.

10.  Do you feel in control when sticking to your diet?  Is this the way you find peace of mind in your hectic world? Life isn’t always calm and peaceful.  Does controlling what you eat help you feel in control when your world isn’t?

There is a difference between eating healthy and having an obsession with healthy foods.  If you think you might have this obsession with unhealthy foods, and want help, contact a mental health professional to help get you over the rough spots in the recovery.

Obsession With Healthy Foods Orthorexia


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