Friday, January 22, 2021

Orthorexia: too much of a good thing

September 3, 2010 by  
Filed under Disordered Eating, Nutrition, Orthorexia

This guest post provided by Heidi_PsyD

Their favorite Sunday excursion is Trader Joe’s and their pantries are stocked with Kashi products unknown to the general public. Tofu, quinoa, and organic vegetables make up the centerpiece of their diets. They are “healthy eaters.” But could they also be disordered eaters?

Orthorexia is the word for an obsession with “healthy or righteous eating.” The phrase was coined by California physician Steven Bratman, to refer to people who create severely limited diets in the name of healthy eating. And although healthy eating can be positive, especially given the statistics about obesity in the United States, it can become dangerous if healthy eating becomes overly restrictive or limiting.

Orthorexia can also be a gateway to an eating disorder such as anorexia.

For 22-year-old Savannah it began as a genuine desire to live a healthier lifestyle. “I was away at school and took a nutrition class. The professor was very down on red meat, so I cut that out,” she says, “As I learned more about the dangers of any meat consumption I began to eat a vegetarian diet. Lately I’ve been hearing more and more about the benefits of raw foods, and am thinking that is the next step for me.”

As a result of her diet, Savannah, who was never overweight, has already dropped 10 lbs. placing her in a barely acceptable range of weight for her height. And although she is not actively seeking weight loss, she is pleased with the result, seeing it as a vindication that despite the negative response of family and friends her body is responding to the “purity” of what she is eating. In addition, Savannah has noticed that she is constantly thinking about what she is eating, is planning for the next healthy meal, and will not go out to eat because she is concerned that the quality of the food she consumes will not meet her standards.

Although Orthorexia is not dangerous in the same way that anorexia and bulimia are, there may be health concerns if eating becomes overly restrictive. And although Orthorexia is not currently considered an eating disorder, it does share many of the same characteristics as anorexia as well as obsessive-compulsive disorder.

The key to any approach to healthy eating is balance and moderation. Foods are not “good” or “bad” but are what nourishes and sustains us…

So how about you — Are you too restrictive in the foods you choose? Do you find yourself in social situations where there is nothing that you allow yourself to eat?



14 Responses to “Orthorexia: too much of a good thing”
  1. struggling girl says:

    Orthorexia definitely can lead to worse eating habits.
    I used to have this same kind of obsession with healthy eating. I was a vegetarian for four years, and ultimately terrified of anything bad–even an occasional cookie. But now I eat less than I did when I was a vegetarian, and I still think there are such things as good and bad foods. Restricting has gotten worse. So people with orthorexia should really consider getting help unless they plan on going more downhill.

  2. Inga says:

    I’ve always been obsessed with music and one of the first musicians I became head-over-heels in love with was Fiona Apple. This was in 1999 when she was receiving a lot of criticism for her “Criminal” video wherein she slinks her malnourished-looking, underwear-clad body over what looks like an orgy den.

    So, at fourteen, I decide to start reading up on her and I find out that she’s a vegan. I had played around with the idea of going vegetarian some before I knew that my favorite musical artist was veg, but finding that out sealed the deal. I became a vegetarian and then a few months later, I became a vegan. From the summer before my first year of high school until two years after I graduated from high school, I never touched meat, dairy, or eggs. Nor did I follow a very healthy vegan diet. My concern quickly shifted from “What should I eat that will make me healthy?” to “What should I eat (or not eat) in order to lose weight?” Before long, I had developed anorexia.

    I’ve been in and out of recovery for about five years. I’ve dropped the vegan diet (although I’m still vegetarian and doubt that I will ever be omnivorous again) because I found out that my bones had developed osteopenia. I do my best not to indulge the obsessive food-related thoughts that constantly cloud up my mind. I know it’s cliche, but in my opinion, balance really does seem to be the key. I %100 believe that obsessive healthiness can easily morph into straight-up unhealthiness (and that, unfortunately, it happens all the time).

  3. Camilla says:

    I am a vegan and completely health food obsessed, I only eat organic and, as the author mentions above, my cupboard is filled with strange health foods most people would never had heard of, I also eat about 60% raw and do not go out for meals with friends as i know there would be nothing “safe” I could eat. This is my recovery from anorexia. For 5 years I suffered anorexia, it was hell on earth, I was dying and no-one ever thought I would ever recover, it was a constant spiral downwards. When I finally left hospital and finished outpatients and seeing my dietician I was left struggling, all of a sudden expected to carry on a “normal” diet proposed by my dietician which I had used to recover, with what felt like no support, no allowances or recognition of what I had been through. Less than a month later I had become vegan for ethical reasons and a few months after that I started on a quest for 100% raw in order to be completely “pure”. Consciously, (or self-admittedly) weight-loss was not on my mind nor my driving force but I recognise completely that this arose because of my history of anorexia and still my need to control food once I had recovered. I can openly admit (most days) that this is a form of disordered eating, but it has also allowed me to stay healthy, it has prevented a relapse into anorexia and the complete stand-still to my life that would bring, I can still study, I can still work, I can be happy, I can have relationships, I have even found some form of body contentment, and all those things which a true eating disorder robs you of. I have read Steven Bratman’s book (being health-obsessed) and I agree with what he writes, he raises some good points and encourages the reader to adopt a less disordered attitude towards food. Yes there are moments, or days, when I have felt Orthorexia slipping into the realms of an eating disorder, but 90% of the time it is my lifeline. Orthorexia makes me feel safe, if I am eating so purely then I am able to reason that I cannot be overweight, it must be the old anorexic voice lurking in the back of my head, I must be ok, and from there I can live.

  4. CC says:

    the more and more denial I sink into the more and more apparent my problem becomes 🙁 Before there was only anorexia and bulimia, and I was like ‘oh I don’t have that… I’m ok’ now there’s this and so many other things and I’m starting to open my eyes a little bit to see the hidden problem that is actually there. Sick thing is my mother is a big influence, and encourages everything I do. I think it’s like that for a lot of girls.

  5. Rachel says:

    oh, the obsession with healthy food! Its SUCH a fine line. I have come across SO many food blogs where the author photographs and reports EVERY bit of food consumed that day. It screams at me “disordered eating!” In my house, too, we are a bit consumed by what is in our food. In our case, it ends up being a combination of my ED, my son’s food allergies, and my husbands fear of death. But its a very fine line. And most of the time I am very aware that the relationship i very similar to my ED relationship with food.

  6. sIM'One says:

    you mean, tempeh, not tofu! and made without preservatives, preferably made by your own pure hands. tofu is junk food to an orthorexic bc it’s so processed 🙂
    just saying..

  7. when I was a child I watched a news broadcast about the end of the world it changed my whole life I didn’t care for food that much and ate only to sustain my life and that went on for years and please understand we still don’t know where this disease defines itself. I know that each passing day I fight it and belive that I can make a differance by just believing in my self.

  8. Kensington says:

    Orthorexia can be a tough sell when a person is told they have it or may have it. A lot of people are so convinced they are just eating really healthy and the idea that it’s really an eating disorder is hard to fathom. There are definitely healthy vegans out there (I’m a vegetarian, not vegan) but there are also those who are so ensconsed in the rules and rigidity that they can’t see the forest for the trees.

  9. your conclusion says it all,

    “The key to any approach to healthy eating is balance and moderation. Foods are not “good” or “bad” but are what nourishes and sustains us…”

  10. Kensington says:

    Stephanie, I agree. Foods don’t need labels as if they are “bad” or “good”, nor are we “bad” or “good” for wanting or consuming them. One of my pet peeves is how prevalent this language is in society, particularly commercials. “You can be bad and have XYZ product becuz it’s low in calories or it’s on your diet plan!”. Ugh.

  11. julie says:

    Odd to have chosen TJs for your example, as they seem to have lots of processed, packaged food, very minimal organic. Anyway, my point is that though I have been borderline orthorexic when younger, I am a lot more relaxed now. I have a few friends who are questionable, but if you discuss it with them, they get very defensive. OK, fine, you can eat your brown rice with steamed veggies with no sauce, and bland, and I will enjoy mine with a bit of fried tofu, oyster sauce, soy sauce, hot sauce, sugar. Yum yum!

  12. Nina says:

    The “healthy food” call can still be a trigger for me today, even after years of eating disorder recovery. Whenever I find myself in Wholefoods for hours, reading labels and obsessing, I know its time to go!
    Unfortunately what tends to happen for me is the cycle of “healthy food” then “obsession” then a “binge” on not-so-healthy food! May I always have the sanity to remember this.

  13. Megan Okkerse says:

    It has been a long time since i have read anything about eating disorders or engaged myself in the discussion. At 12 years of age, I started the descent, battle, all out war with food and my body. At 27, I would be extreme if I said it was over, but I have come a long way. I am currently a yoga instructor and find this “Orthorexia” in the yoga community. Raw food, juice fasts, vegan, vegetarian, 10 day cleanses. I have tried a few of them and never stick with them, feeling defeated, ashamed at my lack of willpower and dedication. And then I found myself in the company of good friends who enjoyed ALL food…red wine, prosciutto, lemon pound cake, homemade pizza, soups, salads, rosemary foccacia in truffle oil. I started to eat these things and discovered that

    1. I did not get fat
    2. I felt balanced

    I firmly believe that any type of eating disorder, anorexia, bulimia, orthorexia, overeating…are just a mask for something else that is going on…something that the victim deems so terrifying and threatening. I also believe that eating disorders can be a doorway to a deeply spiritual life and that demystifying them (with the support of good friends and a therapist) can be one of the most enriching life experiences.

    I have started to give myself more self love, more connection with others, a hamburger when I want it, a massage when its needed, a good cry when its called for, and the gift of therapy. The more I feed those things, the less I have found it necessary to feed my compulsions.

  14. a.j. says:

    My diet is totally out of control. I ate 100% raw fruits and vegetables at one time, went through all kinds of different diets experimenting constantly and ended up totally confused. I guess I would be labeled “orthorexic”. I just don’t feel right unless I’m eating raw fruits and veggies only, which would be okay but I’m a mental patient and everytime I fast or eat like that mental health hospitalizes me and forces me to eat.
    May I point out that I don’t believe it’s just a different mutation of OCD but there are also physiological elements. When I eat the wrong foods my thoughts become weak and confused, my faith( I am an Apostolic Christian)
    dips and it takes great effort to get back to the level where I need to be.
    I really need to get on the right diet!

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