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Orthorexia Nervosa-Obsession With Healthy Foods

Updated on May 14, 2013

Orthorexia Nervosa is an eating disorder where the patient is obsessed with eating healthy. Thoughts of what they will or will not eat, consumes their lives and takes up a huge portion of their thoughts each day.

“Someone whose days are filled with eating tofu and quinoa biscuits can feel as saintly as if they had devoted their whole life to helping the homeless,” states Dr. Steve Bratman, the man who initially described orthorexia nervosa back in 1997.

Obsessed with food

Much of society is obsessed with food these days but for the orthorexic person their thoughts are consumed with what foods we should avoid. It’s difficult for them to eat anywhere other than their own homes due to not knowing exactly what is in each dish.

Planning their meals way in advance, scheduling their day around what they can eat or where to find healthy foods consumes their thoughts.

Sounds like a healthy idea

This depends greatly on how far the preoccupation has gone. Eating well and avoiding bad foods is a good thing but if a person takes it to extremes it can be serious. Alienating themselves from family and friends or reducing their food intake to the point of anorexia can be harmful.

Orthorexia nervosa is an eating disorder just like anorexia or bulimia.

Orthorexia Nervosa is a form of OCD: Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

People with OCD tend to take everything to extremes. They don’t simply eat healthy they turn it into a full time existence often pulling their family in with them.

It’s not always easy to see this as a compulsion because we all realize we should eat right so no one dares confront or disagree with their ideas. In theory, it is a wonderful idea but like I said before, when taken too far it is not healthy.

Social isolation

When you can’t eat anything you tend to avoid gatherings where there will be food. It’s much easier to stay home than to continually explain why you don’t eat certain foods. They also tend to get on a soap box which can turn people off; no one wants to be preached to about the evils of refined sugars, fat or carbohydrates at the company party.

There are people with allergies or medical problems who have a limited diet; that’s normal. It is no longer normal when eating consumes their thoughts and it becomes the focus of most conversations.

“I can’t eat that. I can only eat this.”

What causes it?

Health conditions or medical problems can cause orthorexia nervosa in a person who already has obsessive compulsive disorder.

They decide to cure themselves of whatever ailment they have and research foods that will help them get better or improve their quality of life.

Fear of getting cancer or other health problems can bring it on. If they avoid certain items and eat healthy they are convinced they can keep sickness at bay.

In the beginning it’s no big deal but over time they get carried away.

Signs it could be going too far

They start carrying food that is on their “okay list.”

They stay away from certain restaurants or vendors they know don’t have the foods they will eat.

Most conversations turn back to nutrition and diet.

Phobia of certain foods.

They punish themselves if they slip and eat a forbidden food with stricter diet rules or even fasting. (This is a huge red flag it’s gone too far.)

Eating healthy is a good thing

Having a good diet and choosing to eat better foods is a good idea but when it limits your life and alienates you from society it’s gone too far.

If it causes a reduction in the quality of life or affects relationships with others you should seek help.

Orthorexia Nervosa test

Do you spend more than 3 hours a day thinking about what you will eat or researching nutrition and diet?

Do you plan your meals several days in advance?

Is the nutritional value of your meal more important than taste?

Has your diet caused a decrease in the quality of your life?

Have you become stricter with your dietary rules lately?

Does eating healthy give you a self-esteem boost?

Have you given up foods you used to enjoy for your new diet?

Is it difficult for you to eat out or caused a distance with family or friends since starting your new diet?

Do you have feelings of guilt when you don’t stick to your diet?

Do you feel in control of your life when you are able to adhere to your dietary restrictions?

If you answered yes to four or five of the above questions it is time to back off a bit from your rules.

If you answered yes to all of them you have a full-blown obsession with healthy eating.

If you are unable to change your behavior on your own you need to seek the help of a professional.


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    • Pamela N Red profile image

      Pamela N Red 4 years ago from Oklahoma

      That could be dangerous, harmony155 if he goes to extreme and falls below a healthy weight.

    • harmony155 profile image

      harmony155 4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      Another term I've never heard of (my husband falls under this category)

    • Pamela N Red profile image

      Pamela N Red 4 years ago from Oklahoma

      Some take everything to extremes. Everything in moderation is the key.

    • kj force profile image

      kjforce 4 years ago from Florida

      Pamela N Red...Society today is obsessed with the good/bad and the ugly...I too watch what I eat, and never processed foods, due to ALL the preservatives/additives ...basically eat a variety of foods, as naturally as you can and not to " excess "/ exercise regularly/ consume lots of water and we will be a much healthier society...very informative and interesting hub...thumbs up !

    • Pamela N Red profile image

      Pamela N Red 4 years ago from Oklahoma

      TKM, I'm a health nut and try to eat healthy but these people take it to extreme and starve themselves to death. Eating good foods is important but when we eliminate too many and cause malnutrition it's time to seek help.

    • TheKatsMeow profile image

      TheKatsMeow 4 years ago from Canada

      Wow I had no idea that this existed. I actually know someone who is a lot like this and always thought that something was wrong. This has opened my eyes.

    • Pamela N Red profile image

      Pamela N Red 5 years ago from Oklahoma

      Yes, Denise, some take a good idea too far and then it becomes a threat to their health.

    • denise.w.anderson profile image

      Denise W Anderson 5 years ago from Bismarck, North Dakota

      Thanks for the information. It is an example of how an irrational thought patterns can make people do things that are detrimental to themselves and their families.

    • Pamela N Red profile image

      Pamela N Red 5 years ago from Oklahoma

      Thanks, KJ.

      Literary, it is possible. If she looks healthy and not malnourished she is probably fine. If she looks too skinny it's a concern.

      Teaches, I didn't know until recently.

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 5 years ago

      I didn't know this disorder existed. I can see where some people would use this as a cover for having to deal with internal emotional issues.

    • Literary Geisha profile image

      Literary Geisha 5 years ago from Philippines

      interesting. i have a friend (my sensei actually) who only eats food that she's prepared herself. her excuse is that she's a vegetarian, and the utensils used to prepare food elsewhere (restaurants, friends' houses, etc.) have been tainted with meat. i wonder if she's got orthorexia too?

    • kj force profile image

      kjforce 5 years ago from Florida

      Pamela N Red..your hub was a subject not many people were aware of..hopefully more people will share this info...the health issues related to eating disorders are abundant, and play havoc on both the physical and mental aspects of life....I feel these subjects should be discussed in health classes in " knowledge is power"... as this is where many symptoms start....well written and researched..good job...

    • Pamela N Red profile image

      Pamela N Red 5 years ago from Oklahoma

      Chef-de-jour, some people get very close to being orthorexic if not full blown.

      Thanks for reading and sharing, Krystal.

      Phoenix, it's a fairly new disorder and not many people know about it.

    • phoenix2327 profile image

      Zulma Burgos-Dudgeon 5 years ago from United Kingdom

      Never heard of this disorder before. A very interesting and engrossing read.

    • KrystalD profile image

      KrystalD 5 years ago from Los Angeles

      Very interesting article. I shared this with a healthy eating group I belong to. Awesome :)

    • chef-de-jour profile image

      Andrew Spacey 5 years ago from Near Huddersfield, West Yorkshire,UK

      Interesting I hadn't heard of this condition but I have come across a couple of people over time who may qualify as potential food obsessives. One young man was a fruitarian who ate dozens of fruits each week and who would not touch any packaged food at all. With him it seemed to be the fact that plastic and cooking had interfered with the original product and had therefore tainted it in some awful way.

      Thanks for opening my eyes to this intriguing new disorder.

    • Pamela N Red profile image

      Pamela N Red 5 years ago from Oklahoma

      Thanks for reading, nochance.

      Anginwu, some of us get a bit carried away with things and need to realize when it's gone too far.

    • anglnwu profile image

      anglnwu 5 years ago

      It's interesting to read this because I've a friend who carries her own food, if she absolutely have to eat at a restaruant. She's precopccupied with weight and exercsies 3 to 4 hours a day. Your article underlines an important point--things carried to extreme may be harmful. Rated up and shared.

    • nochance profile image

      Chloe Davis Smith 5 years ago from Minnesota

      Really interesting hub. The video at the end really ties it all together.