Monday, August 13, 2012

Teen Issues Today: ORTHOREXIA

Have you heard of Orthorexia?

It falls into the eating disorder spectrum, and its name was coined by MD Steven Bratman in 1997, stemming from the Greek orthos, meaning "correct or right", and orexis, meaning "appetite" SOURCE. Orthorexia is considered a “new” eating disorder and is common among young people. It shares characteristics with Anorexia and Bulimia, two of the most common eating disorders.

Anorexia – A refusal to eat. Can affect people of any age or gender, but disproportionately affects young women.

Bulimia – Periods of binging (out of control consumption of more food than most other people would eat over a distinct period of time) and purging.

Orthorexia is unique because while at its core it is an obsession with control and food, it stems from the desire to do something essentially good. Orthorexics are most commonly motivated by the longing to feel healthy, pure, and natural, not necessarily a wish to be thin.

Orthorexia refers to a fixation on eating ‘pure’ or ‘right’ or ‘proper’ food rather than on the quantity of food consumed. SOURCE. In other words, Orthorexics are fixated on filling their bodies with what they determine to be “superior” foods: unrefined and/or all-natural foods, foods free of fats, preservatives, additives, and/or animal products. An all organic diet or “raw foodism” are examples. While this practice of extremely healthful eating might sound wholesome, nourishing, and respectable, it can be exceedingly limiting and can lead to malnutrition and, eventually, emaciation.

Symptoms of Orthorexia Nervosa include: Obsession with healthy eating and emaciation, among other things. Orthorexic subjects typically have specific feelings towards different types of food. The obsession for healthy foods could come from a number of sources such as family habits, society trends, economic problems, recent illness, or even just hearing something negative about a food type or group, which then leads them to ultimately eliminate the food or foods from their diet. SOURCE.

Orthorexia is ritualistic. Those who suffer from it often feel a sense of superiority about their more “healthful” eating habits, as well as the discipline necessary to maintain such strict dietary restrictions. They frequently hinge their entire self-worth on their eating habits. Orthorexics usually feel guilt or a sense of failure when they “fall off the wagon” (consume a food that doesn't fall within their specified food constraints), and might subscribe to more stringent rules regarding food consumption as a means of consequence.

Dr. Bratman has proposed a series of questions, a sort of self-test, to aid in the diagnosis of Orthorexia:
  1. Do you care more about the virtue of what you eat than the pleasure you receive from eating it?
  2. Does your diet socially isolate you?
  3. Do you spend more than 3 hours a day thinking about healthy foods?
  4. When you eat the way they're supposed to, do you feel in total control?
  5. Are you planning tomorrow's menu today?
  6. Has the quality of your life decreased as the quality of your diet increased?
  7. Have you become stricter with yourself?
  8. Does your self-esteem get a boost from eating healthy?
  9. Do you look down on others who don't eat your way?
  10. Do you skip foods you once enjoyed in order to eat the "right" foods?
  11. Does your diet make it difficult for you to eat anywhere but home, distancing you from family/friends?
  12. Do you feel guilt or self-loathing when you stray from your diet? SOURCE
Someone who answers YES to two or more of the above questions might show a greater propensity to someday suffering from Orthorexia, or might already be struggling with food obsessions. Of course, if you’re concerned about your your general health or your eating habits in particular, you should consult your doctor or an expert in the field of eating disorders.

If you’re interested in further reading on Orthorexia, check out these links:, Wikipedia,, Also, our very own Alison Miller discussed eating disorders in this incredible January post.

Tell Us: Have you heard of Orthorexia? Have you read any books that mention or specifically address Orthorexia? How do you think the prevalence of such a disorder might impact today’s teens? 


Cally Jackson said...

I've not heard of this before but I can actually relate to it. Not that I think I have it, but I could be tipped in that direction. Fascinating post. Thanks.

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