Orthorexia, An Eating Disorder?

Woman cutting vegetables
Photo by shurkin_son @ Freepik.com

Brenda Sue and I were recently discussing eating disorders when we came across the term Orthorexia Nervosa. This term was a new one to both of us, even though it was coined in 1996 by Dr. Steven Bratman

What is Orthorexia Nervosa?

Well, if I put it in layman’s terms, orthorexia is a meaningless term invented to give a name to an eating disorder that I personally find hard to call a disorder. Orthorexia is considered a disruptive obsession with healthy eating that hyper focuses on the quality of food in your diet. It’s a good thing  the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V) does not recognize it as an official eating disorder – it can be challenging to identify, and the exact definition is still in debate.

This is not an attack on Dr. Bratman, it is my critique of his idea that healthy eating is not healthy. This falls into placing everything into the lowest common denominator instead of recognizing that some things in life are actually superior to others. Healthy eating is not a disorder – although there would be some who refuse to eat healthy who would imagine that it is.

With 68% of the American population overweight, or obese, is it any wonder that someone would identify healthy eating habits as a disorder? In my personal experience, I have had people get quite upset when I have politely turned down a piece of cake, or a slice of pie. To these people, it doesn’t matter that I have been overweight, as well as pre-diabetic. They think I am weird because I will not indulge in sugary treats with them, and that I do not eat processed foods.

I Enjoy Feeling Healthy and Well!

Knowing how obese people think – because I have been obese – I can’t help to think the term orthorexia was coined in order to make them not feel isolated for having an eating disorder. Now, everyone has an eating disorder, even when we are eating to be healthy.

Is it a disorder to actually enjoy nutritious foods?

Because I enjoy how I feel with a fit body, I have a disorder because I am strong?

Is it a disorder to enjoy being able to enjoy walking around a zoo with my grandchildren?

Why would anyone consider it a disorder to eat in such a way that the risk of nutrition related illness is greatly mitigated when you eat healthy. I have an athletic blood pressure at 58 years old, and my annual blood lab screenings are always excellent across the board.

It is my opinion that if any doctor says that you suffer from Orthorexia Nervosa, you need to fire that doctor on the spot by never returning to their office.

Warning Signs of Orthorexia Nervosa:

It is said that enthusiasm for healthy eating only transforms into orthorexia when it turns into an obsession that negatively affects everyday life, such as extreme weight loss or a refusal to eat out with friends. What a load of baloney, that sounds a lot like Anorexia Nervosa which can be deadly.

  1. Compulsive checking of ingredient lists and nutritional labels.
    • It only makes sense to check the ingredient and nutrition labels on foods that you have never tried before. Many foods on our grocery store shelves undeniably do not provide quality nutrition.
  2. An increase in concern about the healthiness of ingredients.
    • I am genetically prone to type 2 diabetes, and have been pre-diabetic. I would emphasize that anyone susceptible to obesity and diabetes, heart disease among many other diseases, should be concerned about ingredients. Face it, facts do not care about feelings, and people suffering from obesity are at risk of many preventable diseases.
  3. Cutting out an increasing number of food groups (all sugar, all carbs, all dairy, all meat, all animal products).
    • Sugar, simple carbs, and dairy are known to cause inflammation in the body. When we eat sugar and simple carbs, they spike our blood sugar, and therefore our insulin levels.  Foods containing sugar and simple carbs cause people to crave more and more to their detriment as these foods are almost exclusively high in calories and low in nutrition.
  4. An inability to eat anything but a narrow group of foods that are deemed ‘healthy’ or ‘pure’.
    • Maybe it is not an inability as much as a refusal to eat just anything placed before you. Having had a weight problem coupled with associated health problems, I am not going to eat foods that have caused me to be unwell in the past.
  5. Spending hours per day thinking about what food might be served at upcoming events.
    1. Proper planning for social events is what you do when you want to still be involved with loved ones and friends. Isn’t it funny that Vegans are not said to have as eating disorder when they plan around meals that involve meat?
  6. Showing high levels of distress when ‘safe’ or ‘healthy’ foods aren’t available.
    • It doesn’t take more than a bite or two to derail one who has lost weight by cutting out unhealthy foods. While this can be mitigated by planning ahead in all events, it is a legitimate concern for those who have suffered health problems as a result of obesity and their poor nutritional habits of the past.
  7. Obsessive following of food and ‘healthy lifestyle’ blogs on Twitter and Instagram.
    • People are not taught about nutrition in school as we were in the past. They are eager to learn how to be healthy, and should be applauded for trying to improve their health.
  8. Body image concerns may or may not be present.
    • Most people have some form of body image concerns whether they will admit it or not. Your body speaks volumes about your health today, and into the future.

Orthorexia Nervosa is a rising term amongst eating disorder practitioners. Therefore it makes practical sense that we critically examine our beliefs about Orthorexia Nervosa so we don’t make the same intellectually lazy assumptions. Media outlets have used the term orthorexia to erroneously label adherents of restrictive diets – particularly Paleo Dieters and Vegans – for the sheer purpose of garnering click-bait attention.

Obviously, there are going to be some people who will insist that Orthorexia Nervosa is a legitimate diagnosis for them. If you feel that you have any type of eating disorder, go talk to your physician about your concerns. If something is causing you a problem, then it is very real to you and you should seek help for it.

Anorexia Nervosa, Dying To Be Thin

Disordered Eating? Recognize It!

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7 Comments Add yours

  1. This is plain silly, in my opinion.

    1. David Yochim says:

      Yes, it is plain silly. However, it is a thing now. The idea that healthy eating could be a disorder simply left me scratching my head. I hope you have been having a good holiday weekend Dolly. It was great to hear from you my friend!

      1. Our holiday starts tonight, David, and I am here to prove that even traditional Jewish holiday fare could be healthy.
        Blessings to you and your family and darling Brenda Sue.

      2. David Yochim says:

        And blessings to you my kind friend. Shanah Tovah!

      3. Thank you so much, dear friend!

  2. Life Happens says:

    The ‘disorder’ occurs when the behavior dictates life in the midst of negative consequences of said behavior. IF it’s simply healthy eating and making sure not to make dietary errors that could impact health (like T2DM), that’s one thing. IF it causes someone to change plans or not eat if the exact foods can’t be obtained, I’d consider those warning signs. Eating disorder survivor x 50+ yrs and an RN x 35 yrs, I’ve had my share of eating disorders. They all included negative consequences.

    1. David Yochim says:

      Hi Jill,
      Thank you for reading and commenting my friend. I pray you have found a way to overcome your eating disorders. I know they are extremely tough to beat. I have had my own disordered eating in the past too. Most of it was an attempt to lessen the impact of the depression and PTSD I suffer from.

      I believe you might have missed the point of my article. Eating disorders are serious business, but nowadays, everything seems to be getting labeled as a disorder. The problem with this is, some people will misconstrue healthy eating as a disorder when those of us who only eat healthy will not indulge in less than healthy foods. When I was overweight and prediabetic, people would want me to have cake and such at gatherings and I would oblige them to not hurt their feelings. Now, some of these same people think not only that because I eat healthy, that I eat weird because I no longer do indulge in sweet treats or any other junk foods. I also do not eat processed foods nor anything with added sugars. This is because I have been prediabetic and diabetes runs in my family on both my maternal and paternal sides.

      I eat the way I do for health and longevity, yet some people would assume I have a disorder because I refuse to eat certain foods, no matter the social circumstances. I am very disciplined in the way I eat since I have seen the worst in what occurs with a lifetime of poor eating habits. I have been a caretaker for a morbidly obese loved one who weighed in at just under 600 pounds.

      Our nation has a serious health problem being as about 68% of our country has a weight problem or are obese. About a quarter of our population is prediabetic. I will not be a statistic of poor nutrition as most preventable ailments that people suffer from could have been avoided entirely with good nutrition and exercise. As a RN, I am sure you know and understand this.

      From my article: It is said that enthusiasm for healthy eating only transforms into orthorexia when it turns into an obsession that negatively affects everyday life, such as extreme weight loss or a refusal to eat out with friends. What a load of baloney, that sounds a lot like Anorexia Nervosa which can be deadly.

      What we emphasize here at David’s Way to Health and Fitness is to eat a well balanced diet of healthy food choices, and to not exceed your caloric needs which leads to obesity and health problems over time. There are people who consider this to be disordered eating, however I disagree. Disordered eating is a lot of things, but you cannot call healthy eating a disorder. Most people I know who make it a point to eat healthy do so to improve their health, or to maintain it. We help people to get down to a healthy body fat percentage instead of trying to achieve a number on the scale as a goal weight. We approach weight loss and weight management in a holistic manner as there is more to the issues than appetite. At David’s Way, we have helped hundreds of people to drop significant amounts of body fat, and we have done this at no charge to anyone who follow us. What my partner Brenda Sue and I do is a labor of love to help others, therefore we will never charge anyone a single penny for following us.

      Please follow along, you can easily subscribe and receive all of our latest articles straight to your email and there will never be a charge to you. Share this with all of your friends who might enjoy and benefit from our website.


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