Could You Have a “Healthy” Eating Disorder?

At a time when social consciousness about food is on the rise (thanks, Food, Inc.), it’s no surprise that people are cutting out red meat, making the switch to organic, and generally trying to make smarter nutritional choices. Let’s face it, we all want to live a healthier life, and a big part of that is being aware of what kind of food we’re putting into our bodies. But what happens when the desire to be healthy becomes an all-consuming obsession? The answer is Orthorexia Nervosa.

A recent article from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism explains that orthorexia — a term coined by Colorado-based physician Dr. Steven Bratman — may start out as a desire to be more healthy, but eventually morphs into an unhealthy obsession with eating only certain foods, while heavily restricting others. One woman featured in the piece — currently in college — says that she won’t eat gluten and dairy, only eats quinoa or alternative grains and sticks to lean meats, vegetables, and fruit. Sounds healthy, right? Well, on the surface, yes. But she also admitted that she is obsessively concerned with being healthy and, as a result, is currently undergoing treatment.

The piece also highlights an Italian study published in the Italian medical journal Eating and Weight Disorders, which examined 404 volunteers and found almost 7 percent of them suffered from orthorexia. Researchers defined this condition as “a combination of those with obsessive-compulsive personality features and exaggerated healthy eating behavior.”

According to Kelly Devine, a nutritionist and founder of Devine Nutrition in Chicago, there is a healthy way to restrict foods while not letting it become the focus of your life. Divine cites vegans and raw foodists as an example. “[Initially], orthorexia hurts more mentally than physically,” she says. “It’s one thing to eat healthy but occasionally indulge. [But] some people get so obsessed that they can’t eat at a work party.”

Are You Orthorexic?
So, how can you tell whether you’re just a health-food junkie, or if you’re headed for a problem? You can start with a simple, 10-question self-assessment, developed by Dr. Bratman to test for orthorexia. Answer the following questions to see if you might be at risk.

1. Do you spend more than three hours a day thinking of food?
2. Do you plan your day’s menu more than 24 hours ahead of time?
3. Do you take more pleasure from the “virtuous” aspect of your food than from actually eating it?
4. Do you find your quality of life decreasing as the “quality” of your food increases?
5. Are you increasingly rigid and self-critical about your eating?
6. Do you base your self-esteem on eating “healthy” foods, and have a lower opinion of people who do not?
7. Do you eat “correct” foods to the avoidance of all those that you’ve always enjoyed?
8. Do you increasingly limit what you can eat, saying that you dine “correctly” only at home, spending less and less time with friends and family?
9. Do you feel guilt or self-loathing when you eat “incorrect” foods?
10. Do you derive a sense of self-control from eating “properly”?

If you answered “yes” to more than four questions on the list, it’s time to re-think your relationship with food.

Author by Alicia McAuley

Editor’s Review:

I can see this disorder in many health fanatics. Some appear to be anorexic. I’ve never heard of orthorexia before. I personally need to consider what I eat due to the fact of digestive issues. Although I do have obesity, diabetes and heart matters in my family. It’s just so much to look at – don’t eat that, eat this- then what you feel is good turns out to be cancerous. Then in order to avoid 1 issue you are jeopardizing yourself to another. Me, I’m anemic too. It takes away from following any vegetarian diet if I need to increase my proteins. I like nuts, however they don’t always digest too well. I have had swallowing issues- even peanut butter won’t go down so smoothly. I can’t understand how people would want to measure everything and plan when they must worry of everything else. I would rather go for an ice cream and hope it won’t kill me later.