Orthorexia: when healthy eating becomes an addiction.

Orthorexia: when healthy eating becomes an addiction.

Orthorexia is a term which you may not have heard of before but is something you need to be aware of. It is a relatively new eating disorder however, at present it does not have a recognised diagnostic criteria. Consequently, although individuals may not receive a clinical diagnosis of Orthorexia Nervosa (ON), it would be discussed during a clinical appointment. 

“A maniacal obsession in the pursuit of healthy foods”

In 1997, Steven Bratman described ON as a fixation with healthy or righteous eating. Similarly, in 2004, further research described it as a “maniacal obsession in the pursuit of healthy foods”.  When I completed my Undergraduate dissertation in 2014, I compared eating disorders in sport to those in the general population. ON was not a known eating disorder at this time and was not heard of socially. It isn’t until recently that it has been made public, and with the surge in social media has become more prominent. 2014 saw the first media coverage of the eating disorder after a social media influencer reported having the illness and subsequent malnutrition.

Unlike other eating disorders, individuals with ON are not so much focused on the amount of food that they consume, but it’s quality. Foods which are “processed” or “unnatural” are discarded from the diet. As are any “bad” foods or foods not in their “purest” form. When compared to Anorexia Nervosa where restriction of food causes extreme weight loss, individuals with ON may not always appear malnourished. However, when food groups are cut out of a diet due to obsessive behaviours, weight loss and malnutrition can follow.

Whilst some individuals may choose to eat this way, when it becomes an obsession and causes physical, mental and social difficulties, it crosses over to an eating disorder behaviour.

It is so important to be aware of ON as it can appear as a normal, healthy way of living. However, deep down it could be causing serious harm. If you feel like this sounds like someone you know, or even yourself, please consider speaking to someone. It can take over your life and cause serious harm both physically and mentally. Food is to be enjoyed and restriction of any kind can be causing more harm than good.