The term orthorexia derives from the Greek (ortho: correct, right, or just) and orexis (appetite), meaning “correct appetite” or “right eating”. One might think that an orthorexic individual is indeed a healthy person who takes really good care of what he eats. But rather, it is an obsessive behavior toward food that can result in serious disturbances of normal life of those suffering from this disorder. Orthorexia has been defined as pathological obsession with what the individual considers to be healthy eating. Orthorexic individuals reject specific foods or ingredients he considers to be unhealthy; consequently, he does not eat a properly balanced diet. Usually, these patients end up suffering from malnutrition and emaciation.
Dr Steven Bratman first described orthorexia in 1977, in his book entitled “Health Food Junkies”. He refers to an orthorexic as “someone who only eats quinoa crackers and tofu and may see himself as a saint having spent his life helping needy people”. In his book, Bratman developed a diagnostic questionnaire based on three simple questions:
- Does your dietary habits isolate you?
- Do you feel guilty when you eat a food that does not comply with your dietary convictions?
- Do you care more about the type of food you eat than the pleasure you get from eating it?
If you answer yes to any of these questions you might be in your way of becoming an orthorexic individual. Dr Bettine Isenchmid, a specialist in Eating Disorders at L’Hôpital de l’Isle in Berna, stated that orthorexia could isolate the patient to a point that social and working relationships are severely curtailed unless they happen among persons who share the same obsessive preferences for foods they consider unhealthy.
Orthorexic subjects do not concern much about the amount of food they eat but they show an obsessive preference for what they consider to be pure, healthy, and high quality foods. They seek body perfection and feel threatened by food containing additives, preservatives, and other artificial ingredients considered unhealthy to them. In recent years, there has been a lot of emphasis in classify foods as “good or healthy” and “bad or unhealthy” ones. This is not just a food faddism; there are many populations that chose their foods based upon these narrow criteria and have pressured supermarkets and restaurants to remove specific food types from the shelves or menus.
Orthorexic individuals have widened their concerns beyond a food type or group to include other aspects of the food chain such as agronomic practices to grow and harvest the crops or how farm animals are slaughtered. Even how foods are cook came under scrutiny because of their specific requirements to prepare what they eat.
This obsession for healthy foods leads to unhealthy lifestyle. For instance, these patients spend a lot of time and energy searching for the specific foods. They show no concern for food prices and care about food “quality”. The activities they undertake to fulfill their obsession in food selection usually demand their complete attention and make them unable to take part in any other activity. Often, orthorexics suffer from malnutrition since they leave out many nutritive foods that provide essential nutrients. They become so committed to “healthy” eating that do not get their meals in places other than their own homes to make sure that the cooking procedures follow their strict specifications. In their desperate quest for their healthy food utopia, orthorexic individuals become isolated even in their inner circles and are unable to engage in family gatherings that include food sharing which is an essential component of our mental and spiritual wellness.
Finally, let’s make it clear: there is nothing wrong with eating healthy. That is not the point! In fact, we all need to eat healthfully but there is no need to obsessive with the “right” type of food. The key here is to keep balance in everything you do including eating. The balance refers to eat a variety of foods that include vegetables, fruits, fish, meats, whole grains, dairy products, and vegetable oils so your diet will be nutritionally balanced and truly healthy. Remember, there is more in life than food, including love, work, social relationship, and fun!
Note: The content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek medical advice for any questions regarding a medical condition or changes in your treatment.