Americans are obsessed with weight and health. See how far you can get through the day without hearing a comment about what someone ate, what she did for exercise and whether she thinks she’s too fat or too skinny (or what she thinks about her coworker’s weight).
And don’t forget commercials, TV shows, articles and books about weight loss, healthy eating and fitness.
With this in mind, it’s not surprising that some people might take health to the extreme. This is the case for people who suffer from “orthorexia,” an unofficial eating disorder involving a preoccupation with eating healthy food.
Although the exact definition of orthorexia will vary, experts have advice on how to be healthy without becoming preoccupied and obsessed to the point of becoming unhealthy.
Carol Cottrill, a certified nutritional consultant, said that even though orthorexia is not considered an official eating disorder, it is a form of disordered eating that could eventually lead to an actual eating disorder like anorexia or bulimia.
“Orthorexia is an obsession with eating only healthy foods,” Cottrill said. “Though it is motivated by a desire to feel healthy, natural, and pure — not to be confused with anorexia, which is fueled by a desire to lose weight — it is nonetheless a disorder that has taken over the lives of many afflicted individuals.”
She said that in her professional experience, she sees more and more clients who show signs of orthorexia.
“Most begin by cutting out food groups like meat, and suspect they are ‘intolerant’ to other food groups, like wheat and dairy, so those foods are eliminated too,” Cottrill said. “I notice a rise [in] my impressionable younger clients who see celebrities following raw diets and cleansing diets. In my practice, I estimate orthorexia to affect one in 10 women and one in 20 men. I believe that the trigger for orthorexia is obsessive compulsive behavior.”
For people who are already prone to addictive or obsessive behavior and eating disorders, there are still ways to avoid becoming obsessive about health and eating healthy while still keeping their health.