The Illusion of Othorexia

Orthorexia a term used to describe those who are obsessed or preoccupied with healthy eating. You know the type. They have a long list of foods they can’t eat, they read labels meticulously and can immediately identify “bad” foods or ingredients, and they often judge or criticize the food choices of others.

You may be reading this thinking that I just described you. In that case, you should probably read on.

While orthorexia isn’t yet recognized as a clinical eating disorder, it is felt by some therapists in the field to be an area of increasing concern. In 1997, Steven Bratman introduced the concept to describe individuals who are obsessed with eating to perfection. The word ortho, derived from the Greek language, means “right” or “correct.”

I’m not talking about people who are simply trying to improve their eating habits or manage a serious medical condition here. I’m talking about folks who vigilantly select and exclude foods based on a cumbersome set of self-imposed eating rules.

The following behaviors are examples of possible signs of orthorexia:

1. Increasing reliance on supplements to achieve optimal nutrition.

2. Avoiding a large number of foods without input from a health professional.

3. Feeling guilty or anxious when deviating from safe foods.

4. Judging others for not adhering to a similar eating style.

5. Avoiding food prepared by others and avoiding going out to eat.

This idea of eating to perfection is not only impossible, but it can also lead to malnutrition and emotional health issues. Eliminating a large number of foods limits dietary nutrient density, and banning so-called “bad” foods can lead to excluding even some of the healthiest foods over time. This kind of careful selection also requires a great deal of time and energy – and that can add stress.

Perhaps you are realizing that you may be struggling with orthorexic tendencies. How has that impacted your life? If you identified with the examples above, consider talking with your doctor or mental health professional about how to shift to a more positive eating style.

A healthier alternative eating style is to focus on real food. It’s much simpler – and some of the healthiest cultures across the globe have been doing it successfully for generations. Sometimes this best solution is the simplest.

Despite our endless pursuits of perfection in many areas of our lives, it is an illusion. Once we learn to embrace our imperfections and put life into perspective, we allow ourselves to experience much more happiness.