Home / Blog / Article


April 23 2015

Alarmism About Food Creates New Mental Condition: Orthorexia

Julie Gunlock

Eating healthy is good, right? Of course! We all want people to make good decisions when it comes to food and nutrition.  And luckily, it's easier to do now more than ever because of the many resources on diet and nutrition.

But people need to be warned about some of those sources and a new condition they seem to be contributing to: Orthorexia. The Baltimore Sun, reporting that doctors are reporting more cases of the condition, explained orthorexia as “… specific disordered thoughts and behaviors associated with an obsessive focus on clean food consumption. The literal translation is a "fixation on righteous eating." While traditional eating disorder diagnoses tend to focus on the amount of food a person eats, orthorexia is unique in that it focuses on the quality of food consumed. What may begin as a realistic effort to eat healthy or avoid illness can spiral into an unhealthy obsession; a search for food that is "pure." Food choices can become all-encompassing, socially restrictive and inextricably tied to a sense of self-worth or morality.”

We all know someone suffering from Orthorexia: that mom who won’t let her kid have a cupcake at school (because preservatives, sugar, food coloring and….), the guy at the cookout who asks if the hamburger meat comes from grass-fed cows, the nervous lady sipping out of her glass water bottle timidly inquiring if the potatoes used in the salad are organic, the Crossfit addict who thinks GMOs cause cancer and tornados.

Food columnists (Pollan/Bittman), environmental and food activists, certain formerly respected doctors (such as Dr. “magic beans help you lose weight” Mehamet Oz), shock jock food bloggers (like The Food Babe), and other so-called “nutrition experts” add to people’s confusion about healthy eating and offer more fear than good ideas about good and easy steps that can be taken to improve wellness.

Even seemingly innocuous human-interest stories about political candidates are infected with orthorexic messages.

Consider this Reuters article (posted on Drudge this morning, so likely to receive wide readership) about Jeb Bush’s recent weight loss. Despite Bush’s good results following a Paleo-style diet, Loren Cordain, one of the founders and promoters of the Paleo diet criticized Bush’s food decisions.

The Reuter’s article reported that during a campaign stop, Bush was “faced with a heaping pile of scrambled eggs, hash browns and pancakes … Bush snatched up the single slice of bacon on the plate and skipped the rest.”

Sounds reasonable to me, right? A good decision.

But Paleo devotee Cordain sneered, saying Bush “would be better off replacing the high-salt bacon with a grass-produced pork chop…"

Because it’s totally reasonable on a campaign stop to ask the owner of the diner to whip him up a “grass-fed pork chop.”

Seriously?

But that’s exactly what it means to be orthorexic—adhering perfectly to a certain set of rules of eating. The orthorexic must never veer or make a mistake or take the easy route (just eating the bacon). Manners don’t exist to the orthorexic. The only thing that matters is adherence to the rules. And who cares if you have to put someone out to get what you want. Perfection is the goal, not health.

Orthorexia seems to be a real condition and with more and more people following the oddball suggestions of questionable health gurus (here's an excellent list of the nuttiest of the nutty), it’s no doubt that this is a problem doctors and real nutritionists are worried about.

It seems to me that the best advice when it comes to health and diet is to eat with moderation, make good and reasonable food decisions, eat more vegetables and fruit (no matter how that produce is grown!), and get some exercise and fresh air as much as you can.

But most importantly, one should avoid any sort of strict orthodoxy when it comes to food. 

IIndependent Women's Forum is an educational 501(c)(3) dedicated to developing and advancing policies that aren’t just well intended, but actually enhance people’s freedom, choices, and opportunities. IWF is the sister organization of the Independent Women’s Voice.​
Follow us