by Leah Peloff ‘18
Anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating are the three most commonly known eating disorders. Each of these disorders cause life-threatening symptoms. Unfortunately, it is fairly common to know people suffering with one of these disorders in this day in age; however, not many people know that there is a fourth, equally dangerous disease: orthorexia.
Defined as an obsession with eating foods that one perceives as healthy, orthorexia starts out as a seemingly beneficial focus on eating fresh, natural, and organic products. Eventually, however, this “passion” and “motivation” can quickly spiral into a compulsive obsession that takes over other aspects of a person’s life.
In comparison to the other commonly known disorders, orthorexia is a fairly new phenomenon, having been named by Dr. Steven Bratman in 1996. Although it is still not recognized by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental disorders, orthorexia is similar to the other disorders in many ways. For example, a person with Anorexia nervosa may not eat for a week in order to stay thin, while someone with orthorexia may only eat a certain type of food for a week, thinking it is the only thing healthy for them to consume.
The side effects of orthorexia are extensive. As for physical health, those affected may not get enough nutrients from all aspects of the food triangle. Socially, many orthorexics struggle because they plan their entire life around adhering to a specific diet. For these individuals, there is little time to do anything else besides planning their next meal.
“I pursued wellness through healthy eating for years, but gradually I began to sense that something was going wrong,” said Bratman, a recovered patient of orthorexia, when interviewed for Karin Katrina’s article on the National Eating Disorders website. “My ability to carry on normal conversations was hindered by intrusive thoughts of food. The need to obtain meals free of meat, fat, and artificial chemicals had put nearly all social forms of eating beyond my reach. I was lonely and obsessed.”
Although healthy eating is encouraged by all health professionals, this newly discovered disorder shines a new light on the need to monitor these so-called “healthy” choices before they mutate into a dangerous obsession.