Eating disorder charities are reporting a rise in the number of people suffering from a serious psychological condition characterised by an obsession with healthy eating.

The condition, orthorexia nervosa, affects equal numbers of men and women, but sufferers tend to be aged over 30, middle-class and well-educated.

The condition was named by a Californian doctor, Steven Bratman, in 1997, and is described as a “fixation on righteous eating”. Until a few years ago, there were so few sufferers that doctors usually included them under the catch-all label of “Ednos” – eating disorders not otherwise recognised. Now, experts say, orthorexics take up such a significant proportion of the Ednos group that they should be treated separately.

“I am definitely seeing significantly more orthorexics than just a few years ago,” said Ursula Philpot, chair of the British Dietetic Association’s mental health group. “Other eating disorders focus on quantity of food but orthorexics can be overweight or look normal. They are solely concerned with the quality of the food they put in their bodies, refining and restricting their diets according to their personal understanding of which foods are truly ‘pure’.”

Orthorexics commonly have rigid rules around eating. Refusing to touch sugar, salt, caffeine, alcohol, wheat, gluten, yeast, soya, corn and dairy foods is just the start of their diet restrictions. Any foods that have come into contact with pesticides, herbicides or contain artificial additives are also out.

Quick, we need a vaccine!

  1. Awake says:

    The two extremes:

    McDonalds and it’s ilk selling crap that can barely described as ‘food’,

    and nuts that won’t eat anything that does not meet their high standards.

    Personally, I would rather have the population tend towards the orthorexia side than having everybody become a mass of lardbutts addled by a chemical fog in their brain.

  2. Urotsukidoji says:

    Some of us like chemical fogs.

  3. Dallas says:

    Agree there are those with a fixation in the food they eat. I don;t dispute the findings at all.

    Like to credit some of these ff joints with putting pretty good salad selections on their menu as of late. Big kudos to Pot Belly’s for their salads. Their brand is not in synch with their menu but it’s catchy.

  4. bobbo, in't pastry chef and gourmand orthorexic says:

    Its good to ban various “foods” from your diet and guage your body’s response. Sugar and Fructose and highly refined foods really are “bad” for you. Salt and Eggs come in and out of fashion every few years.

    Try it for a few weeks and then make a decision. I stopped eating high salt or sugar foods and after a month when I went back to try some of my old favorites they became inedible by taste. Canned green beans now have to be washed to remove the salt. Most cookie brands taste more like candy than a wheat or oat product. Has to be less than 25% of the source of calories or I can’t eat it anymore.

    Now I add sugar and salt very deliberately.

    Balance in all things. Conscious choices with deliberate consequences.

  5. Dirk Thundernuts says:

    Typical orthorexic:

  6. Improbus says:

    For the most part I have given up eating fast food and have cut sugar out of my diet. Does that mean I have a mental problem?

  7. Benjamin says:

    (sarc)Maybe the government should decide how much and what types of foods each person eats and then we don’t have to worry about any of this.(/sarc)

  8. Olo Baggins of Bywater says:

    I recently changed my diet. I get the McDouble instead of the Double chzbgr, and get the fresco version of the bean burrito at Taco Bell.

    The fresco stuff is very good, and dinner costs me $2.

  9. billtahoe says:

    #8 Benjamin
    For the last 50 or 60 years the government has had more and more influence over how much and what foods we eat, as directed by their corporate overlords. Agribusiness decides what and how much is available and what it costs and manipulates it all through government subsidies and regulations.

  10. lakelady says:

    while some may poke fun at this they are failing to realize that this obsession, just like other food obsessions, has very little to do with food and more to do with control. And we’re not talking about garden variety (pardon the pun) paying attention to what one eats. The people that have this problem are as obsessive as an anorexic and it can destroy their lives.

  11. McCullough says:

    #13. Agree 100%.

  12. Mextli says:

    Michael Bloomberg will tell you what to eat, no worries.

  13. Alf says:

    lakelady said, on June 30th, 2010 at 11:07 am

    YOU ARE NUTS (pardon the pun). In a country where ad dollars and lobbyists dictate what we are supposed to eat you criticize someone for being cautious about diet. The U.S. government doesn’t allow comprehensive labeling regarding country of origin and whether the food item is genetically modified. Put some thought in this.

  14. What says:

    Eat whatever the hell you want. And let the fat pigs in the ghetto do the same. Who care?


    Does EVERYBODY have to be a busy-body?

    Eat dog shit for all I care.

  15. lakelady says:

    Alf – I didn’t criticize anyone for being cautious about their diet. There’s a vast difference between reasonable caution and obsession. That is simply the point I was trying to make.

  16. clancys_daddy says:

    Exercise, eat right, die anyway.

  17. McCullough says:

    #19. A good life is about quality, not quantity.

  18. sargasso_c says:

    #20 McCullough. I agree.

  19. Floyd says:

    Agreed on quality, not quantity.

    But–“quality” is a slippery word that can head toward madness. Read “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” to get an idea how hard quality is to pin down.
    Orthorexics may be just as nutty as anorexics.

  20. SimonSezz says:

    Since when is common sense a disease?

  21. Two to the Head says:

    What the F is wrong with this concept. People wanting to eat “food that doesn’t kill them”.

    Yes I choose not to eat food that is genetically modified or sprayed with pesticides or processed in a way that makes it impossible for the digestive system to handle. I try to eat the same things that my great grandfather ate. Vegetables that are grown in my own garden and meat that is raised on my own land.

    Get rid of the corporate giants that don’t give a shit about your health. Buy your food from the local farmers market or better yet dig up your lawn and plant something that you can eat.

    It tastes great. It’s good for you.

    end of sermon

  22. Cursor_ says:

    When I was a youngster we called this kind of person Euell Gibbons.


  23. Floyd says:

    #24: A backyard garden is a nice hobby, and may save you a bit of money.

    “I try to eat the same things that my great grandfather ate” is just nuts. What if your great grandfather loved to eat fresh tripe? Would you eat it?


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