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Orthorexia nervosa "disorder": Putting a stigma on healthy eating?

In a weird twist, the UK's The Guardian newspaper reports of an uprise in a new disorder, orthorexia nervosa, termed by Dr. Stephen Bratman of California as a fixation with righteous eating.  Ursula Philpot, chair of the British Dietetic Association's mental health group, says that orthorexics are concerned solely with the quality of food they are eating, having rigid rules about avoiding pesticides, herbicides, artificial additives.  They refuse to allow sugar, salt, sodium, gluten, corn, and other foods into their diet. In other words, Healthy eating = Eating disorder.

And this is a bad thing? 

Apparently so - Dr. Bratman claims that while orthorexia generally causes no major health problems, it could lead to "social exclusion and alienation" as the orthorexic may be shunned by his peers who regularly eat out in restaurants and fast food joints.  Concern about unknown ingredients and quantities in the restaurant meals may cause orthorexics to avoid social situations.

Deanne Jade, a psychologist, and founder of the National Centre for Eating Disorders, states that an orthorexic diet, "is very difficult to maintain," and could possibly lead to binging on the very foods the orthorexic is trying to avoid.

Let's take a look at just some of the recent health and food news:

  • The CDC found that only 1 in 18 Americans get the recommended minimum daily amount of sodium; mainly because of sodium's hidden presence in most processed and prepared foods.
  • The FDA is recommending a limit on the amount of antibiotics used in conventionally-raised animals. (read more . . .)
  • Obesity in America is continuing to grow; and it appears that our cousins across the water are also experiencing an alarming rise in childhood obesity.
  • The American Heart Association has issued new guidelines on restricting added sugar in our diet, claiming that added sugar in fast food, processed and prepared foods is resulting in extra weight and disease among Americans.

With mounting evidence that a diet high in processed foods, sugar, salt, and artificial additives contributes to the risk of disease, ill health and early death, it seems ironic to label a concerned, healthy eater as someone suffering from an eating disorder.  This oversimplification is similar to accusing a non-smoker of being compulsive and overly obsessive.

While any compulsive eating behavior is never healthy, it is a slippery slope to blasphemize the healthy eating movement - this will provide fodder for those with a vested interest.  Americans don't need another excuse to eschew healthy vegetables in place of that oversized bag of potato chips.

GMA's Diane Sawyer discusses new AHA added sugar guidelines last August, 2009.


  • Winona Cooking Examiner 5 years ago

    Not surprised they came out with another name for this condition. Taking all these foods out of your diet would seem to cause other problems. Good report...this was interesting and something to be concerned about.

  • April - Salt Lake City Wellness/Cat Examiner 5 years ago

    Is there a name for everything now?

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