Orthorexia- Are we TOO obsessed with healthy eating?

The internet is a scary place, and there are a lot of “experts” out there.  I always feel it is important to remember to use common sense, practice moderation, and if you are not sure, ask a qualified professional.

As a chemist I am always so frustrated when people are scared of chemicals.   I think they are just scare of the unknown.   Everything is technically a chemical, and everything has a lethal dose.  Water is a chemical, and you can die if you drink too much of it.   My expertise is more around chemicals in skincare though, not nutritionals.

That being said,  this post is really about moderation as well as a healthy dose of education.

I have not only learned so much since becoming a coach, but I have also had the opportunity to meet some pretty amazing and smart people.   Maureen Flood is a fellow coach and also a nurse practitioner and shared this article on our team page.  I felt it was important to share with you too!


Definition: A mental health condition wherein an individual restricts their diet based not on the quantity of food, but based on arbitrary rules regarding its quality or characteristics without any medical reason for doing so and to the extent that it causes problems with their physical health or daily physical or social functioning.

Summary of the disorder

Orthorexia was coined as a term in 1997 in a Yoga Journal article by Steven Bratman to describe pathological obsession with healthful eating; he later wrote a book about it (Health Food Junkies: Orthorexia Nervosa: Overcoming the obsession with healthful eating, 2000).

Orthorexia come from the Greek “orthos” or “correct” and “orexi” or “appetite”.

Many people develop this disorder in response to recommendations by healthcare providers, celebrities, or others to restrict their diet (either sensibly or not) in order to treat or prevent a health condition. They are not particularly interested in getting thin, per se, although that may go along with the obsession about eating the right foods or avoiding the wrong ones. These obsessions lead to severe nutritional deficits that endanger the individual’s health as well as social problems because they often isolate themselves from others who disagree with their food choices. The nutritional deficits depend on the individual’s obsessions, but can include protein malnutrition, malabsorption of fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, and K), scurvy (Vitamin C deficit), osteopenia and osteomalacia (calcium deficit, Vitamin D deficit), and others.

Key messages

To avoid instigating orthorexia and encourage those who may have the condition to balance their diets, we need to be careful about the types of diets and food messages we promote.

  • There really is no such thing as a “superfood”: all whole foods have a place in a human diet, some in greater quantity than others. When we talk about “superfoods”, we are really just promoting an under-noticed food that has great nutritional qualities, not something that should be in every meal every day. No one can live on kale alone!
  • The best diet for overall health and fitness is a balanced diet that includes sufficient calories drawn from protein, fat, and carbohydrate sources.
  • Vegan and Vegetarian diets can be healthful, provided the person pays attention to getting a balance of those macronutrients.
  • Fad diets do not promote healthful, balanced eating.
  • Our clients should be reminded that they can only achieve maximum fitness levels with appropriate diets to meet the body’s needs for protein, fats, and carbohydrates.
  • We even need healthy fats, because our cells make their cell membranes with them and they carry important vitamins into our bloodstream for use by the body. All things in moderation!

If you are worried about pathological obsessions with food with a client, you may gently suggest that they talk to their healthcare provider about their diet choices, because they could be doing more harm than good.

Resources online

National Eating Disorders Association: https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/orthorexia-nervosa

Orthorexia (Dr. Bratman’s page): http://www.orthorexia.com/

Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: http://www.eatright.org/resource/health/diseases-and-conditions/eating-disorders/orthorexia-an-obsession-with-eating-pure


One thought on “Orthorexia- Are we TOO obsessed with healthy eating?

  1. Efficiently Fit says:

    This is a great post. I see too many people that are obsessed with every meal being super healthy and never take a break to enjoy some ice cream or a donut. I’m a huge fan of flexible dieting because it just gives people more freedom over their diet. I also get sick of the “chemical” stuff. I immediately thought “Water is a chemical” and sure enough you had that in there. Love it


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