How I Knew I Was Struggling With an 'Eating Disorder in Disguise'


Orthorexia, a term coined by Steven Bratman, MD, is defined as, “an unhealthy obsession with healthy eating” or a “fixation on righteous eating.” It usually starts with the innocent desire to adapt a healthier lifestyle. We may read things on the internet that confuse us yet convince us. We might buy into things that don’t even make sense. We often pay the extra $2.20 for the organic products. We might spend hours reading labels at the grocery stores and scanning restaurant menus before going out. Eventually, all of that may stop. We might stop buying processed foods all together. We often refuse to go out to eat with friends or family, insisting that we’ve already eaten. We can become fixated on the quality and purity of our food, and if that food doesn’t meet our standards, we might not eat or purge after the fact to rid our bodies of all uncleanliness. This can manifest itself in all forms — from exercising, stricter eating or even fasting. This lifestyle is often rigid, lifeless and moralistic. We may become prideful of how “good” we eat compared to other people. We might receive affirmation about how healthy our diets are and how other people wish they were like us. If they only knew.  And despite what many people believe, despite what I believed for a few years, this type of eating usually isn’t healthy. If anything, it’s the opposite.

Our health often starts to decline after chronic restriction in both food choices and calories. We might start to miss out on the vital macro and micronutrients that our bodies need to survive. The relationship with food that started out to be so healthy all of a sudden has gone horribly wrong. Our diet often becomes more important than our passions. Our food schedule may impair our relationships and ability to connect. We might start to notice physical signs that our bodies aren’t getting enough, whether that be weight loss, amenorrhea, low energy, muscle fatigue, lack of sleep, irritability or many other symptoms.

Although orthorexia isn’t officially recognized in the DSM-V as an eating disorder, I think it should be. It’s chaos in the brain, the inability to focus on anything that isn’t related to dieting, clean eating or exercise. It’s just as dangerous as those eating disorders that are medically diagnosable and often accompanies eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa (AN), bulimia nervosa (BN), avoidant-restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID) and other specified feeding and eating disorders (OSFED).

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If you or someone you know has an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorders Association helpline: 800-931-2237.

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, you can call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237.

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