SOURCE: Caring Online

April 17, 2012 06:00 ET

Orthorexia Pushes Healthy Eating Concerns to Unhealthy Extremes, Says Caring Online

EDMONDS, WA--(Marketwire - Apr 17, 2012) - Orthorexia, a condition that causes people to become preoccupied with eating an extremely pure and healthy diet, doesn't show up on the "official" list of recognized eating disorders, but some clinicians think that it should, according to the website Caring Online.

Orthorexia, a term coined in 1997 from the Greek for "correct appetite," isn't meant to apply to the millions of people who try their best to eat a balanced diet. Orthorexia describes an all-consuming obsession with supposedly healthy eating that turns out to be not very healthy at all.

Although controlling body weight might not be an orthorexia sufferer's main concern, as it is with eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia, orthorexia can still cause dangerous weight loss and poor physical health. Orthorexics' preoccupation with diet also erodes their emotional and social well-being, and can even become an attempt to fulfill spiritual needs.

"When adherence to a strict diet is such a priority that it takes over a person's life, there's a problem," says Dr. Gregory Jantz, who operates Caring Online, a resource for information on eating disorders and their treatment. Dr. Jantz also directs The Center for Counseling and Health Resources, a residential treatment facility in Edmonds, WA.

A person afflicted by orthorexia feels shame and guilt if they depart from their "ideal" diet. At the same time, an orthorexia sufferer may feel superior to less discerning eaters. Many orthorexics insist on eating only food that they prepare themselves, forgoing food served at restaurants or even food made by friends and family. The social dimensions of meals -- eating with others and sharing food -- disappear.

Orthorexia sufferers choose foods that are healthy in themselves, but their list of what's acceptable can become so narrow that their diets don't provide complete nutrition. For example, a person with orthorexia may eat only a few kinds of vegetables, and only if they're organically grown and served raw. An orthorexic may skip eating altogether when no acceptable food is available.

Currently, orthorexia isn't recognized as a disorder by the entire mental health community or by insurance companies. Some eating disorder advocacy groups would like to change that, but much more research on orthorexia would be needed to establish a clear medical definition of it and criteria for diagnosis.

Contact Information