Orthorexia: The New Eating Disorder

Orthorexia is a controversial eating disorder marked by an obsession with healthy food. It’s usually seen in people older than 30, and women may be more likely than men to have it.


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What is it?
Orthorexia is a controversial eating disorder marked by an obsession with healthy food. Its usually seen in people older than 30, and women may be more likely than men to have it. Common symptoms include sticking to a stringent regimen—maybe its a vegan or raw-food diet—as well as nervously avoiding any foods with artificial flavors, colors, or preservatives.

The buzz:
Not all experts think orthorexia is a real disorder like anorexia (obsessive fear of gaining weight). But Pittsburgh-based psychologist Elizabeth Lombardo, PhD, does: “Compulsive healthy eating can lead to physical problems like chronic hunger,” she says. “Ive worked with clients who, regardless of how hungry they are, refuse to eat anything ‘unhealthy.”

You need to know:
Theres a difference between a healthy diet and an unhealthy fixation on a healthy diet. Warning signs of orthorexia: being overly concerned with how food is prepared, making a never-ending list of foods you wont eat, and focusing on the healthfulness of food instead of how it tastes.

The bottom line:
The good news is that a treatment like cognitive-behavioral therapy works really well, says Cynthia Bulik, PhD, director of the Eating Disorders Program at the University of North Carolina. “We can help people replace the thoughts that lead to this rigid behavior with healthier alternatives,” Bulik says. “That can also stop an orthorexic pattern from cascading into anorexia.”
Last Updated: October 20, 2009

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