Steven Bratman, MD, coined the term orthorexia in a 1997 essay for Yoga Journal in which he described the disorder as a "fixation on eating proper food." Bratman, who himself had a food fixation while living on a commune in upstate New York, chose the prefix "ortho"which in Greek means straight, correct, trueto reflect the obsession with maintaining a perfect diet. Dr. Bratman described orthorexia in greater detail in the 2001 book Health Food Junkies, but it remains largely unrecognized and poorly understood.
Orthorexic tendencies often begin as a result of health problems. Alena's obsession with healthy eating started in 12th grade, when she found out she had Candida (a type of yeast infection) and a homeopathic doctor asked her to stop eating yeast, wheat, sugar, and dairy for several weeks as part of her treatment. She was already a vegetarian, so she mainly ate rice and vegetables. (Alena did not want her last name published.)Then, when she was 19, she went to a naturopathic doctor with a collection of stomach symptoms, including nausea, constipation, and indigestion, and was again instructed to avoid processed grains, sugar, soy, dairy, and nuts. "And that's when I went crazy," says Alena, now a 22-year-old student at NYU. "I basically cut out everything from my diet. I convinced my mind that food made me sick."
Therapists, nutritionists, and eating-disorder experts have slowly begun to take orthorexia more seriously. Anorexia and bulimia were similarly slow to be recognized: Anorexia was long considered a symptom of hysteria, while bulimia was regarded as a type of anorexia and was not considered a disease in its own right until 1980.