The Rise of Orthorexia


Open up any magazine or scroll through your Instagram feed and you’re bound to come across an article about the “wellness movement.” Especially if you’re an avid reader of this blog. But as of late, the press around wellness has taken a serious turn, and the focus has shifted away from fluffy ideas like skin brushing to more serious topics like the rise of a newer eating disorder, or as some call it OCD, known as Orthorexia nervosa.

Orthorexia nervosa, a term coined by an American doctor named Dr. Steven Bratman in the late 1990s, is when a person becomes unhealthily obsessed with righteous eating—and the purity or quality of food—to an extent that their physical or mental health suffers. Often times this disorder is associated with restrictive eating and an obsession with things like clean eating, veganism, raw dieting, juicing, gluten free, sugar free and other limiting diets that essentially take “healthy” eating to a dangerous place.

Symptoms include anxiety around “bad foods,” dietary inflexibility, a concern with physical health at social and emotional expense—which can all lead to malnutrition and a second disorder known as anorexia.

Of course, there are some people who can dedicate their lives to good health and still be mentally well, just as there will always be people who suffer from disordered eating “healthily” or otherwise, but I wanted to bring this up on my site given the rise of cases and severity of the damage this can cause.

I spend a lot of time here, and on social media, sharing my own experience with wellness, “clean eating,” and what some can argue may be my own obsession with things like organic food and non-toxic beauty. Because of that, I feel a sense of responsibility to open up the dialogue about orthorexia here on the blog. I personally don’t feel like I struggle with this disorder, but I am undoubtedly inundated with wellness/clean/restrictive eating whenever I open my Instagram feed, walk through a grocery store (kale, coconut oil, protein powders, chia seeds, oh my!) or drive through LA (aka land of workout studios and lean bodies). Personal problem or not, I can absolutely understand how the interest in a healthy lifestyle can spiral into a full blown disorder that can cause permanent damage on ones’ body or mind.

The scary thing about this disorder is that it stems from a good place. It usually starts with the intention of getting healthy, losing a little weight, working out more, eliminating toxins, etc. but for some people, it becomes the primary driver of everything they do in their lives to an unhealthy degree. I hope that by writing about this, it sparks more conversation and helps drive the conversation back to what I believe wellness is all about: properly nourishing oneself physically and emotionally.

Any thoughts on this? Is this something you’ve been reading a lot about too?

Links for further reading on the topic:
Why we fell for clean eating via The Guardian
The Unhealthy Truth Behind ‘Wellness’ and ‘Clean Eating’ via VICE

If you are struggling with an eating disorder and are in need of support, please call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237. For a 24-hour crisis line, text “NEDA” to 741741.

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7 comments

  1. I read a big article about this last week which referenced famous instagrammers who put out diet and cleanse guides that are making people sick because they have no experience with nutrition but are obsessive about clean eating. Very scary and glad to see you’re talking about it.

  2. This is such a valuable discussion to have; kudos on being a wellness-focused site and bringing up the dark side of an overriding interest in wellness.

  3. This is so interesting and I definitely know someone who struggles with this. There are so many stigmas on certain types of foods, i.e. anything with gluten, that people take it so far they deprive themselves of things their body may need.

  4. clean eating has taken over my life in an obsessive way and my family has been really worried that it’s manifesting into something more. i didn’t really agree with them and argued that the rest of the country isn’t focused on health and that’s who they should be worried about, not me. but after reading this my eyes are opening up. i follow a lot of the restrictive eaters on instagram for inspiration and haven’t had dairy, gluten or any of that in months. and i do the bbg guide religiously. it’s my entire life and it does keep me from going to restaurants with friends and im inflexible with my workout schedule. perhaps my family is right and i am obsessed in an unhealthy way. thank you for this.

  5. Hey Geri! I’m an 8th grade teacher in Oregon and “Orthorexia” is something that we’ve adding to our health class curriculum this year after noticing many of our own students are suffering from it. Great post and thank you for raising awareness.

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