Orthorexia. Have you heard of it?
Maybe not. But we bet you’ve heard of healthy eating – and that’s supposedly what can cause it.
The term orthorexia nervosa was coined in 1997 by Dr Steven Bratman. It’s characterised by an excessive fixation with cutting out ‘unhealthy’ foods and has been described as ‘a disease disguised as a virtue’.
So basically, health food fanatics who swear by ‘clean’ meals and constantly Instagram their juices could actually end up less well than they were before.
Orthorexia differs from eating disorders such anorexia and bulimia in that sufferers aren’t aiming to lose weight. Instead, they’re initially motivated (somewhat ironically) by the desire to treat their body well.
But after cutting out certain food groups, they can eventually end up on a diet so restricted that they become malnourished.
Sufferers have reported lethargy, periods stopping, teeth crumbling and an increasing anxiety about their food routines and rules. In extreme cases, experts have warned that it could even lead to death.
New York blogger Jordan Younger – who used to be known under the pseudonym The Blonde Vegan – recalls: ‘I had developed many fears surrounding food. I was becoming more and more limited in what I was comfortable eating.
‘I even joked about it with friends, calling certain foods, like eggs, “fear foods” because I had stayed away from them for so long.’
After embarking on a lengthy course of therapy, Jordan eventually managed to very her diet. She introduced items such as fish and organic chicken and renamed her blog The Balanced Blonde.
However, there are fears that more people could end up in a similar situation.
Mary George – of eating disorder Beat – tells The Independent: ‘Orthorexia is not actually categorised as an eating disorder so we can’t say if cases are on the rise.
‘But we do seem to hear more about it nowadays, undoubtedly in some way influenced by the huge focus on healthy diet and lifestyle.
‘Orthorexia can bear more resemblance to obsessive compulsive disorder in that it is characterised by a fixation on righteous eating, eating only “pure” foods and trying to avoid contamination by food.’
So while there are no suggestions that you should stop trying to eat healthily, it’s always sensible to bear in mind that you’re not taking things too far.