Clean Eating

Getting a Grip on Orthorexia

As public interest in concepts of healthy eating and now “clean eating” has grown, health and nutrition professionals have begun recognize that an obsession with healthy eating can become pathological. In 1997, Stephen Bratman first described orthorexia nervosa in Yoga Journal as a “the health food eating disorder.”

Unfortunately, almost 20 years later, experts are still struggling to get a handle on this condition. Most of the peer-reviewed studies of this condition appeared in European journals for years. Interest increased in the U.S. only when Jordan Younger, an internet celebrity known as “the Blonde Vegan,” announced in 2014 that she suffered from an eating disorder based upon her intense drive for healthy eating that was compromising her health – orthorexia. Major media coverage followed and Younger assumed a new identity as “the Balanced Blonde.”

Despite growing recognition that orthorexia nervosa is a distinct eating disorder of increasing importance, the criteria for diagnosis and tools for its measurement are woefully underdeveloped. Commenting on a new study in the journal Appetite, Benjamin Missbach and colleagues say:

Progress has been made to identify the clinical characteristics and diagnostic criteria for ON, and it would be desirable to see this progress in constructing new assessment methods on a population level, likewise. However, most previous results of studies reporting on ON prevalence estimations using methods of low quality should be treated with caution as we move forward in this field.

We are pummeled daily with exhortations to eat a diet that promotes good health. Some of the overheated rhetoric about toxic foods might indeed have unintended consequences. We should not be surprised.

Important concerns about orthorexia should be grounded in good science and unfortunately, it’s not there yet.

Click here for the commentary by Missbach, here for a thoughtful review by Dunn and Bratman, and here for a personal perspective from the Huffington Post.

Clean Eating, photograph © / flickr

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July 13, 2016

2 Responses to “Getting a Grip on Orthorexia”

  1. July 14, 2016 at 7:05 am, Mary-Jo Overwater said:

    This is a very important issue, especially for people who become parents and unwittingly compromise the critical development and growth of their children. They think they are doing their utmost for their children by feeding them ‘optimal’ diets, thus, ‘preventing’ food allergies, hyperactivity and attention deficit disorders, and obesity. In fact, it places children at a high risk for malnutrition and its effects.

    • July 14, 2016 at 7:59 am, Ted said:

      Good perspective, Mary-Jo. Thanks!