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Orthorexia Nervosa on the Rise in the Quest to Eat Healthy

Carrie Steckl earned her Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology with a Minor in Gerontology from Indiana University – Bloomington in 2001. She has spent over ...Read More

Do you find yourself spending more time counting calories than actually eating them? Do you read food labels as closely as the instructions for prescription medication? Has your list of acceptable foods dwindled to a handful of unprocessed, expensive products you can only find at specialty stores?

If any of these habits ring true for you, you’re not alone. According to an article in the Chicago Tribune by Mary MacVean, there’s a new term gaining ground in medical and psychological circles: orthorexia nervosa.

Ortho-what? Orthorexia is not the fear of getting braces at the orthodontist or the study of joints in tyrannosaurus rex. Orthorexia nervosa, according to the National Eating Disorders Association, is a “fixation on righteous eating.”

Keep in mind that orthorexia nervosa is not yet an officially recognized diagnosis. But experts have noted that people with orthorexia tend to fixate on healthy eating practices. It might begin innocently enough when a person tries to cut back on processed foods or attempts to pinpoint a food allergy. But these healthy efforts to change eating habits eventually turn into an unhealthy obsession with “pure” foods.

The time spent finding and preparing food begins to interfere with work and personal responsibilities. Some have abandoned beloved activities or even left their jobs because they felt it was too difficult to maintain their eating regimen away from home.

Orthorexia nervosa can impair relationships, especially when the person affected lives with others and tries to impose his or her restrictive eating habits on them. The diet can become so restrictive that, ironically, the person’s health begins to suffer.

Fortunately, orthorexia nervosa can be treated with psychological interventions similar to those used to treat anorexia nervosa and bulimia. But first, the person has to recognize that he or she needs help.

Choosing to eat healthy does not mean a person is orthorexic, so don’t stop making healthy choices! But if you think that your efforts to eat “purely” are interfering with your ability to enjoy life, check out this article from the National Eating Disorders Association, and don’t hesitate to seek help.


Kratina, K. (n.d.). Orthorexia nervosa. National Eating Disorders Association.

MacVean, M. (March 12, 2014). For those with orthorexia, diet never “pure” enough. Chicago Tribune (Online Kindle edition).

Keep Reading By Author Carrie Steckl, Ph.D.
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