What is Orthorexia?

Orthorexia is an obsession with eating the right foods to the point where it affects a person’s ability to function daily. It comes from the Greek Orthos, meaning correct or right, and orexis, meaning appetite. It might seem hard to imagine that a focus on eating healthy food would be bad for us. But orthorexia is about taking healthy eating to an extreme, where the individual thinks about food or preparing meals all day, avoids social occasions where they might encounter “bad” foods, and ends up becoming malnourished because they prefer to starve rather than eat a “forbidden” food.

Although orthorexia is not about dieting to lose weight, an orthorexic ends up losing weight because there are so few foods that are “good” enough to consume. Eating stops being about enjoying food or the pleasure of eating with friends, and starts to be about the control that someone can have over their diet and how “pure” their food is.

Society today bombards us with messages about good and bad foods. Eating local, organic, whole foods is a good general guideline, but things get more complicated and contradictory when we feel we must follow the rules of stricter diets, such as raw food or macrobiotics. The more one becomes fixated on eating only the correct foods “allowed” in diets, the more likely one might be going in the direction of orthorexia.

How do I know if I am at risk?

  • You’d rather go hungry than eat something that does not seem healthy.
  • You feel guilty or ashamed if you eat something that is “off-limits”.
  • You don’t get much pleasure out of eating, but you enjoy the control you feel when you are strict with your diet.
  • You think about food and eating several hours a day.
  • You end up eating in isolation rather than with others.
  • You eat at home rather than somewhere where you can’tcontrol the available foods.
  • Your life seems more limited now that your diet is more correct.
  • You can’t help but judge people who eat “bad” or “impure” foods, feeling that they are poisoning themselves.

What can I do?

  1. Learn to become more flexible about what you eat,
  2. welcoming a diversity of foods onto your plate.
  3. Embrace eating with friends and family, where the meal becomes more about the joy of social connection and the pleasure of food.
  4. Realize that caring for yourself is not just about making sure you eat “right”, but also about having balance, being patient with yourself, de-stressing and having fun.
  5. Listen to your body’s signals; hunger means it is time to nourish yourself with something “good enough” rather than wait for the perfect food.
  6. Look honestly at your eating habits and recognize that you might be suffering from orthorexia. If so, talking to a counsellor might help.