Bioethics Blogs

Orthorexia: A New Eating Disorder?

Shawna Collins describes orthorexia and considers whether it should be an official medical diagnosis.

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Recently, orthorexia–a ‘new’ eating disorder–gained considerable attention through various news outlets and feature commentaries on websites for the National Eating Disorder Association, Eating Disorder Hope, (USA), and the National Eating Disorder Information Centre (Canada).

The term orthorexia was coined in 1996 by Dr. Steve Bratman. It is a term used to describe individuals who become obsessed with clean or healthy eating. In many cases, these people do not perceive their eating habits as problematic because they are eating healthfully. The goal in introducing this term was to help people understand when their ‘healthy’ eating might not be as healthy as they assume. Indeed, the National Eating Disorder Information Centre explains that any prolonged obsession with eating healthy can lead to eating disorders.

According to the National Eating Disorder Association, many individuals who develop orthorexia, start out trying to get healthy. They make ‘healthy’ choices – exercising regularly, eating plenty of fruits, veggies, and lean meat, cutting out or eliminating bad fats, sugars, and carbs. However, overtime these behaviours become impulsive and restrictive–so restrictive in fact, that they begin to undermine health. In some cases, the obsession with food becomes so severe it “can crowd out other activities and interests,” and “impair relationships.” Persons with orthorexia become “socially isolated, because they plan their life around food.” Lastly, in severe cases persons with this disorder can “lose the ability to eat intuitively – to know when they are hungry, how much they need to eat, and when they are full.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.