Most doctors and nutritionists tell their patients that it´s important to eat healthy food. With all the junk food filled with saturated fats and excess sugar, it´s good to spend time learning about what is healthy and devising a plan to consume healthy food that is good for your body. Some people, however, go to the extreme.
Ortharexia Nervosa is a condition that affects people who become overly obsessed with eating healthy food. It literally means “fixation on righteous eating.” In most cases, people develop this condition because they have elements of an addictive personality. It may begin as a heartfelt attempt to eat better due to a doctor´s suggestion or due to a need to get healthier.
People who suffer from ortharexia nervosa, however, soon become fixated on the need to always have pure food and to follow strictly the dietary guidelines they set up for themselves. There are many types of diets marketed today that can lead to people developing this disorder.
For example, some people may become fixated on the need to only eat organic foods. Though this is a noble cause and though nothing is inherently wrong with organic food, a person with ortharexia nervosa will spend much of their energy on deciding what foods sufficiently pass the rigorous tests of being organic. In severe cases, they may choose to go without eating if they can´t find food that fits their definition of healthy.
Ironically, their desire to eat healthy can actually lead to health and nutrition problems. The choices of food that they allow themselves to eat may be so restrictive that the simple lack of options could affect their health. Furthermore, for many people with this disorder, their self esteem is tied up in their ability to maintain their high dietary standards that they set up for themselves. If they “fail” these standards, it can cause mental and emotional problems.
Though the causes that lead to ortharexia nervosa are diverse, many people are driven by a sort of self-righteousness. They may want to be seen as “purer” or “more ethical” than their peers. A culture of competition between healthy eaters has been known to develop as people contend to be the most dedicated healthy eater amongst their peers. This can cause relationship problems as well.
This disorder was first described by Dr. Steven Bratman in 1996 who suffered from a health-obsessed desire to eat well. To help patients understand if they suffer from Ortharexia, he established a set of questions that patients ask of themselves.
People who recover from Ortharexia Nervosa will develop a different understanding of what it means to eat healthy. They will find the ability to get off their self-righteous pedestal, understand that food is only one part of life, and find the freedom to dedicate more time to other important aspects of their lives.