Anorexia, Meet Orthorexia

By Maeve Maddox

The other evening I heard the word orthorexia for the first time. It’s a newly coined word meaning

Excessive concern with consuming a diet considered to be correct in some respect, often involving the elimination of foods or food groups supposed to be harmful to health.

On the pattern of anorexia nervosa, one may now speak of orthorexia nervosa, “a pathological concern with consuming a ‘correct’ diet.”

The word anorexia has been around since 1598 with the meaning “lack of appetite.” An extreme form of anorexia is anorexia nervosa:

pathological loss of appetite from psychic causes typically accompanied by deficiency symptoms, emaciation, and wasting and atrophic changes

The new word for worrying too much about eating healthful foods was coined by Colorado MD Steven Bratman. According to Bratman, a woman named Kate Finn died of the effects of orthorexia.

Dieters would do well to recall this advice from the ancients:

Observe due measure, moderation is best in all things. –Hesiod

Moderation, the noblest gift of heaven. –Euripides

We should pursue and practice moderation. –Plato

If you want to know more about orthorexia nervosa, this Wikipedia article is a good place to begin.

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6 Responses to “Anorexia, Meet Orthorexia”

  • Kim Tyndall

    Based on what I read here and on Wikipedia, this is an attempt by the “food” industry to keep all information on healthy eating “fuzzy.” By creating a syndrome of dubious merit and constantly highlighting the wishy-washy information that the general media reports, we all lose sight of what is TRUE about our “food” supply…that is, most of what we put in our mouths is not food at all, but unnecessary chemical concoctions with no nutritive value.

    You do a disservice to all human beings by providing a mouthpiece to a false science. I am very disappointed that your normally excellent blog has chosen to present this misinformation…and no, I do not suffer from any food disorders.

  • Maeve

    Kim,
    Sorry if this post came across to you as some kind of endorsement. I thought I was just commenting on a word new to me.

    I agree that grave problems exist with our food supply. I’m growing some of my own vegetables this summer. It’s amazing how much better homegrown tomatoes and zuchinni taste than what is available at the supermarket.

  • PreciseEdit

    New words are interesting to me, as well.

    This is the first time I have heard this word. I wonder when, and if, it will gain the same degree of familiarity as “anorexia.” What’s the adjective? “Orthorexic?”

    Moving from food to words: Do you know of a word that means concern about using the correct word and avoiding unclear words? (“Wise” comes to mind, but I’m looking for something more specific to word choices.)

  • Health Expert

    Everything in excess is bad. Same with being vegan. Too much intake of Vegetables and fruits can make your diet unbalance. Hope youve learned your lessons. Good Luck.

  • Dee

    I think it’s a useful word. Some people’s obsession with “healthy eating” does seem excessive and even potentially dangerous.

  • Kim Tyndall

    Hi Dee. But is it a “disease”? Anorexia kills!

    Who is “orthorexic” in the article you cited? The parents or the child? The parents are physically healthy, so their choice in diet is not killing or harming them. The child was not making decisions. I believe we have other syndromes that explain the parents’ behavior.

    This word is not necessary. This new term simply creates a fear that concern for healthy eating might be bad for you. Americans need a dose of healthy eating information, not fear that this curiosity might label them as nuts.

    I too love new words. Just picked up the word ekphrastic, which I had never heard before…and I love it!

    But I do not agree with creating new words and syndromes specifically to prevent Americans from seeking information on healthier eating and alternatives to the non-food entities that we are encouraged to put in our mouths by millions of $$ in advertising. There “IS” an imbalance in spending so much to convince others that something so obviously unnatural in the feeding of humans should be put in our mouths…like Twinkies or McDonald’s French fries that never decompose! What is the term to describe that advertising phenomena?? That’s one I would like to see publicized!!!

    Maeve – I agree that there is no taste sensation like garden fresh food! While I am angry at the creation of the word you posted, I guess I appreciate knowing it exists…oh well…

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