Good Food / Bad Food

New York Magazine recently featured a piece on orthorexia nervosa, the unhealthy obsession with eating only healthy or “correct” foods. The term isn’t officially recognized by the American Psychiatric Association, and some are skeptical that it has diagnostic criteria unique enough to warrant a separate designation, but I think it can be helpful in describing a specific kind of extreme attitude towards healthy eating.

beet leaves | MindBodyPlateWhile the behaviors of orthorexia may overlap with anorexia or bulimia, it’s the motivation behind the behaviors that are different. In the case of anorexia or bulimia, the underlying desire is to achieve thinness or weight loss; in the case of orthorexia, the desire is strictly (and paradoxically) to achieve optimal health.

So it doesn’t surprise me that those who are recovered from eating disorders are particularly susceptible to orthorexia. After overcoming a dangerously rigid set of unhealthy eating behaviors, it makes sense that one might get caught up in an equally rigid set of “healthy” ones.

there are no bad foods | MindBodyPlateWhether it’s in the DSM or not, I’m glad orthorexia is getting this kind of attention in the mainstream media. Ferocious commitment to dietary health is widely accepted and even encouraged in our culture, especially as we become more and more preoccupied with the “war on obesity”. As such, it’s important that we encourage mindfulness and dietary moderation with equal fervor.

The slippery slope of orthorexia is exactly why I spend ample time with my clients exploring how we improve our health & wellness and make more positive food choices without relying on the labeling of certain foods as inherently ‘bad’. As soon as we label foods good or bad, we enable the kind of extreme thinking that can lead to orthorexia.

foods are not inherently bad | MindBodyPlateWhat are your impressions of orthorexia nervosa? Should it be considered its own eating disorder? I’d love to know what you think.

7 thoughts on “Good Food / Bad Food

    • Thank you so much, RJ! I’m so interested in your RT4 experiment and happy you’re sharing your journey with us. And I see you’re a big tea fan! What’s your favorite can’t-live-without-it tea? I’d love your recommendation 🙂

    • Thanks, Laura! Yeah, I like to think about it more in terms of, “this one food has more to offer my body than another.” But it can be hard to get rid of labels completely. I’m thinking about trans fats, for instance – we can all agree that they are downright dangerous, no redeeming quality for the healthy body. But if we’re serious about getting rid of labels, we have to find another way to think about them… talk about a challenge! So happy that you conquered your orthorexia to become the inspirational woman you are today!

  1. I think orthorexia is very frequently disordered eating that society accepts as virtuous, which makes it especially dangerous. Although you say that the motivation behind it is health, I think that, very frequently “health” is what we tell ourselves or others, but, deep down, the motivation is frequently weight loss, just the same.

    • So true, Emily! One of the articles I linked to talked about how “virtuous” health-obsessed eating can often be a thinly veiled cover for one of the more restrictive, weight loss motivated eating disorders.

      One of the reasons I’m so interested in this conversation is that it asks us to reexamine the limits of striving to be “healthy”. Like, at what point does wanting to be healthy become not healthy??? Thank you so much for contributing ❤

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