Food Topics

Sweating Bullets: What is Orthorexia Nervosa?

What is orthorexia, and why do I care about it?

Eating disorders are a serious topic.  Some people think that things such as anorexia nervosa or bulimia can be cured with a simple “why not eat?  Why not eat and keep it down?” when in reality it’s not that simple.  Mental disorders are a complicated issue, and sometimes disorders are known by people not in the associated field.  For example, orthorexia nervosa.

Orthorexia, as defined by National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) is a mental illness not found in the DSM-5, also known as the big ass psychology book of mental stuff. meaning it is not clinically diagnosed.  However, many people have to cope with the symptoms there of.  Some of the symptoms include stressing when deviating from a diet plan (which includes guilt or self-loathing), and spend excessive amounts of time worrying about and preparing food.  As such, orthorexia sufferers might become socially isolated, as they are preoccupied about preparing “healthy” meals and foods, and not spending time with friends and family.

Dr. Steven Bratman, sufferer of, and coiner of the term orthorexia, detailed “I pursued wellness through healthy eating for years, but gradually I began to sense that something was going wrong… My ability to carry on normal conversations was hindered by intrusive thoughts of food. The need to obtain meals free of meat, fat, and artificial chemicals had put nearly all social forms of eating beyond my reach. I was lonely and obsessed…I found it terribly difficult to free myself. I had been seduced by righteous eating. The problem of my life’s meaning had been transferred inexorably to food, and I could not reclaim it,” on the website

Treatment for orthorexia nervosa includes identifying the problem, as well as what is causing the obsession.  Then, sufferers need to understand that it is okay to deviate from a “healthy” diet and become flexible with their diet.

So what does this all mean?  Well, for starters, it’s okay to eat unhealthy every so often.  I mean, I write about how shitty one food is for health.  I can list out the dietary consequences of drinking soda, or alcohol or energy dense foods, and yet I still drink soda, liquor, and eat things like cake, pie, and whatnot.

So why am I talking about this?  I feel this is one of those disorders not talked about (possibly because it’s not in the DSM-5).  I grew up loving food.  Everything from fruits and vegetables, to baked goods and, more recently due to my eligibility to do so, beer and liquor.  So I think it sucks that there are so many eating disorders, and I feel any kind of mental disorder gets swept under the rug.  As someone who one day hopes to be a professional in the field, I want to try and break this stigma.

Do any of my readers have any thoughts, concerns, issues etc. with regards to this topic?  If so, please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below.

For more information see NEDA’s coverage of the issue or the orthorexia webpage.

By The Nutrition Punk

I am a dietitian living in Portland, Oregon. I write about a variety of nutrition and heath topics, with the goal of improving people's understanding of food and nutrition so they may be empowered against all the misinformation that is out there.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.