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In full, orthorexia nervosa, showing its close link to the much better-known psychological condition anorexia nervosa.

Instead of an obsessive desire to lose weight, those who suffer from orthorexia have an unhealthy obsession with healthy eating. In their search for dietary purity, they may become so restrictive about what they eat — for example, avoiding fatty foods, those containing preservatives, those with salt or sugar — that eventually they become as dangerously thin as an anorexic.

The word, and the identification of the condition, is attributable to a Colorado specialist, Dr Steven Bratman, who published a book on it in 2001, describing the condition as a “fixation on righteous eating”. He coined orthorexia in 1997 on the pattern of anorexia, from Greek orthos, “correct or right”, plus orexis, “appetite”. A person with the condition is an orthorexic.

Until a few years ago, doctors usually included sufferers under the catch-all label of EDNOS — Eating Disorders Not Otherwise Specified — because numbers were so low. It has taken time for the condition to be recognised as a separate eating disorder and by no means all clinicians are yet convinced it should be.

Dr. David Hahn, the assistant medical director at the Renfrew Center, an eating disorders clinic in Philadelphia, also thinks that orthorexics are anorexics in disguise. “I see many patients that are overly concerned with the quality of their food, and that’s the way they express their eating disorder,” he said.

The New York Times, 26 Feb. 2009.

There is a fine line between people who think they are taking care of themselves by manipulating their diet and those who have orthorexia.

Observer, 16 Aug. 2009

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Page created 10 Mar 2001; Last updated 22 Aug 2009