The consequences of eating too much of the wrong kinds of foods is well known and includes increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol among others. People try to eat healthier by cutting out certain types of foods, but for some people, healthy eating can become an unhealthy obsession.
It’s normal for people to seek out healthier food to avoid disease, improve health, and lengthen their lives. Some people though, develop a psychological condition called orthorexia nervosa which can actually lead to other health problems. Orthorexia is not an officially recognized diagnosis, but is similar to anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa. Instead of obsessing about calories and weight, orthorexics obsess about healthy eating and avoid many types of food that are perceived to be unhealthy. Foods containing artificial colors and flavors, preservatives, gluten, dairy, meat products, or genetically modified organisms (GMOs) may be shunned in an effort to “eat clean”.
In orthorexia, this behavior goes beyond being a lifestyle choice and may lead to anxiety and social isolation due to a need to control the quality and content of meals. Severely restricting the types of food eaten can also lead to nutritional deficiencies or malnutrition.
Like those with anorexia, people with orthorexia also strive for perfection, have a need for control, and view their dietary control as a positive achievement. They may be judgmental of other people’s diet and refuse to eat food prepared by other people.
People with orthorexia may benefit from psychotherapy similar to the way that other eating disorders are treated.