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Fad Diets and Orthorexia: Know the Difference and Stay Healthy


Over the years there has been an increase in health awareness, but could our concern for healthy eating and exercise become a dangerous obsession?

Some people become obsessed with the idea of the “perfect diet” and fixate on eating foods that will make them feel pure and healthy. Dr. Stephen Bratman, who is credited with coining the term “orthorexia,” explains that people who suffer from this disorder see their diet as a way to feel virtuous, clean and even spiritual.

A Reflection of the Current Zeitgeist

Fad diets and get-thin-quick schemes have become very popular and can be found everywhere in the media. We are faced with the pressure to modify our lifestyles or eating habits in some way. Movie stars and singers are constantly talking about what new diet they are on and what great results they have seen, and many people pick up on these hints and follow their example.

“The desire to live up to society's standards is a strong driving force to follow a 'perfect' diet,” says Heidi Lewin-Miller, a registered dietitian and licensed therapist. This phenomenon is something she sees in a lot of her clients. While many of Lewin-Miller's female clients are driven typically by weight loss, her male clients tend to be driven by the general desire to look good.

Healthy Eating vs. Orthorexia

The difference between someone who is committed to healthy eating and someone who has orthorexia is the extreme limitation and obsession in food selection a person exhibits. People suffering from orthorexia may present ritualistic preparation techniques for their food such as washing foods excessively or cooking food to ensure no bacteria remain.

Additionally, eating out is something that people with orthorexia would typically avoid as they believe it is important to avoid food that they don't buy and prepare personally. These types of behaviors can have a great effect on a person's social life, as people struggling with this condition can become isolated and intolerant of other people's views on food and health.

The Controversy Continues

While studies have been done to determine whether orthorexia is more common among groups that have a keen interest in a healthy dieting, such as medical residents, dietitians, students in nutrition or those in performing arts, nothing conclusive has been found. Health professionals continue to debate orthorexia and it's legitimacy as an eating disorder. However, despite the controversy, it is important to understand that when a diet becomes obsessive, time-consuming and so overwhelming that it impairs daily life, help must be sought out.

Sources: MayoClinic and