Q & A Library

Print this page | Sign up for free e-bulletins
 | Bookmark This Page

Orthorexia: Unhealthy Fixation on Healthy Eating?

What can you tell me about orthorexia, which I understand is an obsession with eating healthy. Is this a type of eating disorder? Is it possible to be too concerned about your health? If so, how do you know where to draw the line?

Answer (Published 9/13/2010)

You're correct. Orthorexia is a term used to describe an obsession with foods perceived as healthy or unhealthy. Officially, however, orthorexia is not an eating disorder, and from what I've read, it is unlikely to be so classified any time soon. Orthorexia has never been included in the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM), the "bible" of mental disorders. If a psychiatric illness is listed in the DSM, treatment is likely to be covered by insurance, and it's easier for researchers to get funding for scientific studies. The latest edition, DSM V, which is now available online for public comment, does not list orthorexia as a diagnosis, and it probably won't be added during the three years before the new manual is formally published.

Related Weil Products
Dr. Weil's Vitamin Advisor for Mood Support - A healthy outlook on life is a cornerstone of optimal health. The good news: proper diet, lifestyle, exercise and prudent supplemental nutrition can all help support an optimistic disposition. Learn more, and get your free, personalized Dr. Weil's Vitamin Advisor Recommendation today.

The term orthorexia was coined in 1997 by Colorado physician Steven Bratman to describe what he saw as an unhealthy fixation on healthy eating and obsessive avoidance of whatever foods the patient deems unhealthy. These shunned foods could include those that contain artificial colorings, flavorings, preservatives, fats, carbohydrates, dairy products, soy, wheat, or whatever you think isn't good for you. At its most extreme, orthorexia can become anorexia nervosa, the most serious eating disorder, which can be life-threatening.  In that condition, people are obsessed with body image and weight, while the focus of those believed to be orthorexic is health. This excessive focus can be pretty unhealthy in and of itself, especially if affected individuals adopt extremely restrictive diets or eliminate broad categories of food.

Yes, it is possible to be too concerned with your health and your diet. Limiting your daily fare to only a few foods you see as good for you can not only imperil your health by eliminating needed nutrients, but can also negate the pleasure of eating and the enjoyment of sharing meals with others. My views on healthy eating are well known and I emphasize pleasure as well as sound nutrition (I discuss this at length in my book Eating Well for Optimum Health). My anti-inflammatory diet includes a wide range of foods that are not only good for you but also taste good and make for enjoyable meals.

And I am comfortable with occasionally indulging my love of good pizza, dark chocolate and other treats.

Andrew Weil, M.D.

Creative Commons License Some Rights Reserved Creative Commons Copyright Notice
A portion of the original material created by Weil Lifestyle on (specifically, all question and answer-type articles in the Dr. Weil Q&A Library) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.

The Weil Vitamin Advisor
Get your FREE personalized vitamin recommendation & supplement plan today!

Dr. Weil on Healthy Aging
Your Online Guide to the Anti-Inflammatory Diet. Start eating for your health - begin your free trial now.

Dr. Weil's Spontaneous Happiness
Achieve emotional well-being
in just eight weeks!
Start your 10-day free trial now!

Vitamin Library
Supplement your knowledge with Dr. Weil's essential vitamin facts. Learn why they are necessary and more.

Dr. Weil's Optimum Health Plan
Your 8-week plan to wellness.
Begin your journey today!

Dr. Weil's Head-to-Toe
Wellness Guide

Your guide to natural health.
Use the Wellness Guide today!

Dr. Weil's Anti-Inflammatory Diet Food Pyramid
Our interactive tool can help improve overall health through diet.

Condition Care Guide
Learn about health conditions from acne to vertigo, and Dr. Weil's view of the best treatment options for each.

Healthy Recipes
Discover a treasure trove of healthy, healing foods and creative, delicious ways to prepare them.

Q&A Library
Over 2,000 questions from you
and their corresponding answers
from Dr. Weil.

Copyright © 2015 Weil Lifestyle
Information on this web site is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for the advice provided by your physician or other healthcare professional. You should not use the information on this web site for diagnosing or treating a health problem or disease, or prescribing any medication or other treatment.

Ad Choice
Advertising Notice

This Site and third parties who place advertisements on this Site may collect and use information about your visits to this Site and other websites in order to provide advertisements about goods and services of interest to you. If you would like to obtain more information about these advertising practices and to make choices about online behavioral advertising, please click here