The compulsion to eat healthy can have a negative effect on the mind and body

Dear Nutritionist,

My 13-year-old daughter started a new healthy eating program about six months ago. She seems to be obsessed with healthy eating and sometimes refuses to eat when she’s staying at a friend’s house. I am concerned about her behaviour. Is this something dangerous or are you going to get out of it?


Dear Sheila,

Wanting to eat right is healthy, but overeating with good food is no longer a good thing. New light is being shed on an obsessive eating pattern known as Orthorexia Nervosa.

The term orthorexia is derived from the Greek meaning “correct appetite” and was coined by Stephen Bratman, MD, in 1997. Orthorexia may occur in a person experiencing unresolved trauma in her life. The obsession with healthy eating is pursued by a restricted diet, focus on food preparation, and strict eating patterns. People with osteoporosis are concerned with the quality of the food rather than the quantity. The obsession does not start with a desire to lose weight, as with anorexia, but rather as a desire to eat healthy and live a better life (1).

At the moment, orthorexia is not officially recognized as a psychiatric disorder, and scientific research is lacking. Bratman cautions that just because someone has adopted an alternative diet does not mean that person has orthopedic. When proper eating becomes an obsession and affects other areas of a person’s life, it becomes a problem (2).

At this point, it is unclear whether this disorder is part of anorexia nervosa, stands alone as a disorder, or is part of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). It affects more women than men and is more common in Western countries than in other parts of the world. Orthotics may lead to nutrient deficiencies and malnutrition.

Another area of ​​life that is affected by orthotics is relationships. One can socialize less frequently because the activities often include eating out. They may spend less time with family and friends because they are worried about what foods will be available at next week’s meeting. As a result, the individual begins to feel isolated and lonely.

According to the National Eating Disorders Association, warning signs and symptoms of osteoporosis include (3):

  • Compulsory check of ingredient lists and nutrition labels
  • Increase attention to the health of ingredients
  • Cutting out an increasing number of food groups (all sugar, all carbohydrates, all dairy, all meat, or all animal products)
  • The inability to eat anything but a limited set of foods considered “healthy” or “pure”.
  • Showing high levels of distress when ‘safe’ or ‘healthy’ foods are not available

Whether this is a stage or a more serious problem for your daughter remains to be seen. You can start by asking your daughter’s pediatrician about a referral to a therapist for an evaluation. You can also call the National Eating Disorders Association at 1-800-931.2237. My prayers for you and your family.


  1. Brytek-Matera A, Donini LM et al. Orthotics and behavioral aspects of body image in female and male college students. J Eat Discord. 2015; 3:2.
  2. Bratman S. Orthorexia versus healthy eating theories. Eat Discord Weight. 2017:22(3):381-385.

Until next time, be healthy!

Dear Nutritionist,

Leanne McCrate, RD, LD, also known as Dear Dietitian, is an award-winning dietitian based in Missouri. Its mission is to educate consumers about proper, science-based nutrition. Do you have a nutrition question? Email her today at Dear Dietitian, we do not endorse any products, health programs, or diet plans.

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