Orthorexia – the cult of a healthy lifestyle, which transforms us into maniacs


Any “too much” is fraught with consequences. The flawlessly healthy lifestyle and a steady adherence to the rules of a balanced nutrition can take the features of an unhealthy mania and turn into a real neurosis. Mental disorders experts call an exaggerated desire to the “correctness” of the nutrition orthorexia nervosa and consider it a disease that requires treatment… with steaks and cakes!


The first and main sign that makes one suspecting orthorexic mental changes is serious and often irrational restrictions in the choice of products. An orthorexic blue-pencils from his life such food attributes as:

  • taste,
  • smell,
  • organoleptic features.

He chooses food, relying solely on his own ideas about its correctness and the benefits that it is able to bring. Proper nutrition becomes the content and meaning of his life.

The term “orthorexia” is one of the youngest on the list of eating disorders. It was introduced into the theoretical and clinical usage by an American, Steven Bratman, in 1997. He had a sufficient amount of material for observations and conclusions. In the 70s of the last century, Bratman lived in one of the “green” hippie communes.

Its inhabitants were united not only by common life, but, first of all, by their views on food. The commune lived by extremely clear rules that divided food into “clean” and “dirty”. Steven recalls that the “communists” treated people who were thoughtlessly stuffing on meat, chocolate, and fast food, with contempt and disgust, as a hopeless fallen beings, and considered themselves true righteous. 

Alas, the infinite improvement of the rules of perfect nutrition and chewing on parsley leaves lead Bratman and his comrades not to an enlightenment and perfect health, bur to a full physical and mental exhaustion. According to modern psychiatrists, it is a typical example of orthorexia nervosa. 

The Commune began breaking down, because its inhabitants were unable to properly maintain themselves, without even mentioning to engage in joint farming. Bratman simply escaped, and, having cleared his head and stuffed in a couple of dozens of hamburgers, he enrolled at the Medical College.

hippie communes

Being already a graduate and a famous physician, he, almost 20 years after all events, published shocking memories on “holy eaters”. It is in this article, Steven (by the time, doctor Bratman), intercrossed already well-known term “anorexia” (Greek – “absence of craving for food”) with the Greek prefix “ortho”, i.e. “norm” and described orthorexia for the first time as a hidden and unobvious, yet no less serious eating disorder.

Today, the official statistics of diagnosing orthorexia cases is performed in the US and Europe. The overall data show that the control of the nutrition correctness gets an ill form from the neurological point of view in 6-7% of the population, and women after the age of 30 are especially prone to the development of this disorder.


If you have already encountered the issue of eating disorders, you know that they all begin in a traditional way:

  1. discontent with themselves;
  2. a seemingly praiseworthy desire to finally bring their health and appearance in order;
  3. develop up a “good” diet

Intention to lead a socially approvable lifestyle and be better than others is growing under the pressure of thousands of photos of useful food and an endless feed of training regimes in the social networks. Bloggers, coaches, nutritionists tirelessly broadcast on all digital channels, offering their recipes for happiness, the path to which lies through a properly-filled stomach.

An orthorexic does not stop in making restrictions for himself after making the standard “healthy” rejection of:

  • sugar,
  • sodas,
  • fastfood,
  • convenience foods.

The risk group includes people, who are prone to perfectionism and easily take interest in new ideas, and, oddly enough, people with real health problems forced at some point to turn to therapeutic nutrition. The regard orthorexia as a salvation from the pharmacological treatment.

Thoughts about food capture the victim of orthorexia to such extent that everything else goes by the wayside. The fear of eating something “wrong” turns into a real phobia. Sprouted wheat for breakfast, organic vegetables for lunch, mineral water for dinner… Healthy eating is elevated to cult, an orthorexic’s behavior resembles the daily routine of an adept of a religious sect, and meals are transformed into a religious rite.

Celebrities also make their contribution by promoting either vegetarianism and raw foodism, or macrobiotics, or the drinking detox. The marketing machine does not lag behind – the shelves are filled with products and additives labelled “healthy”, “natural”, “no GMO”, and “health” shops and restaurants with organic mushroom worldwide. People monitor food and drinks with applications in gadgets, which remind to take a sip of water or bite on celery in time.

Natalie Portman

She became a vegetarian at the age 8. At first, she refused meat and fish, having seen at a scientific congress, how the colleagues of her father-doctor dissect a live chicken for an experiment. Then, she “trashed” eggs and dairy products, and, as a result, became an adept of raw foodism. In addition, the actress does not drink coffee, alcohol and, of course, does not smoke.

Portman does not hide the fact that she is extremely concerned about her nutrition. She carefully thinks it over and allows extremely environmentally friendly seasonal vegetables. To adequately play the Oscar-winning role in the “Black Swan”, already petite Natalie (her height is 160 cm), got on a diet, which she described as “extreme”, and lost 10 kg, reaching a weight of 43 kg. It is even terrifying to imagine what could mean a strict diet for Portman.

Natalie Portman


The Hollywood diva knows the term “orthorexia”, yet she does not see any negative content in it – on the contrary, the actress considers orthorexia as a nutrition style to be the only way to preserve the health and figure. Uma, who has a specific bright beauty, for many years had a complex relationship with her appearance.

She found harmony with her body and spirit when she chose raw foodism and stopped eating processed foods. In recent years, though, the star, apparently, has slightly weakened the control – at times she is seen with a plate of “normal” food at a restaurant, and an ice cream cone on the street.



This is a sample of woman with an iron character and a perfect figure, which, however, also was the fruit of the efforts of its hostess. By nature, Victoria did not have outstanding data, but set out to become an icon of style – and achieved it. Victoria deleted food as a pleasure from her picture of the world many years ago, coming to the nutrition from purely functional point of view.

At the heart of her diet lie:

  • fresh greens, which contain vitamins and minerals,
  • soy, as a source of protein.

For breakfast, Victoria consumes dried seaweed. Mrs Beckham has four meals a day, making sure that the weight of her portion does not exceed 250 grams. She completely excluded salt, sugar and oil in the dishes.



In her life, she had different periods. Once she was fond of alcohol and did not let go of the cigarette. Since her youth, the celebrity often complained about the peculiarities of her character:

  1. poor ability to control emotions
  2. maniacal attention to detail

Therefore, once having decided to restore order in her eating habits, Gwyneth became unstoppable. At first, she refused coffee, sugar, flour products, potatoes, tomatoes, milk, meat and got fascinated with macrobiotics, “Zen-nutrition”. The actress stopped going to restaurants, and, if she was leaving home for a long time, she would take with her a suitcase of “proper food”.

As a result, Paltrow became a well-known author of cookbooks and a food blogger, but lost first her beloved Brad Pitt and then her husband Chris Martin – both refused to live on celery.



Since the time of her participation in the glorified girls band Spice Girls, the singer wanted to take control of the rebellious weight and curvy shapes. Jerry stopped going to parties and receptions, because she could not refuse tempting treats. The singer decided to eat only at home and only the right food, for which she hired a nutritionist and a personal chef.

And then the psychologist, because after some time she realized that she was in a vice of orthorexia and became literally obsessed with healthy eating. Today, Geri no longer treats food in such a fanatic way.


She eats almost everything, limiting herself on clearly harmful products, like:

  • sweets,
  • fastfood,
  • pastry.


He became one of the most discussed persons who were fanatically keen on proper nutrition. Died in 2011 of pancreatic cancer, Apple founder was practicing raw foodism and fruitarianism (eat nothing but raw fruits) for a year. There is an opinion that this is why the famous company logo looks like an apple.

However, the biblical fruit also has an ominous glory in the technical environment. The famous British coder Alan Turing loved apples so much that he used the fruit in his shocking and symbolic suicide (Turing ate a poisoned apple).

When the experiment with the raw foodism ended, Jobs used cooked food, yet remained a staunch vegetarian and was very fastidious and restrained in nutrition. Unfortunately, such austerity to himself did not help the computer genius avoid a terrible illness.



  1. Selection of products based on quality characteristics and health benefits, and not the taste preferences and even availability (financial or seasonal).
  2. Aspiration to “pull up by the roots” from diet everything sweet, salty, fatty, fried, as well as products that contain “dietary bugaboos” – starch,gluten, lactose, alcohol, caffeine, preservatives, and artificial additives.
  3. Waiver of eating out (at someone’s home, cafe, restaurant) because of the impossibility to ensure the correct composition of the products and cooking technique, paranoid distrust of food, cooked “by proxy”.
  4. Fanatical adherence to specific diets and “healthy” nutrition systems.
  5. Inadequate exactingness and inclemency towards oneself in matters of nutrition, existence of a punishment system when using a prohibited product.
  6. Increased attention to the method of cooking (for example, eating only raw or steamed food).
  7. Careful planning of the menu for days and even weeks ahead.
  8. Uncompromising division of people into theirs (those who eat correctly) and aliens (those who consume harmful food).

How it happens: our guest’s personal experience

The case of this woman is a special case. Now, she works as a psychologist, and her specialization lies exactly in the field of eating disorders. She was led to this activity by a real life experience. And she told us about her experience of self-identifying and successfully overcoming the disorder

I got fascinated by healthy foods:

  • sprouting grain,
  • buying organic products,
  • studying compositions,
  • using newdetox –programs,
  • following the results of research on healthy nutrition,
  • replacing candies with sun-dried fruits and only raw nuts.

And more and more often was feeling misplaced in cafes and on picnics with friends. To find support, I tried to “turn into my religion” people around me. Instead of a hearty home dinner for my boyfriend, I was cooking at best a salad and morals, even though I always knew that he did not consider food a meal without meat in it.

At some point, while blending another smoothie, I realized that food takes up too much space in my head. I constantly think about what else useful I can eat, what should I use to replace the harmful and more about how much I desired this harmful food.

It became clear to me that I took a wrong turn somewhere and got too much carried away. I will not hide it – it was very difficult to “reverse the engine” and “let inside” those foods that I thought were unhealthy, which were not meeting my ideas about proper nutrition.

Gradually, I managed to agree with myself and make exceptions. I was incredibly astonished to find that the weight did not increase, and even on the contrary, I did not cover with horrible sores and did not break in pieces, because I listened to myself and ate what I really wanted, and not something that was certainly useful.

I began looking better, I was managing to do a lot more in a day, was coping with work better. I managed to get out of the orthorexic trap. Today, I prefer farmer meat over frozen broiler, and a piece of cake with natural cream over margarine cookies.

But I do not adjust my life for food, I do the opposite. I eat to be able to tell my grandchildren not about the fact that their grandmother looks great in her 70, but about things that their grandmother achieved in this life. I enjoy life and food as its important component, but, surprisingly, it takes far less time and energy, compared to the time when I was defending the borders of my menu from harmful foods.


In fairness it must be said that not all experts in psychology and neurological disorders accept the existence of orthorexia as an isolated disease with its own symptoms, especially that it lacks in the international classification of diseases (while anorexia and bulimia nervosa are already included in the lists of “real” ailments).

Often, compulsive dependence on proper nutrition – orthorexia – is diagnosed only as a part of other behavioral disorders. You can find an opinion that orthorexia is quite a harmless disorder that brings its victim no other problems, than an image of a “weirdo”.

The same Steven Bratman warns against such carelessness, and brings in his testimonies a number of examples where obsession with food and benefits of rigid menu control led to chronic malnutrition with an entire spectrum of consequences – from beriberi to literally starving to death.

Strict dietary restrictions in any case affect the physical and psychological state. Constant “filtration” of the menu leads to serious shifts in overall body condition, including:

  • metabolism is impaired,
  • immunity is lowered,
  • hormonal imbalance occurs,
  • hair and nails condition deteriorates.

Suppression of the nutritional needs of the body affects the work of the heart muscle due to a lack of potassium. This hits the stomach and intestines, as well as joints, which suffer due to insufficient calcium. In come weakness and fatigue, insomnia.

Strict limitations, just like in any food dependence, lead to social isolation, irritability, misunderstanding and rejection of those who do not share “correct” beliefs.

Every though of the orthorexics is occupied with food and assessment of its quality, and they are usually characterized by:

  • tension,
  • alertness,
  • difficulty with the emergence of joyful emotions.

This is a truly “fertile” soil for a neurosis, which is bound to come with time. Orthorexia may be exacerbating over the years, as long as its victims have the strength to “control theirselves”. Constant dissatisfaction and tight control can lead to a breakdown with uncontrolled consumption of prohibited products. In this case, orthorexia transforms into another eating disorder – bulimia or compulsive overeating.


When the symptoms of orthorexia appear, it is important to realize that the pursuit of proper nutrition becomes the traits of obsession. As a rule, even a person, who is seriously stuck in this disorder, is capable to do it. It sounds, perhaps, trite, but this is the first and key step on the road to recovery.

Fear of “bad” food before “self-contamination” often comes to people with emotional problems, who try to keep their feelings under control and are afraid to let the emotions out.

Therefore, in orthorexia, people need comprehensive therapy, which affects the relationship with:

  • food,
  • other people,
  • oneself.

The advice is to consult with a specialist, if you suspect that your relationship with food has gone the wrong way. And to begin with, remove the germinated wheat from the window sill and allow yourself a “break” in the form of a good steak or homemade cake without preservatives. Food, like life, should be fun.