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Orthorexia: Is your healthy eating unhealthy?

Michele Borboa, MS is a freelance writer and editor specializing in health, fitness, food, lifestyle, and pets. Michele is a health and wellness expert, personal chef, cookbook author, and pet-lover based in Bozeman, Montana. She is also...

Healthy eating Gone Bad

A healthy diet is widely encouraged to combat obesity, ward off chronic and even deadly diseases, delay the aging process and help you feel and look your best.
Woman cutting vegetables

However, when healthy eating becomes an obsession, it can have unhealthy consequences. Orthorexia is a subclinical eating disorder that hides behind the apron of health. Take this quiz to see if your goal of a healthy diet is too extreme.

Because orthorexia is not a clinically recognized eating disorder, it does not have diagnostic criteria in the Diagnostic and Statistics Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV-R), the manual used by mental health professionals to diagnose patients.

Orthorexia self-test

Dr. Steven Bratman, author of Health Food Junkies: Orthorexia Nervosa:  — Overcoming the Obsession with Healthy Eating, coined the term "orthorexia" and developed the following orthorexia self-test.

Answer the following questions to see if your healthy diet has consuming too much of your life.

  1. Do you spend more than three hours a day thinking about healthy food? (Scoring note: for four hours, give yourself 2 points.)
  2. Are you already planning tomorrow's healthy menu today?*
  3. Do you care more about the virtue of what you eat than the pleasure you receive from eating it?
  4. Has the quality of your life decreased since the quality of your diet has increased?
  5. Do you keep getting stricter with yourself?
  6. Do you feel an increased sense of self-esteem when you are eating "right" and look down on others whose diets are not, in your eyes, healthy?
  7. Do you skip foods you enjoy just to eat the "right" foods?**
  8. Does your diet make it difficult for you to eat away from home?
  9. Are you becoming socially isolated?
  10. Do you feel guilty or hate yourself when you stray from your diet?
  11. When you eat the "good" foods, do you feel a peaceful sense of total control?

Scoring

Give yourself one point for each "yes" answer.

  • 2-3 points: You may have a mild case of orthorexia. Be aware of your behavior.
  • 4-9 points: You may have a moderate case of orthorexia. You may need to relax your diet standards.
  • 10 points: You are obsessed with your healthy diet. You may need to seek professional help.

*This does not mean planning a week's menus so that you can shop for food once a week. Many people who work full time must do this to make time for other activities.

** This means compulsively, whether there is a good reason or not. Obviously someone who is trying to lose 20 pounds of body fat will need to use some self-control.

Any obsession, whether it be with food or otherwise, can be mentally and emotionally crippling. When dieting is taken to an extreme, it can start as orthorexia but eventually develop into more debilitating eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia. Strive to eat healthy but don't let it consume and limit your enjoyment in life.

More on eating disorders

Anorexia and bulimia: Illnesses or lifestyle choices?
Eating disorders on campus: Why you should talk to your teen
Young girls and healthy body image

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