For Ashley Bailey, everything was fine until she put on her “skinny” jeans. They were falling off. Something was wrong.
“It was so super obvious,” she said. “I wouldn’t eat anything with more than seven ingredients. I tried every diet — vegan, raw, Paleo, fruitarian. People kept asking me if I was OK. I just thought they were over concerned.”
Controlling some digestive issues turned into a massively restrictive diet for Bailey. She might eat a bushel of grapes and a mango for dinner, but legumes, meat, and eggs were out. It was never about losing weight for her, but if she did gain any her restriction cycle started all over again. She thought she was being healthy.
“I’d flip about the scale,” said Bailey, who has blogged about her condition. “Then, I’d just latch on to another diet.”
What Is Orthorexia?
Bailey is now about a year and a half into her recovery from orthorexia. While not an official diagnosis in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM 5), it is considered an eating disorder. Those who have it remove whole food groups from their diet and only eat foods they consider “pure.”
That “pure” food is often referred to as “clean eating,” a term you might find on a magazine cover or online article about organic, minimally processed food without preservatives, chemicals, dyes, or GMOs. When taken to an extreme, this can lead to an obsession with consuming the “right” kind of foods, inadvertently excluding vitamins and minerals necessary for a balanced diet.
Studies show orthorexics spend considerable time focused on the quality of their food. If unhealthy foods are consumed, guilt, anxiety, depression, and shame linger like a nosy neighbor.
Maddy Moon, a life coach who also blogs about her recovery from orthorexia, talked about how she first started with veganism. After a while, she got hooked on having others acknowledge her slim appearance. But then she took things a little too far.
“In the pursuit of a perfect body,” she explained, “I lost friends. I lost my period. I lost my sex drive. I developed IBS. I had no social life and I was starving all the time.”
Dr. Steven Bratman, an occupational health physician at California’s NorthBay Healthcare, coined the term “orthorexia” in 1997, when it applied to people who embraced alternative healing, or unconventional therapies not based in modern medicine like homeopathy. But now, he said it’s more like anorexia. He sees mostly women and male athletes with it, many of whom equate “low calorie” with “healthy.”