Orthorexia Nervosa: Is Eating Healthy A Mental Illness? - Save Our Bones

Orthorexia nervosa is a term coined in 1997 by a physician named Steven Bratman. He created the word to describe a pattern of behavior in which a person becomes so fixated upon eating a particular diet that their obsession overtakes their ability to lead a healthy life.

The proposed mental health issue hasn't been accepted by the American Psychiatric Association as a diagnosable condition, but that hasn't stopped many mental health professionals from considering it as a possibility. A lack of understanding (and a lack of high-quality studies) of this proposed condition has created a great deal of confusion and misinformation.

Today we'll look at orthorexia nervosa (ON), how it's defined, how it has been both attacked and defended. We'll also uncover whether this newly invented mental health condition is anything Savers should worry about.

A History Of Orthorexia Nervosa

“Ortho” is a Greek word meaning “correct” and the Greek word “orexis” means appetite so “orthorexia” literally means “correct appetite.” However, the meaning in English is closer to “correct diet.” Of course, there isn't anything wrong with eating a diet that's right for you, which is where “nervosa” comes in. Nervosa indicates that there is a mental instability or problem relating to maintaining a “correct diet.”

Dr. Steven Bratman chose the name to describe certain of his patients whose health was suffering because of an eating disorder. But instead of a fixation on thinness, as is typically the case with the well-established condition anorexia nervosa, disordered eating typical of orthorexia results from an obsession with consuming only foods that the patient perceives as healthy or “pure.”

The response to eating an “impure” food is also a telltale sign. Someone suffering from ON who eats a food they consider impure might often spiral into a panic attack and experience feelings of self-loathing and shame.

It's important to note that the patient's perception or understanding of the food is the criteria- regardless of whether or not they are correct.1

Orthorexia nervosa (ON) has yet to be included in the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) because of a deficit of studies that conclusively demonstrate what constitutes the condition and how to diagnose it. Some psychologists expect that after further research is conducted it will be added, and some researchers advocate for its inclusion.2

This push for inclusion is another example of the Medical Establishment’s attempt to malign nutritional decisions made to improve health. Granted, for some people, the pursuit of “eating healthy” may become an obsession that overtakes their ability to live a normal life. But it's important to assert that avoiding unhealthy foods is a good habit, unless it takes over a person’s life.


Orthorexia nervosa is a proposed psychological condition that occurs when someone becomes so fixated on eating only foods that they perceive as “pure” or healthy that, ironically, their health suffers. If it is officially recognized, the Medical Establishment may use it to further discourage the use of nutrition for improving health.

Reactions To Orthorexia Nervosa

Orthorexia nervosa may sound to some like a rebuttal of “eating healthy.” If presented dishonestly, it can be used to support the attempts of Big Pharma and the Medical Establishment to discredit the scientists who have established that choosing a nutritionally balanced and varied diet is an effective way to improve health.3 Indeed, studies have found that healthy eating or “clean dieting” now carries a social stigma related to ON.4

But any such equation of healthy eating with mental illness is wrong and potentially harmful. We know for a fact that what we eat has a direct impact on our body, including our bones.3

Orthorexia nervosa doesn't describe or implicate any health or dietary choice– be it alternative or conventional. It addresses a mental illness that manifests in a harmful obsession with dietary choices.


ON is not the attempt to follow a healthy diet or avoid unhealthy foods, rather it describes an eating disorder that negatively impacts physical and emotional well-being.

The Osteoporosis Reversal Program Fights Orthorexia Nervosa

Whether or not ON is accepted by the Medical Establishment means nothing for the longstanding science that underlies the guidelines in the Osteoporosis Reversal Program (ORP).

In fact, for someone predisposed to developing obsessive eating behaviors, the ORP is well suited to establishing and maintaining healthy habits. This comparison chart illustrates how the ORP supports healthy choices:

Orthorexia Nervosa:

  • Typified by extreme dietary restriction in which entire food groups are considered “impure” and eating them feels morally wrong.

The Osteoporosis Reversal Program (ORP):

  • Advises moderation and restriction based on quantities to maintain an 80/20 pH balance, instead of rigid elimination.

Orthorexia Nervosa:

  • Forsaking other areas of health in favor of meeting dietary requirements.

The Osteoporosis Reversal Program (ORP):

  • Encourages total wellness and a balance of dietary and lifestyle changes to improve health holistically.

Orthorexia Nervosa:

  • Creates feelings of guilt and shame around perceived failure to meet dietary requirements.

The Osteoporosis Reversal Program (ORP):

  • Focuses on enjoying food and finding creative ways to eat your favorite dishes using substitution and moderation.

Orthorexia Nervosa:

  • Missing out on social life, causing isolation and depression.

The Osteoporosis Reversal Program (ORP):

  • The ORP‘s dietary guidelines are easy to follow in a variety of contexts, from office parties to family dinners and holiday events to vacation travel, so you never miss out on the mental health benefits of social engagement and community.


The Osteoporosis Reversal Program provides support to help you change your diet and behaviors in a healthy way.

Stay True On Your Path To Healthy Bones And A Full Life

Scientific research has not been able to decisively demonstrate that orthorexia nervosa exists.

That said, any behavior that decreases your physical or mental health or the ability to live a full and rewarding life is behavior worthy of examination and adjustment.

As you increase your knowledge of nutrition and how to live your healthiest life, let that information help you find joy in the choices you make. Your attention to your well-being and your bone health is both smart and essential, so cultivate it with care and continued learning.

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1 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4340368/

2 https://www.jwatch.org/na47965/2018/11/30/orthorexia-nervosa-new-concern

3 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23305630

4 https://jeatdisord.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s40337-017-0168-9

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Comments on this article are closed.

  1. Sue

    As a health care professional, I applaud your orthorexia nervosa article including how yours is a healthy, balanced, non rigid way of eating.
    Well said!

    • Vivian Goldschmidt, MA

      Thanks for your kind words, Sue!

  2. pei

    there are some triggers causing this eating disorder such as allergies. i remembered long time ago, i developed a phobia on foods that did not agree with me and even excluded those that were not even harmful which left me underweight with more health problems. at the time, there was no food allergy testing on the health service so to find out about it, private clinics can only help you with this issue if you are fortunate enough to afford to pay for it.

  3. Greg Hill

    What I see is simply a spectrum from people who pay no attention at all to the quality of their diet at one end, to people who are obsessed with it at the other. Healthy eating lies somewhere between those two extremes.

    Let’s assume we have a scientific numerical scale for measuring an individual’s place along that spectrum and use that as the X axis of a graph. For the Y axis we can use a scale for measuring their overall health. We would probably get a kind of skewed normal curve, peaking somewhere around half way between the middle of the spectrum and the “orthorexia nervosa” end. I believe that if we located the ORP along the X axis, it would be right at the peak of the graph. And that would be so even for people like myself who don’t have any bone problems. (I just follow you, Vivian, because I’m still relatively new to the world of healthy eating, and I learn so much from your posts which are always informative and well written.)

    One part of all this healthy eating business that I find most remarkable is the huge variety of very different “diets” that would surely be found among people who have the best health, just as there were among all of the different traditional cultures in different parts of the world that Weston A. Price studied.

    • Vivian Goldschmidt, MA

      Interesting take, and I thank you for your kind words, Greg. I’m also glad to know that you learn from our articles and that we’re helping you on your journey to improve your eating habits.

  4. Susan

    Thank you Vivian, for once again placing the correct emphasis on the latest exclusionary news. Your info is always to the point, giving us the different NEWS and then telling us the truth!

    • Vivian Goldschmidt, MA

      We’re glad you enjoyed today’s article, Susan! 🙂

  5. Paula Symonds

    This is an interesting article. Over my 40+ years of teaching I have encountered 2 children with what I now think is this disorder. It is very important that teachers and parents and pediatricians know about this. Children who are more than picky eaters can be absolutely miserable and their parents frightened. It would help to know that the children’s eating problems are a “thing”.

    • Vivian Goldschmidt, MA

      You’re right, Paula. This should be something that everyone, parents included, should be informed about. Thanks for sharing!

  6. Ita

    Thank you, Ita.

    • Vivian Goldschmidt, MA

      You’re very welcome, Ita!

  7. Parveen Subhani

    I am a 74 years old woman with severe osteoporosis especially in the spine.i had a bone density test last week and my doctor told me that I should get some kind of injection twice a year I know that there are so many side effects of this kind of injection my bone density in spine is -3.5 which is quite scary I am generally in good health.what should I do?

    • Vivian Goldschmidt, MA

      I’m very sorry to hear that, Parveen. Please remember though that bone quality and tensile strength are more important than bone density. And you’re correct, all osteoporosis drugs, including injectables such as Prolia, have side effects that are actually harmful to your bones. The best way is to stick to natural osteoporosis treatments like eating bone-healthy foods and doing regular exercises. You got this!

    • Farrah

      Try taking a collagen supplement! I use collagen powder in my tea.

      • Fay

        I am 77 with -4 in the spine but have refused the medications/injections on account of the side effects. However you must take calcium (Dr. Mercola takes calcium citrate), D3 high dose, Boron and K2 Mark 7. I also take a tablespoon of Maca powder daily along with superfood green powder high in calcium. Vivian’s advice and exercise programme to strengthen bones are excellent, and well worth putting in the effort!

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