The will to eat healthy at all costs, to control the contents of one’s plate turns into an obsession for some people. Called “orthorexia”, this contemporary pathology, fed by food scandals and health recommendations, is the expression of a malaise.
Consuming organic, local, gluten-free, adopting a paleo diet… In recent years, eating healthy products has become trendy. But for some people, this search for a balanced and environmentally friendly diet can turn into an obsession. This mania has a name: it is orthorexia.
The word comes from the Greek orthoswhich means “right”, “correct”, andorexis, which stands for “appetite”. It was theorized for the first time by the American doctor Steven Bratman, in an article published in yoga diary in 1997.
Like anorexia (food deprivation) and bulimia (excessive ingestion of food), orthorexia is a form of eating disorder, Eating Disorder.
It affects both women and men. “Men are more and more concerned about their bodies. For example, there is an increase in male anorexia,” says Nathalie Dumet, author of the book The unconscious on the plate: 12 short stories to free yourself from food tyrannies (Dunod, 2017).
These two pathologies are sometimes confused, but they are quite distinct: orthorexia is not an obsession with thinness, but with good health. However, as overweight and obesity are associated with diseases (diabetes, heart problems, etc.), people with orthorexia often pay attention to their weight.
A pathology “in tune with the times”
This pathology is contemporary, ” in the mood of time “, notes this clinical psychologist and professor at the University of Lyon II. “It is triggered or reinforced by societal discourse. »
In France, since 2007, food advertisements must be accompanied by health messages. We are recommended to “eat five fruits and vegetables a day”to limit the consumption of salt, sugar and fatty products, to practice regular physical activity and to avoid snacking between meals.
These food health and safety concerns come up regularly in political discourse. They have become a real public health issue. Consumers are now used to Nutri-score labeling, which helps to identify at a glance the foods to favor for a balanced diet. In addition to the nutritional composition, it is also important to take into account the degree of processing of a food and the potential presence of contaminants, in particular pesticide residues.
In addition, food scandals, such as those, most recently, of salmonella in Kinder products from Ferrero factories and bacteria E.coli in Buitoni pizzas from the Nestlé group, and other older ones such as the “mad cow” affair, horse meat lasagna, etc. fuel legitimate concerns among consumers.
We also see it with the success of an application like Yuka, which allows you to scan product labels to check what they contain. “It makes perfect sense to pay attention to what you ingest to preserve your health. But in some people, this desire to control the contents of the plate becomes pathological,” explains Nathalie Dumet.
Read also: Nutri-score, organic, Nova… What is the most reliable indicator of the “health” effect of food?
A diet that isolates
Orthorexia differs from “normal” food concerns in that it is an obsession that affects daily life. “It leads to wacky practices, like eating only what comes out of the garden,” illustrates the clinical psychologist.
Obsessed with the contents of their plate, people suffering from orthorexia tend to refuse dinner invitations, to flee eating places, in the evening with their loved ones or at lunchtime with their colleagues. This behavior leads to socio-relational isolation. It generates anxieties, stress, guilt at the slightest deviation.
Like any TCA, orthorexia is the expression of a “underlying malaise, disarray”, says Nathalie Dumet. It needs “an awareness of the embarrassment, the suffering and a work of introspection”.
This article, originally published on August 29, 2018, was republished and republished on June 9, 2022.