Orthorexia: Good Diets Gone Bad
Bratman notes that sometimes orthorexia overlaps with a psychological problem like obsessive-compulsive disorder. Still, he thinks orthorexia "is its own illness as well."
He has not conducted human studies on the disorder, Bratman says, "because I'm personally more interested in affecting social change than creating a new diagnosis that you bill insurance companies for." He says he imagines his book will create controversy -- especially among diet gurus. "I'm just trying to bring people to the middle," he says.
Skeptical of Bratman's theory is Kelly Brownell, PhD, co-director of the Yale Center for Eating and Weight Disorders. "We've never had anybody come to our clinic with [orthorexia], and I've been working in this field for at least 20 years," Brownell tells WebMD.
Without research to back his theory, Bratman is simply another guy trying to make a buck off the health-conscious public, Brownell says. "They invent some new term, a new diet, a solution to a problem that doesn't even exist. The burden should fall to the authors to prove that what they're saying is correct before they start unleashing advice on the public. These authors should be held accountable."
Well-known columnist Dean Ornish, MD, founder and president of the nonprofit Preventive Medicine Research Institute in Sausalito, Calif., also has doubts. "I've never seen [orthorexia] in my clinic. Most people have the opposite problem; they don't care enough about what they eat."
Still, Sharlene Hesse-Biber, PhD, has another thought about orthorexia. "It's part of this fear in our society ... this obsession that our bodies need to look a certain way," says Hesse-Biber, a sociology professor at Boston College and author of the book, Am I Thin Enough Yet? "This obsession is spreading in both directions, down the life cycle to younger and younger generations and to older generations of women and men. ... It's not a healthy way to live."
Finally, Julie B. Clark-Sly, PhD, a psychologist at the Foundation for Change, a small medical facility in Orem, Utah, sees a common thread in orthorexia and other disorders. "It's being fixated on the food and having a limited range of what they eat -- that's very similar to what anorexic women do," Clark-Sly tells WebMD. "They do eat, but they don't eat fat, and they really restrict themselves calorie-wise. They say what they're doing is healthy, but they fool themselves. It becomes an emotional disorder."