The world in which we grew up is not the world in which we live today. So as baby boomers, we face a challenge: how can we stay healthy in a world designed to make us fat and lazy? That’s the name of a book by Irvine, California fitness coach Lorie Eber. Or, put another way, are we going too far to maintain a healthy diet?

Can you actually go too far on a healthy diet? If sticking to eating a balanced diet has become the focus of your life, you may be suffering from Orthorexia Nervosa (ON).

Dr. Lorie Eber

Dr. Lorie Eber

I advise my clients that the key to a healthy diet is to eat real food in reasonable portions. That includes eating from all food groups and having a colorful plate. The key to a full-looking plate is to load it up with vegetables.

A Healthy Diet Run Amok

Some health conscious people go too far and worry excessively about the purity of every morsel they put in their mouths. You may be going too far to maintain a healthy diet if you insist on never eating anything white, avoid all sugar and sweeteners, ask the waiter 25 questions about an entrée you’re considering ordering, and assume that every additive in food may be lethal. This type of obsessiveness about maintaining a pristinely healthy diet has now been identified as a type of food disorder.

Here’s an example: “In a vegan cafe in New York City, Nisha Moodley pushes a glass crusted with the remnants of a berry-acai-almond milk smoothie across the table and begins listing the foods she excised from her diet six years ago. “Factory-farmed meats; hormone-laden dairy; conventional non-organic fruits and vegetables; anything hydrogenated; anything microwaved,” the slender 32-year-old health coach says. “I would not eat irradiated food; charred or blackened foods; artificial coloring, flavoring, or sweetener; MSG; white rice; sugar; table salt; or anything canned.”


This obsession with clean eating was first identified and named by Steven Bratman, an alternative medicine practitioner in 1997, when he noticed this health-obsessed behavior in some of his patients. These people start with a healthy focus on eating wholesome foods and carry it to an extreme. “The individual becomes obsessed with dietary purity as well as self-punishment when slip-ups are made, like very strict eating, fasting and exercise regimes.”

How prevalent is this obsession with untarnished food? Preliminary research indicates that about 6.9% of the general population, of which 35–58% are in high risk groups such as health professionals, may be engaging in this over-the-top health consciousness. This excessive behavior usually starts with the healthy goal of eating nutritious foods, but then moves from being a healthy eating habit to a disorder “when individuals become obsessed with eating what they believe are health foods, and go so far as to isolate themselves socially, or even fast if the food offered does not meet their strict criteria.”

Here’s a Test for Orthorexia Nervosa

  • Do you spend more than 3 hours a day thinking about your diet?
  • Do you plan your meals several days ahead?
  • Is the nutritional value of your meal more important than the pleasure of eating it?
  • Has the quality of your life decreased as the quality of your diet has increased?
  • Have you become stricter with yourself lately?
  • Does your self-esteem get a boost from eating healthily?
  • Have you given up foods you used to enjoy in order to eat the “right” foods?
  • Does your diet make it difficult for you to eat out, distancing you from family and friends?
  • Do you feel guilty when you stray from your diet?
  • Do you feel at peace with yourself and in total control when you eat healthily?

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