ANGELES — One awful day, D.C. Copeland recalls, her
perspective on her "pure" diet had become so
distorted that she found herself crying in the produce section
of a grocery store because she could not decide whether the
kale or the chard was "better."
Lombardi had so limited what she considered healthful that she
found herself fending off others’ questions about her diet.
So she fabricated all sorts of food allergies — so no one
would challenge her.
women say they were struggling with orthorexia, a condition
that had them so consumed with a health food diet — or, as
many people now term it, a clean diet — that the list of
foods they’d eat shrank and shrank.
initial impulses might have been fine: perhaps cutting out
processed foods or eating only organic food. But what if
someone believes she absolutely cannot touch carrot juice if
it’s not organic? Or that she can eat only vegan raw food or
not a single carb? The result, says Sondra Kronberg, a
registered dietitian and nutrition therapist based on Long
Island, can be malnutrition, brittle bones and other problems.
culture is immersed in advice and admonitions about the
"right" way to eat: Juice, Paleo, low-carb, no-fat,
GMO-free diets abound. So perhaps it’s no wonder that the
terrain gets dicey for some people.
"absolutely" is growing, says Kimberley Quinlan, a
psychotherapist at the OCD Center of Los Angeles, an
outpatient clinic that specializes in obsessive compulsive
who struggle with anorexia or bulimia generally have a
preoccupation with their appearance and sometimes cannot
rightly judge if their weight is appropriate. Those with
orthorexia "are not looking to lose weight or are not
fixated on a number on a scale," says Lombari, who now is
executive director of the Eating Recovery Center of California
in Sacramento. "They say, ‘I want to look at the value
of food, and I want to look at an altruistic approach.’"
Copeland, who had obsessive compulsive disorder as a child and
later had problems with alcohol and drugs, getting sober in
her 20s also meant that it was important to eat healthfully.
got into raw veganism, colonics, enemas and a whole way of
life. It was so insanely pure. There was no room for error. I
couldn’t even work. All the energy went into making my green
smoothies and doing a yoga class," she says. "I was
addicted to this feeling; I had to be pure."
hallmark of orthorexia is perfectionism, finding the
"perfect" foods. "Theoretically, if we do
things right or perfectly, people will be less upset with us,
we will experience less adversity," Lombardi says.
"There’s no room for imperfection, and there’s no
room for enjoyment."
was named in 1996 but has yet to be accepted as a formal
diagnosis in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, the bible
of psychiatric illnesses. Some therapists see it as an eating
disorder, others as a manifestation of OCD. Some doctors think
a separate diagnosis is unnecessary. There’s no estimate on
how common it might be.
it’s called, therapists say, there are people whose rigid
attention to what to eat, its nutritional content and how the
food is grown and processed can put themselves in danger. A
person might start "by getting rid of processed foods,
then sugars and gluten, and little by little most things get
taken out. They’ll take out meat. Only raw foods, only
fruit. There are no real rules, but it usually gets down to a
very small number of foods," Quinlan said.
addition, sufferers generally think there’s nothing wrong
with their behavior.
a Yale graduate, says she was sure that her "pure"
diet would help her reach her potential, but she now sees that
it left her enervated, isolated and unwilling to leave her
house without bringing her own food.
I can fill my whole mind with food and the purity of the food
and the green smoothies, then I can stay sober," Copeland
says in describing her thought process.
she couldn’t choose which greens to buy, she called her
Alcoholics Anonymous sponsor and began to get the help she
needed, eventually seeing Quinlan and undergoing therapy that
included learning to eat foods she had rejected.
at 32, she is a playwright in Portland, Ore., and tries daily
to eat when she’s hungry. It’s still not easy. But she had
a recent victory at an event where others were drinking
alcohol. She chose a Coca-Cola, not the seltzer, picking a
treat and enjoying it.
some indications that a person may be suffering from
significant shift in a person’s relationship with food.
significant change in weight or behaviors around meals.
even when sick or injured, and agitation over having to shift
A lot of
counting and calculating — not calories, but things like
nutrients or grams of protein.
reluctance or refusal to eat in public.
about orthorexia from Kimberley Quinlan, read her blog at