Looking into this a bit further, even the way research was conducted to determine if people have "orthorexia" looks like it's a sham.
In fact, there is almost no formal research done on this. In
one study from Italy
claims to have found 28 out of 404 people had orthorexia nervosa, probably the most suspect parts of the research involved "diagnosis" of the
so-called orthorexic (this is only a proposed diagnostic criteria), which was based first on what they called "health fanatic eating habits."
Participants were given a test to rate foods on a list as either healthy or not healthy. Indicating a food was healthy scored 1 point for the test;
rating a food as not healthy scored no points for the test (i.e., this is a forced response type questionnaire with no "it depends" type answers
allowed, which means they tried to squeeze people into one category or the other). After they normed the scores of 404 participants the researchers
arbitrarily created a cut-off point in the lower 25% of the scores. In other words, among the 404 people who participated in the study, if your score
was in the lower 25% of scores, you were suspected of being someone with "health fanatic eating habits" in danger of having orthorexia. No
explanation is given for why 25% is the proper cut off point, but the higher this number is the more it looks like more people have a mental
But there was another component to the diagnosis, a commonly used personality trait inventory (Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory) to
determine obsessive compulsive traits /phobias of the 404 participants, and to qualify for orthorexia participants had to score at least 65 on the
test. If you think there was going to be an obvious relationship between being a "health fanatic" and having a personality associated with obsessive
compulsive traits (not to be confused with obsessive compulsive disorder or "OCD") consider these two findings:
1. 15.8% of the people who DID show signs of obsessive compulsive traits DID NOT score low on the food rating test
2. Nearly the same amount (17%) DID NOT show signs of obsessive compulsive traits but DID have low scores on the food rating test
--The general finding of these low numbers would mean most people who supposedly have orthorexia both eat like "health fanatics" and also have
obsessive complusive traits, at least according to how it was measured in this study. However, as far as the need to create a new diagnosis
"orthorexia nervosa" researchers actually revealed something that's not in favor of it being a discrete disorder. Because of this association
between "health fanatic" and obsessive compulsive personality, you don't know if what they detected was simply that one way an obsessive compulsive
personality is manifested is by being overly concerned about how "unhealthy" the quality of your food might be. If so, we're not really talking
about a food disorder then. The same people may find many elements of their lives "unhealthy" (e.g., as related to germs and the potential for
sickness). They say, "NO difference was noted between orthorexic subjects and the rest of the subjects of the study group as to BMI distribution"
(BMI = body mass index), and yet, this is an important EATING disorder?--the kind that supposedly puts individuals at risk for bodily injury because
they refuse to eat certain foods?
So, more reasons to suspect "orthorexia nervosa" is not quite the diagnosis some people may want it to be:
1. Research results derived from an assessment of who was "orthorexic" determined by a forced response type measure rating foods as "unhealthy"
2. Research arbitrarily assigning the lower 25% of food rating scores to supposedly indicate signs of a disorder
3. The possibility that othorexia is just one possible manifestation of obsessive compulsive personality disorder and not really an eating disorder
Still, I have no doubt that through the Internet this term "orthorexia nervosa" is getting more attention than it really deserves with Youtube
videos that claim in one way or another that this is a "true" disorder when it remains a fact that there is no disorder recognized by the people who
wrote DSM-5 called "orthorexia nervosa," when there may be no true distinction between orthorexia and one way that obsessive compulsive personality
disorder is manifested, and when there's really no established criteria for this unfounded "mental illness."