In December of 2003, I received the tragic news that Kate Finn died of orthorexia.
Kate was a wonderful woman who contacted me just prior to the publication of Health Food Junkies and influenced my writing of it. Later, she gave media interviews about orthorexia, and posted an article on www.beyondveg.com discussing her recovery from it. Sadly, this recovery was not as complete as she hoped, and she died of heart failure brought on by orthorexia-induced starvation.
In her article, Kate tells of a time when doctors diagnosed her with anorexia. She resisted the diagnosis and their recommended treatment. It just didn’t seem to fit. She wasn’t afraid of being fat. She didn’t want to be thin. She just wanted to eat healthy food.
Nonetheless, she brought her weight down so low she ultimately died from it.
Most often, orthorexia is merely a source of psychological distress, not a physical danger. However, emaciation is common among followers of certain health food diets, such raw foodism, and this can at times reach the extremes seen in anorexia nervosa. Such “anorexic orthorexia” is just as dangerous as anorexia. However, the underlying motivation is quite different. While an anorexic wants to lose weight, an orthorexic wants to feel pure, healthy and natural. Eating disorder specialists may fail to understand this distinction, leading to a disconnect between orthorexic and physician.
Whatever the motivation, there’s nothing healthy and natural about starving yourself to death! If you’re obsessed with healthy diet, and yet people tell you that you are seriously underweight, please take Kate’s story to heart. You may not be anorexic in the ordinary sense, and yet what you have may kill you.
If you feel any of this applies to you, please seek help from an eating disorders specialist. Since the time of Kate’s death, the concept of orthorexia has become much better known. In addition, you can bring the information on this site to their attention.
Steven Bratman, M.D.