According to the National Association of Anorexia and Associated Disorders, 86 percent of students reported onset of an eating disorder by the age of 20. This week is National Eating Disorder Awareness Week, but there's a newly recognized eating disorder that is not as well known.

It's called orthorexia, which means "fixation on righteous eating," according to the National Eating Disorder Association. Orthorexia is an obsession with eating healthfully to the point where it becomes a detriment to one's physical and mental well-being. Unlike anorexia or bulimia, orthorexia does not have to do with being skinny, but with being healthy.

Elon sophomore Jenna Thompson was treated for an eating disorder over the summer, but it was not anorexia or bulimia. She had the goal to be healthy, but her quest to eat well and exercise soon became an obsession.

"It was never was about body image at all," Thompson said. "I was never was like, 'I want to be skinny or I want to look this way and that's why I'm going to eat like this.' I always thought that it was the right thing to do."

Thompson became so consumed with eating healthy and exercising that her daily life began to suffer.

"I isolated myself when I was going through it," she said. "I didn't want to be a part of daily college social interactions because I was stressed out about it. I couldn't be living without worrying all the time and like that's not healthy."

But Thompson didn't know about the term, orthorexia, until a few weeks ago when she read an article online. What she read is exactly what she had gone through.

Although the term was first coined in 1997 by Dr. Steven Bratman, orthorexia still does not exist in the current Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM V).


Counselor candidate, Nathan Blake is the Center Director for CareNet Counseling for Alamance County. He has treated patients with orthorexia before and said that doctors have a hard time diagnosing this disease.

"It's more of a combination of both an eating disorder and an obsessive-compulsive disorder," Blake said.

Detecting orthorexia can be difficult. There's a fine line between living a healthy lifestyle and that motivation becoming an unhealthy obsession.

"When it becomes a problem is when these folks are spending more than three hours a day thinking about healthy eating," Blake said. "When it becomes all consuming and the relationships in their life begin to fade, when they are unable to go about their daily routine without thinking about eating or what they're eating.

Although Thompson has recovered through therapy and seeing both a doctor and a dietician, she said the process was not easy.

"You look in the mirror and you're like, this isn't my body. And it's not a good feeling," she said. "When I actively tried to eat more and gain weight and couldn't. That's when I realized that I couldn't do this alone."

Thompson said that leaning on family and friends is what helped her through it all.

"Now I'm at the point where I definitely still eat healthy and I definitely still care what I put in my body, it's not like I don't think about," she said. "But you just have to be okay with having something that you enjoy eating once in a while."

If you or a friend is dealing with an eating disorder Elon Health Services has counselors on campus. The office is open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. You can also call the National Eating Disorder Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237.

(This article has been edited to reflect a request by Nathan Blake to clarify his earlier misstatement of his title.)