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Orthorexia linked to gluten-free diet and celiac disease

Lana Bandoim's picture

There is a new disturbing trend that nutritionists are noticing among people who have celiac disease and those who simply follow a gluten-free diet by choice. Orthorexia nervosa is a disorder characterized by an obsessive need to eat healthy that leads to cutting out many foods. The obsession goes beyond a normal concern for staying healthy because it affects relationships, jobs and wellbeing.


Orthorexia is a fixation on eating healthy food that affects people’s lives in a negative way. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics mentions, "Orthorexia starts out with a true intention of wanting to be healthier, but it's taken to an extreme." This obsession leads to isolation from others, constant thoughts about food, punishments for eating the wrong thing and a lower quality of life. Diets can become extremely restrictive and affect overall health. People with orthorexia may experience vitamin or mineral deficiencies and dramatic weight loss.

The director of the Celiac Disease Center at Columbia University points out that some people who suffer from celiac disease are also suffering from orthorexia. In addition, Peter Green shares that people who are on a gluten-free diet without a medical need are frequent victims of the disorder. They restrict their diets in dramatic and unhealthy ways that go beyond eliminating gluten.

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This is not the first time celiac disease has been linked to eating disorders. A study from the European Journal of Gastroenterology & Hepatology found a link and strongly urged clinicians to be aware of these conditions because they could appear simultaneously. A study from the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine noted that people with chronic illnesses are more likely to have eating disorders. In addition, a study from Psychosomatics found that teenagers suffering from celiac disease had a greater chance of having eating disorders.

Control is at the heart of orthorexia, so people must be willing to change how they think and view food to overcome this disorder. The social, emotional and physical aspects of the disease must be addressed for the patient to recover fully. Otherwise, they will continue to suffer as they obsess over every morsel of food that enters their bodies.

People with celiac disease and gluten sensitivities are forced to change their diets, but they are in danger of taking it too far. Although it is important to eat healthy, obsessing over healthy versus unhealthy choices can lead people down a dangerous path. Experts point out that orthorexics use their diet as part of their self-esteem, routinely punish themselves for messing up and ignore serious health problems caused by the restricted diet. There is nothing wrong with caring about the food that fuels your body, but food should not become a fixation that destroys your health. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics reminds people: "Orthorexia is a serious disordered eating pattern that can have grave mental and physical health consequences, and people suffering from it need professional help."

Read more about celiac disease:
Dietitian offers gluten-free diet advice for celiac disease
Gluten-free bread maker from Panasonic revealed at CES