Some of us may have friends like this -- they wash their raw vegetables with special rinses to get rid of the toxins, scan salad bowls for croutons that may have taken a wrong turn, and sit stoically at the table eating brown rice when others are eating steak. It turns out that there is a name for those whose eating habits turn obsessive -- it's referred to as orthorexia, translated as straight or correct appetite (see: Orthorexia nervosa). Below is an excerpt from an article about this topic (see: Orthorexia: When Healthy Eating Turns Obsessive):
Orthorexia is an obsession with eating a “pure” diet, which usually entails avoiding foods with artificial colors, flavors or preservatives, unhealthy fats, added sugar or salt, and genetic modification. And while it’s smart to care about what exactly goes into your body, it can become a serious problem if such strict food rules lead to social isolation. Orthorexics will often turn down social invitations, fearing that “healthy” food won’t be available, or...will refuse to touch even a morsel of impure food, even despite hunger pangs. They may also spend inordinate amounts of time shopping for specific groceries and preparing meals, or hide their habits from friends and family to avoid criticism....Orthorexia has not been accepted as an official medical condition and remains unknown by many doctors, dietitians, and therapists. Unlike anorexia or bulimia, orthorexia may have less to do with poor body image or self-esteem, and more to do with a fear of illness and bad health. Some classify it as a form of OCD, or when a person satisfies unreasonable obsessions (like, say, eating a completely pure diet) with ritualistic behavior (meticulous calorie counting and nutrient tracking, refusal to eat certain foods, etc.)....But before trying to diagnose every health-fanatic friend, realize there’s also a fine line between what makes someone health-conscious or health-obsessed. The distinguishing factor seems to be whether or not the behavior interferes with other obligations (especially social life). Warning signs might also include other health-related obsessive behavior, like exercise addiction. Previous struggles with anorexia or bulimia could also predispose someone to orthorexia. Keep an eye out for abnormal overall mental happiness, too. A health conscious person cares about their body; a health obsessed person freaks out over it. If not in complete control of their diet, an orthorexic person could have increased anxiety — a sign of a true disorder.
It's fascinating to me that this article uses the term "freak out" in relationship to eating behavior. We often avoid the adjective "obsessive" because it sounds like a medical diagnosis. However, we will nod knowingly when the term "freak out" is used although it means pretty much the same thing. To a certain extent we are insulated from orthorectics unless they are close friends or relatives. They may recognize that their behavior is unusual and eat alone or associate with like-minded people. I also suspect that anorectics and orthorectics are cut out of similar cloth but the former tend to stand out more because of their physical appearance. It's also easier for orthorectics to justify their eating habits because it's hard to argue with the pursuit of a healthy diet.