One of the newest eating disorders, orthorexia, is becoming more prevalent.

This eating disorder, where sufferers have a fixation on righteous eating, was named in 1997 by Steven Bratman, a Californian doctor.

The chair of the British Dietetic Association's mental health group, Ursula Philpot, said she's seen a big rise in the number of orthorexics in the UK over the past few years. She explained that these people:

Are solely concerned with the quality of the food they put in their bodies, refining and restricting their diets according to their personal understanding of which foods are truly 'pure'.

Orthorexia is thought to stem from some of the same causes of anorexia, but sufferers are usually of a normal weight. There is a danger of becoming malnourished by excessive restrictions, though.

Experts believe the increase in orthorexia may be due to:

  • Food scares in the media.
  • Companies promoting pure (and often pricy) alternatives.
  • Social influences from groups of friends, e.g. all cutting out the same food group.
  • Personal trainers at the gym recommending specific foods or supplements.
  • An increase in the numbers of nutritionists, dieticians and naturalists - not all of whom are trained or qualified.

Editor's Note: The term dietician is protected by law. This means only those who have met with certain standards, and are registered with a regulatory body, can use the title. So, if you think someone's unqualified to give you advice, ask for their credentials, if they're sincere they'll be more than happy to oblige.

So, where's the line between a healthy concern about eating well, and an unhealthy obsession with eating perfectly?

My rule of thumb is that healthy eating should make my life better, more energised and happier. If I'm fretting about every last calorie or gram of fat, it's time to relax a bit! Feeling a sense of smugness about your own healthy eating is also a warning sign, as is avoiding social situations because you're afraid there'll be nothing healthy to eat.

What do you think? In the West, most of us could do with worrying a little more about what we put into our bodies. Have you seen an increase in orthorexic-like behaviour over the past years, whether in yourself or in friends?