Healthy habits can turn into harmful obsession

(NBC) - A few months ago, Peggy Moe would never consider fast food, like Mexican take out. She's orthorexic, a person so consumed by healthy eating, it actually makes them sick.

It is a twist of an eating disorder that where a patient is so fixated on eating pure or eating clean," Jill Brown, a registered dietician, said.

"It kind of snowballed into everything that I ate had to be organic and pure and non-processed," Moe said.

Orthorexia is not an official medical diagnosis. The word, literally means correct appetite. However, due to organic and health food trends, eating disorder specialists are seeing more patients like Peggy who take it to the extreme.

"It takes over and it interferes with relationships and they obsess about it. There's a certain righteousness that goes along with it. Judgmental. They judge how others eat," Brown said.

It isolated Peggy and broke up some relationships.

Moe said, "I would always say, 'You shouldn't feed your kids any of this. You should eat organic."

Her food rules and restrictions caused her to drop 20 pounds off an already thin frame.

Despite seemingly healthy diets, orthorexics are often malnourished. The habit also cost the single mom $120 a week in groceries.

"I had to drive 40 minutes to the nearest grocery store that had all organic foods and I had to keep it on supply so whenever I was at someone else's house I brought my own food," Moe said.

Orthorexia borders on obsessive compulsive disorder and often the person has a history of eating disorders.

Moe said, "I was originally anorexic, and then it turned into exercise bulimia and every time I thought I was free of the eating disorder, it just morphed into something else."

Copyright 2010 NBC. All rights reserved.