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Eating Disorders – What is Orthorexia?

When clean eating and pure foods have been integrated into our diet, they could greatly improve our well-being and health, no doubt. But when you become obsessed with these eating practices, that is where the problem develops.

What is Orthorexia?

Orthorexia Nervosa is an unhealthy obsession with eating only wholesome foods. People with this condition are more concerned about the ‘quality’ rather than the ‘quantity’ of food. The Diagnostic and Statistic Manual (DSM) has not yet formally recognized orthorexia as an identifiable eating disorder; however, it is considered a serious medical condition. It could harm your body, spirit, and mind. Even your relationship with other people can be put at peril, too, such as rejecting foods, skipping family meals, or showing high adversity levels when healthy or safe foods are not available on the table.

There is an ongoing debate about anorexia and orthorexia – stating that they share similarities. But in reality, there are elusive differences between the two. A person dealing with anorexia is usually engrossed in the number of calories in food, while somebody with orthorexia is absorbed in the purity or quality of foods. What should they eat is closely monitored. Packaged or processed foods, all refined sugar, animal products, high carb, non-organic, and foods, including flavors or artificial colors, are some of the ingredients and foods highly restricted.

Signs and Symptoms

  • Spending hours every day preparing food and thinking about future meals
  • Compulsively checking ingredient lists and nutritional labels
  • Eliminating an increasing number of food groups, including all animal products, meat, sugar, and dairy
  • Having extreme feelings of shame or remorse when eating unhealthy foods
  • Being excessively critical about the food choices of other people
  • Obsessively following the “healthy lifestyles” of social media personalities or bloggers
  • Refusing to go to social events or restaurants due to the fear of not complying with your healthy diet
  • Rejecting foods prepared or bought by others
  • Having a sense of satisfaction and happiness from pure eating
  • Taking an extensive array of herbs, vitamins, and supplements

With orthorexia, these practices and thoughts significantly intervene in your daily life. Our bodies need varieties of food to survive. And with the off-limit foods you have set, you are only putting your health at risk and not thriving it.

You may start to feel weaker and exhausted than usual. You may feel cold, lose weight, and take longer to recover from viruses and common sickness. If left untreated, severe health problems may also trigger – including decreased testosterone in males, kidney problems, gastrointestinal problems, and electrolyte abnormalities. Anxiety, depression, and mood swings are also associated with orthorexia.

What Causes Orthorexia?

There are still no reports about the exact cause. Still, experts believe it is the predominant motivation of a person to stay healthy, coupled with the widespread concern on nutritious eating trends. Individuals may want to create a refuge from ailing-health, improve self-esteem, or exercise control.

Though, other factors contribute to orthorexia. It could be due to being perfectionism, mood disorders, troubled relationship, or instability in brain chemicals.


Orthorexia falls under the ARFID category since it is not yet recognized as an official psychiatrist diagnosis. Its features have a similarity to anxiety, anorexia, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. The behavior is intense and compulsive, and could perilously affect your health. In case you are experiencing any of these symptoms, it is important to seek help from a therapist, dietitian, or doctor. They will conduct a thorough review of your eating habits and current symptoms. This includes your obsessional focus on healthy eating that involves inflated emotional distress about food choices as well as your behaviors that tends to interrupt your day-to-day routine. Blood work and the routine physical test may also perform to check for other complications.

Treating Orthorexia

The treatment given for persons with orthorexia is plainly similar to those suffering from eating disorders. It typically involves a form of medication or therapy.

Medication: Doctors prescribe an antidepressant or anti-anxiety medicinal drug.

Therapy: There are various types of therapy highly recommended.

  • Nutritional Counseling – a dietitian will educate you about the proper consumption of nutrients to help you achieve good health.
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) – helps a person with orthorexia to acknowledge that their beliefs and thoughts affect both their behaviors and feelings.
  • Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) – come to terms with a person’s uneasy emotions, behaviors, and thoughts. The cognitive and behavioral therapy is combined with some sort of meditation.

How to cope and get support?

Dealing with orthorexia is definitely a real struggle, but keep in mind that it is not your battle alone. Never feel ashamed or afraid of getting help from a professional as well as seeking support from your family and friends.

Talk to a mental health expert who specializes in eating disorder treatment. The next step could be disclosing your issue to a family member or trusted friend. The next time you are invited to a fun meal or dinner with friends, go and eat with them. Just keep socializing. Do not allow your diet to deter the quality of life you deserve.

And as much as possible, don’t allow yourself to get involved in dietary advice and diet trend craze from less credible sources. Fortunately, there are online support networks available too. You can check out the National Eating Disorder Association and the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders to further expand your knowledge about the condition and its underlying symptoms.

It is always advised to be mindful of all the foods we eat. But sometimes, people become overly fixated on achieving a certain goal and ignore some important things without full realization. Orthorexia is a serious garbled eating pattern that could have critical health effects both on your physical and mental health. It should not be taken lightly. Talk with a dietitian, psychologist, or doctor in case any of the common symptoms are starting to develop and impede your life. Medication, nutritional counseling, or therapy would be suggested. Changes in treatment plans and reevaluations are enabled during regular sessions.