Orthorexia

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In our culture today, eating healthy has taken on a whole new meaning. Orthorexia is a term used to characterize an eating disorder that is defined by obsessive behaviors in the pursuit of eating healthy. This eating disorder may not be as widely known as anorexia or bulimia.

The term Orthorexia can be literally translated to mean, “’fixation on righteous eating’. A person who might be struggling with orthorexia will exhibit obsession and anxiety about maintaining the perfect diet. Whereas an individual with anorexia nervosa may hyper-focus on their weight or body image, a person with orthorexia may be overly concerned about the quality of their diet, often seeking to achieve a sense of purity in the manner they eat [1].

A person with Orthorexia often associates their eating behaviors directly with their self-worth and morality. Individuals with orthorexia will often have follow extremely rigid eating and exercise patterns, feeling distress or anxious if there is any deviation from their food rules. 

Signs and Symptoms of Orthorexia Nervosa

On the surface, orthorexia nervosa can be difficult to identify. Many of the behaviors associated with orthorexia are often justified in the name of eating ‘healthy’, though the signs and symptoms connected with this eating disorder indicate otherwise.

Some of the main signs of orthorexia are as follows:

  • Drastic reduction in the number of acceptable foods that one might be ‘allowed’ to eat
  • Obsessive concern over how foods are prepared and cooked
  • Hyper-focused attention on the quality of food sources or where food is coming from
  • Elaborate food rituals concerning how food is prepared and consumed
  • Fear of deviating from strict food rules and diet
  • Social isolation from friends and family who do not share similar views about food
  • Increased amount of time, energy, and money devoted to food, exercise, and ‘clean eating’
  • Increased consumption of supplements, herbs, and alternative remedies
  • Elimination of major food groups or categories of food without medical necessity

A person who is struggling with orthorexia may exhibit the following symptoms as a result of their behaviors:

  • Inability to enjoy activities and relationships due to intense fear of deviating from diet
  • Failure to eat sufficiently due to extreme food rules, which can result in weight loss
  • Emotional distress if unable to comply with diet or if a “unhealthy” food is consumed
  • Malnutrition due to lack of a varied diet and limited food consumption
  • Neglect of responsibilities involved with daily living due to obsessiveness with food related activities
References

[1]: Donini LM, Marsili D, Graziani MP, Imbriale M, Cannella C. Orthorexia nervosa: a preliminary study with a proposal for diagnosis and an attempt to measure the dimension of the phenomenon. Eat Weight Disord. 2004;9(2):151–7.

[2]: Bratman S, Knight D. Health food junkies. Orthorexia nervosa: overcoming the obsession with healthful eating. New York: Broadway Books; 2000.