Orthorexia Nervosa is a newly recognized eating disorder that is characterized by an obsession with healthy eating. It is a condition where a person becomes fixated on the quality and purity of their food, to the point where it interferes with their daily life and overall well-being.
People with orthorexia nervosa often limit their food choices to only those foods that they consider to be healthy, natural, or pure. They may avoid entire food groups, such as carbohydrates or fats, and may spend an excessive amount of time and energy planning, preparing, and eating their meals.
Although orthorexia nervosa is often motivated by a desire to be healthy, it can lead to restrictive eating patterns and malnutrition. People with orthorexia nervosa may also experience anxiety, guilt, and shame when they are unable to adhere to their strict dietary rules.
The exact causes of orthorexia nervosa are not well understood, but it is thought to be related to an underlying psychological disorder, such as anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), or body dysmorphic disorder. Cultural and societal pressures to be thin and to maintain a “perfect” diet may also contribute to the development of orthorexia nervosa.
Treatment for orthorexia nervosa typically involves psychological therapy, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) or dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), and may also involve nutritional counseling and meal support. The goal of treatment is to help individuals learn to manage their food and body concerns and to develop a more balanced relationship with food.
Frequently asked questions
orthorexia nervosa is a type of eating disorder where a person is obsessed with eating healthy food and avoids certain types of food considered in their opinion to be not healthy, the key difference being people with orthorexia are not excessively concerned about their weight.
- Why is it called orthorexia nervosa?
The greek term otho means correct. It was a term coined by a physician by name Steven Bratman in 1997 which was desccribed as an unhealthy fixation with what the individual considers to be healthy eating. Beliefs about what constitutes healthy eating commonly originate in one or another dietary theory such as raw foods veganism or macrobiotics, but are then taken to extremes, leading to disordered eating patterns and psychological and/or physical impairment.
- Is orthorexia nervosa an official diagnosis?
No. Although orthorexia is not recognized as a mental disorder by the American Psychiatric Association, and it is not listed in the DSM-5, it is commonly reported in many research and magazine articles.
- What are the commonly accepted criteria for orthorexia nervosa?
Criterion A. Obsessive focus on "healthy" eating, as defined by a dietary theory or set of beliefs whose specific details may vary; marked by exaggerated emotional distress in relationship to food choices perceived as unhealthy; weight loss may ensue, but this is conceptualized as an aspect of ideal health rather than as the primary goal. As evidenced by the following: Compulsive behavior and/or mental preoccupation regarding affirmative and restrictive dietary practices believed by the individual to promote optimum health. Violation of self-imposed dietary rules causes exaggerated fear of disease, sense of personal impurity and/or negative physical sensations, accompanied by anxiety and shame. Dietary restrictions escalate over time, and may come to include elimination of entire food groups and involve progressively more frequent and/or severe "cleanses" (partial fasts) regarded as purifying or detoxifying. This escalation commonly leads to weight loss, but the desire to lose weight is absent, hidden or subordinated to ideation about healthy food. Criterion B. The compulsive behavior and mental preoccupation becomes clinically impairing by any of the following: Malnutrition, severe weight loss or other medical complications from restricted diet Intrapersonal distress or impairment of social, academic or vocational functioning secondary to beliefs or behaviors about healthy diet Positive body image, self-worth, identity and/or satisfaction excessively dependent on compliance with self-defined "healthy" eating behavior.
- What are the symptoms of orthorexia?
Symptoms of orthorexia nervosa include "obsessive focus on food choice, planning, purchase, preparation, and consumption; food regarded primarily as source of health rather than pleasure; distress or disgust when in proximity to prohibited foods; exaggerated faith that inclusion or elimination of particular kinds of food can prevent or cure disease or affect daily well-being; periodic shifts in dietary beliefs while other processes persist unchanged; moral judgment of others based on dietary choices; body image distortion around sense of physical "impurity" rather than weight; persistent belief that dietary practices are health-promoting despite evidence of malnutrition."
How can W8MD help?
It is important to seek professional help if you or someone you know is experiencing symptoms of orthorexia nervosa. With early intervention and the right support, individuals with orthorexia nervosa can learn to manage their eating habits and regain control over their lives. Pronounced weightMD, our state of the art W8MD physician medical weight loss, sleep, holistic IV nutrition and aesthetic medicine programs can help you not only to lose weight, and sleep better but also look your best! The Center’s team of practitioners are among the most qualified, dedicated and hospitable professionals in the industry.
- Bratman, S. (1997). Health Food Junkies. Yoga Journal, 161, 36-41.
- Klontz, B. & Klontz, T. (2009). Orthorexia Nervosa: When Healthy Eating Becomes an Obsession. Eating Disorders Review, 20(4), 176-180.
- National Eating Disorders Association. (2021). Orthorexia Nervosa.
- National Institute of Mental Health. (2021). Eating Disorders.
- Smith, M. & Thelen, M. (2020). Eating Disorders in Children and Adolescents. Pediatrics in Review, 41(7), 391-399.
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