What is Orthorexia and How Can You Treat It?

Health Education
February 20, 2023
3 min read
What is Orthorexia and How Can You Treat It?

It’s normal to want to eat healthy food, but after a certain point, that concern can itself pass into unhealthiness. Orthorexia is an eating disorder with an obsessive focus on eating healthy. This desire to be healthy can paradoxically turn into an unhealthy preoccupation or even an obsession. Today, we’ll take a closer look at orthorexia and what can be done to treat it.

Orthorexia Nervosa: Is it An Official Diagnosis?

Orthorexia Nervosa isn’t an official diagnosis, but one with increasingly common discussion in the psychiatric community. The term was coined by a California doctor, Steven Bratman, in 1996. It quite literally means a “fixation on righteous eating,” which is a fairly accurate description of the described pathology.

Orthorexia is an unhealthy focus on eating cleanly. It includes a range of eating habits that reject different foods for not being “pure” or “healthy” enough. In extreme cases, this can lead to avoiding meals entirely if it doesn’t meet clean standards. Some experts believe there’s an overlap between orthorexia and disorders like bulimia and anorexia nervosa.

What is Orthorexia and Its Symptoms?

So, what is Orthorexia? While psychologists are still debating an exact definition, there are some agreed-upon symptoms.

A person with orthorexia may worry about food quality and sourcing to a high degree, creating anxiety and fear. Someone with orthorexia may avoid eating out entirely or refuse to eat food prepared by others. Moreover, there is an overarching concern about food being “good” or “bad” for your health. This concern is often linked to a powerful fear of sickness.

Along with signs of stress and anxiety about healthy eating, someone with orthorexia may develop signs of malnutrition. This could include sudden or otherwise unhealthy weight loss. They may read and research food and nutrition to an obsessive degree. Whether hours are spent researching nutrition or even at the expense of other activities, orthorexia is an all-consuming condition. 

Orthorexia often leads to the refusal to eat a broad range of foods. Foods with preservatives, gluten, artificial sugars, refined oils, and more are often avoided by those with orthorexia.

This can be, as mentioned above, an issue of control, as many eating disorders are. Those suffering from orthorexia may become overly critical of others’ food choices as well. This can create significant emotional turmoil in both individual lives and interpersonal interactions.

Orthorexia vs Anorexia

When comparing orthorexia vs anorexia, there might seem to be a significant overlap. Both conditions are eating disorders with a focus on how the individual relates to food. Orthorexia is especially focused on health and food purity. On the other hand, anorexia is frequently about the results of eating (how it may impact weight or appearance). Both conditions may produce similar symptoms and results, but for different reasons.

Since orthorexia is a relatively new condition, and is currently not included in the DSM-5, there may be overlapping cases. Some patients suffering from anorexia may also have undiagnosed orthorexia as well. Such a person would be intensely worried both about a food’s healthfulness and its impact on their health. Not all anorexic patients struggle with orthorexia, and theoretically, some may have orthorexia without showing anorexic symptoms.

Find the Right Balance with Help from BASS Medical

Recovering from an eating disorder is no small task, and not one to take on your own. If you’re afraid of making those first steps, know you have support from a network of medical professionals. 

BASS has a range of conditions and treatment options available for ED recovery. Whatever type of help you need, BASS has a qualified team of professionals ready to support you.