What is Orthorexia?

How often have you heard the term “clean eating”? Most likely daily… perhaps multiple times a day thru social media or other outlets, which claim that you must eat this way in order to prevent toxins from entering your body or prevent illness. These same sources may claim that some foods “cure” certain ailments. Nutrition information that is not scientifically based and inaccurate is constantly circulating.

According to NEDA (National Eating Disorder Association), the term orthorexia was coined in 1998 and means an obsession with proper or ‘healthful’ eating. Orthorexia can lead to significant restriction and elimination of numerous foods, which in turn can lead to nutrition deficiencies, an unhealthy weight, and an unhealthy relationship with food.  The term orthorexia is not a diagnosis in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association (DSM-5), however it can lead to, or be a cover for, eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa.

Eating disorder clinicians are noticing an increasing number of clients with orthorexia. These clients begin with the goal of eating “clean” or “pure” for health and wellness. The orthorexic meal plan may start off as the avoidance of refined sugar and processed food, but then evolves in the avoidance of carbohydrates, gluten, dairy, meat, and choosing only organic foods. As a result, vegetarian or vegan diets are often the end product.  A vegetarian diet can be done well with an appropriate amount of nutrients to prevent deficiencies, but it is not done appropriately with orthorexia.  Nourishing our body requires a well-balanced meal plan that provides a wide variety of all foods in moderation. There is no “bad” food.  Yes, even processed and refined foods are healthy in moderation.

Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate than of any psychiatric illness. An estimated 30 million people suffer from an eating disorder. If you notice the signs and symptoms listed below, then please call your nearest eating disorder provider to discuss step towards developing a healthy relationship with food.

Signs and Symptoms of Orthorexia (NEDA):

  • Compulsive checking of ingredient lists and nutritional labels
  • An increase in concern about the health of ingredients
  • Cutting out an increasing number of food groups (all sugar, all carbs, all dairy, all meat, all animal products)
  • An inability to eat anything but a narrow group of foods that are deemed ‘healthy’ or ‘pure’
  • Unusual interest in the health of what others are eating
  • Spending hours per day thinking about what food might be served at upcoming events
  • Showing high levels of distress when ‘safe’ or ‘healthy’ foods aren’t available
  • An obsessive following of food and ‘healthy lifestyle’ blogs on Twitter and Instagram
  • Body image concerns may or may not be present

Author: Kristine Brubaker, RD

Director of Clinical Nutrition, EDCare

If you or a loved one is suffering from an eating disorder, call (866) 771-0861 today or submit a free, confidential inquiry form online. Don’t lose hope, help is just a call/click away.