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  • Writer's pictureShir Warr

What is Orthorexia Nervosa?

Updated: Jan 28, 2023

What if eating super healthy foods and exercising a lot could become harmful to your health?

Sounds impossible?

Well, it isn’t…

You see, while making better choices in terms of eating and exercise may start as a positive way to improve one’s health--for those who have the biological, social and psychological precursors for developing an eating disorder, these seemingly innocent lifestyle changes can in fact have very negative effects.

It’s called Orthorexia Nervosa, and it’s a really. big. deal.

In today’s culture, cutting out entire food groups like fats and carbohydrates/sugar are celebrated. Foods have been given ambiguous labels that have unhelpful and even harmful labels like “good” and “bad” attached to them. Because of this, many of those living with orthorexia can easily be identified as “health conscious” or “healthy” to the untrained eye, making many who may be suffering from malnutrition and debilitating rigidity think that their lifestyle is “normal.”

So what’s the difference between living a healthy lifestyle and having orthorexia?

Let’s look at some of the most common symptoms of orthorexia:

  • A fixation on the food quality. Obsessing over the quality and purity of their food, such as only eating organic food, farm fresh, whole, raw and/or vegan. How much they eat is often less important than the quality of foods.

  • Rigid/inflexible eating patterns. Avoiding anything “unhealthy” or “bad”, even if it’s the only food available.

  • Cutting out entire food groups. As part of their rigid food rules, they believe that they will become sick if they consume anything that isn’t “whole” or “clean”, often looking at anything else as poison.

  • Anxiety even being around certain foods. They might feel the need to completely separate themselves from anything they deem unhealthy, which may even cause them to become isolated—skipping social events, often leading to depression and intensified thoughts and behaviors.

  • Loss of weight. While weight is not necessarily a sign of orthorexia, some cases do involve weight loss; an orthorexia diet is an unbalanced diet that often results in malnutrition. While someone with orthorexia might feel they are becoming healthier, they are often doing the exact opposite, depleting their own nutrition by vastly limiting food variety. (so, weight loss is often unintentional).

  • Orthorexia is not typically driven by poor body image. Unlike anorexia, orthorexia isn’t necessarily rooted in obsessions over appearance or efforts to lose weight. Instead, it is entrenched in the need to eat or be “healthy”.

Although orthorexia is not an “official” eating disorder in the DSM-5, it can be just as clinically significant as any of the other disorders and can have severe physical and/or mental health repercussions.

The most common disorders that may coexist with orthorexia are depression, anxiety, and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

If you feel you may be suffering from orthorexia nervosa, please do not be ashamed or afraid to seek help sooner than later!

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