Orthorexia Nervosa – The Obsession with Healthy Food

Our minds distort our mirrors. Don’t allow a number on a scale define who you are.

Eating healthy is great. It can lead to major improvements and developments in body health and well-being. But as the saying goes, too much of anything can be bad for yourself applies while eating healthy food as well. Some people, obsess about eating healthy food to a degree that can damage their overall well-being. This develops into an eating disorder called Orthorexia nervosa.

Before diving into what is Orthorexia nervosa, it would be much better to start off with the basics. What are Eating disorders? Eating disorders are illnesses which are characterized by irregular eating habits and having major concerns about body image.

Orthorexia nervosa falls under this category, that involves an individual having an unhealthy obsession with eating healthy food.  The term “Orthorexia” was first coined by Steve Bratman, an American physician in 1997.

It is derived from the Greek word orthos which means “right”. However, unlike other eating disorders, people don’t give much focus on losing weight but do give importance to the quality of food rather than its quantity. But these people to gradually develop the tendency to avoid whole meals that do not match their standards or that they don’t make by themselves.

Some signs and symptoms of Orthorexia might be:

1) High concern about the quality of food, it can even lead to developing anxiety within the individual.

2) Avoiding going out to eat out of fear that the person won’t be able to prepare food that will not meet their standards.

3) Fear sickness like whether it is “clean” food or if its “bad” for health

4) When they start to limit variety of food, the body might not get all the nourishment which they require. This might cause them to show physical signs of malnutrition.

5) Burying themselves in food research for a very long time so that they can find out about every product or item which they buy to eat.

6) Tend to be critical to the food choices of those around them as well, but will usually not have a rational explanation for their behavior.

The exact reasons behind which Orthorexia Nervosa develops in a person isn’t very well known, but certain personality risk factors such as tendencies towards perfectionism, being very anxious or a need to be in control.

Occupational risk factors also can play a role for example, people like athletes, health workers, ballet dancers and many more put a lot of focus into their health for professional reasons. The risk also may depend on different factors such as age, gender, SES and more, but researchers are still working on studying about the disorder.

Usually, it is difficult to differentiate between having a normal preoccupation with eating in a healthy manner. It has been quite difficult to determine how common orthorexia nervosa can be among people. Studies show that the rate of orthorexia ranges from 6% to 90%.

Orthorexia is diagnosed in a two-part diagnostic criterion and it involves the following:

Criterion 1: An obsessive focus on healthy eating which includes having compulsive behaviors or constant mental preoccupation about having a healthy diet. When they break their diets or involve in cheat days, they develop extreme feelings of guilt and disgust about themselves. They also have severe restrictions which can escalate to completely avoiding food or including continuous and long diets and cleanses.

Criterion 2: The second criterion is extreme compulsive behavior which can have an effect on their normal daily functioning. The individual may experience malnutrition, personal distress difficulty in social or academic functioning because of their beliefs related to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

Some of the physical consequences of orthorexia nervosa other than drastic weight loss are anemia, abnormally slow heart rates, digestion problems, hormonal imbalances and impaired bone health. The psychological consequences they experience are intense frustration when their food-related habits are disrupted, weaker working memory and are less able to maintain focus on their surrounding environment including people.

If Orthorexia is left untreated in can lead to severe damage to a person’s well-being. Some of the treatments which are used to cure Orthorexia Nervosa are exposure and response prevention, behavior modification, cognitive restructuring and various forms of relation training. With more awareness about the presence of this disorder, it can help people recognize if they are suffering from the disorder and make their life better.


Petre, A. (2020, April 02). What to Know About Orthorexia. Retrieved January 24, 2021, from

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Written by Nivetha Srinath

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Athya Ashraf

Extremely informative!
Keep up the good work!