7 Symptoms of Orthorexia: When Healthy Eating Gets Out of Control


In this post , I’ll talk about orthorexia nervosa, a rapidly emerging eating disorder that is yet another result of toxic diet culture.

Have you noticed that now, more than ever, an increasing number of people are concerned with “clean eating,” avoiding certain foods like the plague or evaluating everything that goes into their bodies?

Of course, we’ve all heard the phrase “you are what you eat,” so it makes sense to be aware of good nutrition practices. But what happens when we obsess over whether what we eat is “healthy enough”? Do we dismiss it simply because it is “health conscious,” or could something more dangerous be at hand? Can healthy living become an obsession?

Do you want to know how this eating disorder manifests itself and what the symptoms of orthorexia are? Read on to find out how, yes, you can be “too healthy.”

What is orthorexia and what are its symptoms?

According to the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA), the term “orthorexia” was “coined in 1998 and means an obsession with proper or healthy eating.” The term is derived from the Greek “orthos,” meaning “right,” and was coined by Steven Bratman .

“Although knowing and caring about the nutritional quality of the foods you eat is not a problem in itself, people with orthorexia become so obsessed with so-called “healthy eating” that they actually harm their own well-being.”

National Eating Disorders Association

Orthorexia is a fairly new eating disorder, and it is difficult to diagnose because it is not formally recognized in the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5).

It’s also difficult to recognize, as today’s diet culture praises so-called “clean eating,” associating it with “wellness” and general good health.

In a society that routinely recommends eliminating entire food groups (carbohydrates, sugars, dairy), that moralizes foods into “good” and “bad” categories, that polices our bodies and equates thinness with health, eating disorders will find fertile ground to spread. Society’s fixation on perfection, social media, and healthism also helps reinforce this obsession with “clean eating.”

Orthorexia manifests itself as an unhealthy obsession with eating pure, “healthy” diets. And while it is important to practice proper nutrition, people with orthorexia become so obsessed and fixated on healthy eating that their physical and mental well-being, as well as their daily lives, begin to suffer.

Orthorexia vs Anorexia

Many people are confused about the difference between orthorexia and anorexia. In fact, orthorexia is very similar to anorexia, as both are eating disorders that involve restriction of the amount and variety of foods consumed, making malnutrition likely. In fact, the two disorders share many of the same physical consequences.

Both orthorexia and anorexia share traits of perfectionism, cognitive rigidity, and guilt over eating transgressions. However, while patients with anorexia nervosa are concerned about the quantity of food, patients with orthorexia are concerned about the quality of food. People who suffer from orthorexia may also experience intrusive thoughts about food, as well as ritualized food preparation.

Obsession with weight is one of the main signs of anorexia neviosa. However, this is not usually one of the common symptoms of orthorexia. Instead, the approach for people with orthorexia is an over-obsession with the health implications of their dietary choices. Those who suffer from orthorexia strive to feel “pure, healthy and natural.”

As you can see, there are definite similarities as well as differences between orthorexia and anorexia. Both eating disorders tend to provide a sense of control and stability around food consumption. Likewise, both eating disorders are dangerous to mental and physical health, and require treatment from a qualified health professional.

How do you know if you have orthorexia?

So how do you know if it’s orthorexia or just a normal desire to take care of your health? Since orthorexia is a newer diagnosis, it is still difficult to diagnose even among professionals who treat eating disorders. However, we are now going to investigate seven of the signs and symptoms of orthorexia.

What are the symptoms of orthorexia?

Orthorexia can begin more subtly than other eating disorders, because the initial intention is to follow a “healthy diet” (although in reality there is no particular one, since eating to promote our health can be different for everyone). But when “eating clean” or eating healthy becomes an obsession, health begins to take a backseat. In my professional opinion, the seven most common symptoms of orthorexia are the following:

  1. The obsession with “eating healthy”:Becoming obsessive and extremely focused on the quality of the foods you eat, specific ingredients, or health and diet trends is one of the most telling warning signs. As the obsession progresses, it becomes the center of your world and begins to interfere with your personal, social, and work life. This includes obsessively checking food labels and ingredient lists, concerns about where food comes from, and searching for nutritional information online about that particular food. A person suffering from orthorexia may also spend hours daily thinking about food and what they can or cannot eat.
  2. Eliminating specific foods or food groups without a medical reason to do so:Now, it is one thing to eliminate gluten because you cannot tolerate it (for example, due to celiac disease) and quite another because diet culture calls it “unhealthy.” . Remember that the society we live in encourages orthorexia by perpetuating fear-based thoughts around food. Eliminating foods such as dairy, legumes, carbohydrates, fats, etc., just because social media promotes it everywhere is, unfortunately, all too common. And frankly, dangerous. In fact, this research suggests that “within the study population, greater Instagram use was associated with stronger orthorexic symptoms.” Relying on social media and “health gurus” for guidance can also perpetuate misinformation about healthy eating. Remember that although these “influencers” have a powerful social media presence and can reach thousands, they often do not have formal education and training in health sciences or nutrition.
  3. Excessive planning around a “healthy” lifestyle:This includes irrational worries about the preparation, cleanliness, health benefits and cooking of your food. The extensive planning, research, and meal preparation time to achieve your idea of ​​a healthy diet can distance you from other aspects of your life. As one of the symptoms of orthorexia, this can also lead to avoiding eating foods prepared by others or eating in restaurants.
  4. Judging others for their eating habits:An orthorexia mentality can lead you to judge your family and friends about their eating habits and lifestyle. This can also include behaviors such as restricting your social situations so that you don’t have to be around “unhealthy” foods or people who don’t share your same “rules.” These types of judgments can make you secretly feel “better than” others and provide an excuse to isolate yourself from them.
  5. Fears of food, illness, or health conditions:Diet obsessions can also lead to paralyzing fears of not being “healthy.” This symptom of orthorexia provokes fears around the disease, leading to even more compulsive control over food and eating.
  6. Severe anxiety and emotional control by food:The unhealthy obsession with eating pure, healthy diets can also cause emotions to be regulated by your eating habits. A common symptom of orthorexia is having certain “rules” or patterns within your fixation with food that control how you feel. Therefore, you may feel severe anxiety and emotional confusion when your “rules” are broken, but superficial happiness when your obsession has paid off. According to this Psychology Today article , “this creates an imbalance and a vicious cycle, where you may experience mood swings; They often shift between feelings of shame and hatred to feelings of euphoria, depending on how your ‘lifestyle’ is going. The more depressed and anxious you feel, the more you will become obsessed with regaining the feelings of euphoria.” High levels of distress can also occur when a “healthy” food option is not available, and it is not uncommon for someone suffering from orthorexia to spend hours searching for a particular “clean” food.

Physical symptoms of malnutrition:
 Restricting your diet to so few “healthy” foods can lead to malnutrition. Among the consequences of orthorexia are: feeling fatigued or weak, significant weight loss, as well as nutrient deficiencies. You may also feel tired more often, feel cold, and take longer to recover from common illnesses and viruses. Other symptoms of malnutrition can include cognitive problems, osteoporosis, infertility, kidney failure, and heart disease. If left untreated, malnutrition can lead to additional dangerous physical and psychological problems.

How common is orthorexia?

As a “lesser known” eating disorder (and one that is not easily diagnosed) there is still a lot to learn about how common orthorexia is. According to this article , “There is very little information on the prevalence of orthorexia, however, research suggests that it is increasing in prevalence each year. Additionally, orthorexia is believed to occur equally in people of all genders, but is most common in middle-class adults who are in the 30-year-old range.”

This Food and Weight Disorders article found that the prevalence of orthorexia nervosa is less than 1% in the United States. The authors conclude that orthorexia nervosa “is not a common condition.” However, it is on the rise and new tools are needed to diagnose and evaluate the symptoms of orthorexia more accurately.

What are the causes of orthorexia?

The compulsive need to improve health is one of the main triggering factors in the development of orthorexia nervosa. However, there are often many underlying causes that can lead an individual to go to extremes with “healthy eating,” including:

  • Genetic factors or family history of eating disorders, personal history of trauma, or other mental health problems
  • Compulsion for complete control or obsessive personality traits
  • Trying to overcome a chronic illness
  • Using food to create an identity
  • Improve self-esteem
  • Social pressure to meet socially constructed body ideals

Treatment for orthorexia

As with all other eating disorders, orthorexia nervosa requires treatment from qualified and appropriately trained healthcare professionals. Recovery is very possible, and may include seeking treatment for a:

  • Doctor in medicine
  • Psychologist
  • Psychiatrist
  • Registered Dietitian

Treatment may include some (or all) of the following modalities:

  • Individual therapy
  • group therapy
  • Family therapy
  • Support groups
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy
  • Dialectical behavioral therapy
  • Acceptance and commitment therapy
  • 12 Step Recovery Principles
  • Medication Management of Underlying Mental Health Conditions


In conclusion, if you or someone you know suffers from symptoms of orthorexia nervosa, do not hesitate to seek appropriate help. If you don’t know where to start, the National Eating Disorders Association has a variety of great resources, including a helpline, screening tools, chat availability , and a support community to help those struggling with eating disorders. like orthorexia.

And now I would love to know your opinion on this topic. Have you heard of orthorexia nervosa before? Do you think that healthy eating can be taken to extremes? Do you think that the influence of social networks can have a negative impact in the quest to protect health?

Abbas Jahangir

I am a researcher and writer with a background in food and nutritional science. I am the founder of Foodstrend.com, our reputable online platform offering scientifically-backed articles on health, food, nutrition, kitchen tips, recipes, diet, and fitness. With a commitment to providing accurate and reliable information, we strive to empower our readers to make informed decisions about their health and lifestyle choices. Join us on Foodstrend.com's journey toward a healthier and happier lifestyle.

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