Orthorexia Nervosa

Orthorexia Nervosa is a "not officialy recognised" eating disorder characterized by having an unsafe obsession with healthy food. People suffering from Orthorexia Nervosa become  fixated on so-called 'healthy eating' to the extent that they begin to damage their own well-being. The term for this eating disorder derives from the Greek word ‘orthos’ meaning ‘right’ and ‘rexia’ meaning ‘hunger’. In most cases, Orthorexia Nervosa starts out in a harmless enough manner, but generally develops into an obsession around achieving and sustaining weight loss. These recurring thoughts become deeply ingrained in the individual’s psyche to the point that they interfere negatively or limit the performance of daily routines.

Like Anorexia, Orthorexia Nervosa involves drastically restricting the amount and variety of foods eaten, frequently leading to malnutrition. Examples of severe eating disturbances seen in Orthorexia Nervosa include eating only fruits and vegetables, or consuming only organic food. Although Orthorexia is not included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), it is recognized by many mental health professionals and eating disorder specialists as having a harmful impact on the body, mind and spirit.

What are the signs and symptoms of Orthorexia Nervosa?

Having unhealthy, obsessive thoughts and negative emotions coupled with behaviors about eating only ‘clean’ or ‘healthy’ food can drive individuals to isolate themselves from friends and family. This in turn causes a strain on their social lives and personal relationships. Additionally, their health is negatively impacted and damaged by restricting too many food groups which results in a deficit of necessary nutrients and vitamins.  Known signs and symptoms of Orthorexia Nervosa are:

  • Obsession with avoiding foods that contain animal products, fats, sugar, salt, food colouring or dyes and pesticides.
  • A preoccupation with food and the development of ailments such as asthma, allergies and gastrointestinal problems.
  • An obsession with taking supplements and vitamins.
  • An extreme restriction of food groups; often resulting in consuming a total of less than ten ingredients.
  • Increased amount of time spent thinking about and planning food intake.
  • Prioritising food in one’s daily schedule above other tasks.
  • Irrational concern about food preparation techniques and cleanliness of the kitchen.
  • Avoidance of food prepared or offered by others.
  • Overwhelming feelings of guilt or shame when consuming unhealthy foods.
  • Feelings of power and vindication when consuming only healthy foods.
  • Refusing to eat out or allowing oneself a variety of food.
  • Isolating oneself from others who do not share the same beliefs around eating.
  • Obsession with meal preparation.

Consequences of Orthorexia Nervosa

Individuals suffering from Orthorexia Nervosa firmly believe that they are following a healthy lifestyle, however their pattern of eating has become compulsive and does not provide the variety of foods needed for important nutrient absorption. This is why individuals who suffer from Orthorexia generally lose weight and run a high risk of develop an eating disorder, progressing oftentimes into Anorexia Nervosa.

In addition, individuals suffering from Orthorexia Nervosa tend to isolate themselves from social activities and interaction with others leading to a state of depression.

About Orthorexia Nervosa treatment

At Rise Treatment Centre we offer a residential clinical programme for Orthorexia Nervosa treatment. Our programme is evidence-based and covers the overall health and well-being of our clients who suffer from any form of an eating disorder. We help them understand the root causes of their Orthorexia Nervosa and combine psycho-education, mindfulness, group sessions, individual therapy and family support to guide them towards a sustainable recovery.