Orthorexia is “an unhealthy obsession with eating healthy food.” This is how Dr. Steven Bratman defined it in 1997, and although it is not a medical diagnosis, it can become a life-threatening disorder. Unfortunately, orthorexia is hard to identify in its early stages because it can simply look like a desire to eat “healthy.”

An Unhealthy Eating Disorder

It often starts with a desire to eat in a wholesome, nutritious way.  A brain chemistry imbalance turns this into a destructive addiction that results in malnutrition and physical and mental harm, resulting in orthorexia.

Orthorexia shares some features of both anorexia nervosa and obsessive-compulsive disorder. However, it differs from anorexia nervosa because the sufferer experiences an excessive and compulsive “need” to be “pure,” “clean,” or “natural” as opposed to “thin.” This leads to a refusal to eat any foods that do not meet the individual’s impossible standards. The quest for “perfect” eating is not only unrealistic but unattainable.

Signs of Orthorexia

Even though a person with orthorexia may not want to lose weight, the disease can cause malnutrition or starvation due to food rules, restrictions, and avoidance. This malnutrition makes it harder for the individual to recognize the disorder and increases anxiety, which then perpetuates the harmful restrictive eating behavior. Some symptoms of orthorexia are:

  • Preoccupation with nutrition and diet far beyond that which is necessary for health
  • Over-reliance on eating in a certain way to feel “safe” or “good”
  • Fear of eating, accidentally eating, or even being around “unhealthy” foods
  • Experiencing anger or panic while watching others eat “unhealthy” foods
  • Judging others harshly due to their eating and/or only associating with others who share the same restrictive food rules
  • Emotional distress or self-harm after eating a food considered “unhealthy”
  • A belief that others are trying to trick them into eating “unhealthy” food
  • Failing to eat enough due to food rules
  • Reliance on vitamin and mineral supplements for the majority of nutrition due to food rules or the belief that synthetic nutrients are superior to those found in food
  • Following a restrictive diet prescribed for a medical condition that the individual does not have, or to prevent illness not known to be influenced by diet
  • Insisting on the health benefits of the diet or the necessity of the food rules in the face of evidence to the contrary, such as malnutrition or advice by a medical professional to liberalize the diet
  • Interference with social functioning or activities of daily living, such as isolation when eating; avoidance of social functions where food is served; or neglect of work, school, or family responsibilities due to food shopping or preparation

Treatment for Orthorexia

The worse an individual with orthorexia feels, the more he or she may blame certain foods or food additives that must be eliminated or further restricted. He or she will insist to others that the diet is healthy. Ultimately, orthorexia can cause permanent internal damage and can lead to death.

Recovery from an eating disorder is possible. It’s happening every day at The Meadows Ranch. For additional information about the treatment of eating and anxiety disorders, please call to speak to an Intake Coordinator at 866-390-5100 or complete the form below and we will contact you with the information you need.