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Orthorexia: The “Healthy” Eating Disorder

Jessica Grundy Via

Artwork by Jessica Grundy via

What is Orthorexia?

The term orthorexia is derived from the Greek word, “ortho” meaning "right" or "correct" and “orexis” meaning "appetite.” The literal meaning is “correct diet.”  Orthorexia was introduced in 1997 by Dr. Steven Bratman to be used as a parallel with other eating disorders, such as anorexia nervosa.

People with orthorexia develop an obsession with avoiding foods perceived to be unhealthy or unclean. Often times people with orthroexia are concerned with eating food that is all organic, raw, pesticide-free etc… Their concern turns into an obsession which removes them from healthy social interactions.

Like an eating disorder, orthorexia nervosa is believed to be a mental disorder and is also deadly. In 2009, Ursula Philpot, chair of the British Dietetic Association described people with orthorexia nervosa as being "solely concerned with the quality of the food they put in their bodies, refining and restricting their diets according to their personal understanding of which foods are truly 'pure'." This differs from other eating disorders, whereby people "focus on quantity of food.”


Orthorexia in Pop Culture

In April 2012 Orthorexia was featured in a segment of the MTV show: True Life. The show followed the daily activities of three people struggling with orthorexia. One woman featured in the episode, Spring Jackson said,

“My fixation to eat healthy and desire to be healthy slowly became more fixated on certain foods I felt were pure and correct for my body to eat. I still don’t know for certain if I got sick after eating unhealthy foods was because my body had become adjusted to a raw diet or because mentally I got so distressed over it, knowing my body wasn’t going to process it.  I thought it was poison essentially, because it wasn’t organic or it wasn’t  raw.”


Orthorexia Symptoms

A person with orthorexia will be obsessed with defining and maintaining the perfect diet, rather than an ideal weight. She/He will fixate on eating foods that give her/him a feeling of being pure and healthy. An orthorexic may avoid numerous foods, including those made with:

  • Animal or dairy products
  • Artificial colors, flavors or preservatives
  • Fat, sugar or salt
  • Gluten
  • Pesticides or genetic modification
  • Other ingredients considered to be unhealthy


Orthorexia Behavior Changes

Obsessive concern over the relationship between food choices and health concerns such as asthma, digestive problems, low mood, anxiety or allergies

  • Increasing avoidance of foods because of food allergies, without medical advice
  • Noticeable increase in consumption of supplements, herbal remedies or probiotics / macrobiotics
  • Drastic reduction in opinions of acceptable food choices, such that the sufferer may eventually consume fewer than 10 foods
  • Irrational concern over food preparation techniques, especially washing of food or sterilization of utensils


Orthorexia Psychological Changes

Similar to a person suffering with anorexia, bulimia and binge eating a person with orthorexia may find that their food obsessions begin to hinder everyday activities. Their strict rules and beliefs about food may lead them to become socially isolated. Some changes are:

  • Feelings of guilt when deviating from strict diet guidelines
  • Increase in amount of time spent thinking about food
  • Regular advance planning of meals for the next day
  • Feelings of satisfaction, esteem, or spiritual fulfillment from eating "healthy"
  • Thinking critical thoughts about others who do not adhere to rigorous diets
  • Fear that eating away from home will make it impossible to comply with diet
  • Distancing from friends or family members who do not share similar views about food
  • Avoiding eating food bought or prepared by others
  • Worsening depression, mood swings or anxiety


Orthorexia symptoms are serious, chronic, and deadly. If you are concerned that you or someone you love is struggling with orthorexia please reach out to The Victorian. We would be happy to discuss recovery and treatment options with you 

(888) 268 – 9182.