What Is Orthorexia?

Today we’re diving into the meaning of Orthorexia including symptoms, signs, side effects, statistics and treatment to help you or a loved one get the help needed…


What is Orthorexia?

Orthorexia is a condition that sees sufferers obsess over what they believe to be healthy eating. The term was coined by Dr Steven Bratman in 1997.

Unlike other eating disorders, Orthorexia mostly revolves around food quality, not quantity. If you’re suffering from Orthorexia you will spend most of your time thinking about what you eat and whether it is ‘pure’ and unprocessed at the expense of other areas of your life.

  • food which contain artificial colours/flavours/preservatives
  • food where genetic modification has been used
  • vegetables which have been grown using pesticides
  • fat, sugar or salt
  • animal or dairy products
  • any ingredients which are considered to be unhealthy.

You may have started to follow a particular diet because you heard or read that it is a healthier way of eating but then find that if you don’t follow it rigidly you become anxious and distressed.

It can be difficult to differentiate between someone who is preoccupied with eating healthily to someone who is suffering from Orthorexia.


Why do people suffer from Orthorexia?

Just like recognised eating disorders such as Anorexia and Bulimia, Orthorexia usually affects high-achieving individuals in pursuit of perfection. Restricting their diet to particular foods gives them a sense of control they aren’t getting in other areas of their lives.


How can we help you beat Orthorexia?

At The Recover Clinic, we understand eating disorders inside and out.  We realise that the issue isn’t the food but how you feel about yourself and how you respond to those feelings.

Putting you on another (even if less restrictive) meal plan is not the answer. We need to find out what is causing you to eat in this way.

As Orthorexia has not yet officially been recognised as an eating disorder, this may be the first time you have heard of it. There can be a fine line between healthy eating and obsessive behaviour so take a look at the symptoms below and see if they ring any alarm bells for you.


Orthorexia Treatment

To admit there is a problem and start to work on your recovery can be scary, but we have a team of skilled and experienced counsellors who will help you understand what you are going through and put together a therapy treatment program to meet your needs, from one-to-one counselling to creative therapy, to CBT.


Symptoms of Orthorexia 

The symptoms of Orthorexia may be hard to spot as so many of us have concerns about eating healthily. However, there are some signs you can look out for:

Behavioural symptoms of Orthorexia:

  • Obsession with sticking to a ‘perfect’ diet which may lead to cutting out essential nutrient or whole good groups
  • Cutting out more and more food over time
  • Over-exercising
  • Anxiety about links between food and health issues such as asthma, digestive problems, or allergies
  • Low mood or depression
  • Not eating certain foods because of allergies that often haven’t been confirmed by a doctor
  • Overuse of vitamins and other supplements
  • Obsessive-compulsive behaviour around food preparation and cleanliness
  • Make judgements about the eating habits of others
  • Overachieving behaviours
  • Obsession with appearance/body shape
  • Poor concentration

Physical symptoms of Orthorexia:

  • Often low weight
  • Malnutrition
  • Feeling weaker
  • Often very high muscle mass (through excessive exercising)
  • Injuries and strains linked to over-exercising
  • Tiredness
  • Lowered immune system
  • Feeling cold.


Do I have Orthorexia?

Look at the symptoms above and then think about the following questions. If you answer yes to any of them, Orthorexia may well be a problem for you.

Do you…

  • Find it hard to enjoy eating because you worry about what is going into your body?
  • Read food labels obsessively looking for ‘impure’ or ‘contaminated’ ingredients?
  • Believe you have to stick to a particular diet such as paleo/caveman, macrobiotic, low-fat, low-carb or gluten-free (without a medical diagnosis)?
  • Feel that you have failed if you eat something that isn’t on your meal plan?
  • Obsess over the cleanliness of your food preparation area/sterilization of utensils and ingredients?
  • Fear eating away from home?
  • Feel socially isolated?
  • Think about food most of the time?
  • Cut out whole food groups to be more healthy?
  • Advance meal plan?
  • Avoid eating food bought or prepared by others?
  • Follow food and ‘healthy lifestyle’ blogs on social media?
  • Exercise intensively on most days of the week?
  • Hear your friends and family voice concerns about your eating habits?


If left untreated, Orthorexia can mimic the same dangerous effects that both anorexia and bulimia produce.


Above all, don’t suffer in silence.

Give us a call on 0845 603 6530 to get help and advice or fill in our short contact form.


Photo by Drop the Label Movement on Unsplash

Posted in , by The Recover Clinic