Anorexia nervosa and orthorexia nervosa share the same Greek root word, “rexia” meaning, “hunger.” However, these disorders are drastically different from each other. For starters, “ana” means “without” and” “ortho” means “right’ indicating that individuals who struggle with anorexia nervosa will go through drastic measures to restrict food whereas individuals with orthorexia nervosa will go through extreme steps to eat only pure foods.

Defining Orthorexia Nervosa

Orthorexia nervosa is characterized by an obsession with healthy dieting and consuming only pure foods becomes deeply rooted in the individual’s way of thinking to the point it interferes with their daily life. Examples of severe eating disturbances seen in orthorexia include eating only fruits and vegetables or only consuming organic food. Unhealthy and obsessive thoughts, emotions and behaviors about eating “clean” or “healthy” food can drive individuals to isolate themselves from their friends and family, causing a strain on their social life and personal relationships. Additionally, their health can take a toll if they restrict too many food groups resulting in the elimination of necessary nutrients and vitamins.

Defining Anorexia Nervosa

Anorexia nervosa is characterized by the intense fear of gaining weight, a distorted body image, inability to maintain a minimally normal weight and extreme dietary habits that prevent weight gain. There are two subtypes of anorexia nervosa known as the restricting type and the binge-eating/purging type. Most individuals associate anorexia with the restricting subtype, which is characterized by the severe limitation of food as the primary means to lose weight. The second subtype is known as binge-eating/purging subtype which is characterized by periods of binging followed by self-induced purging behaviors such as vomiting, diuretic abuse, laxative abuse or excessive exercise.

What are the differences between anorexia nervosa and orthorexia nervosa?

Although both of these disorders are centered around an obsession with food in one way or another, individuals with anorexia nervosa are using food as a way to control their weight and body image whereas individuals with orthorexia nervosa are not concerned about their weight but instead are concerned about how pure foods will contribute to their health.

  • Orthorexia nervosa is characterized by a focus on how food impacts perceived health
  • Anorexia nervosa is characterized by a focus on how food impacts body appearance and image representation.

What are the similarities between anorexia nervosa and orthorexia nervosa?

The main driving factors that influence both of these eating disorders are perfectionism and control. Both anorexia nervosa and orthorexia nervosa lead to the following: excessive focus on food-related topics, a strict diet, perfectionism, the co-occurrence of anxiety and self-harm, and the need for control. The following are additional signs and symptoms that are seen in both anorexia nervosa and orthorexia nervosa:

  • Strict behavior and rituals related to the preparation of meals
  • Intrusive food-related thoughts
  • An increased amount of time spent thinking about food
  • Allowing food to revolve around one’s daily schedule
  • Refusing to go out to eat
  • Isolating oneself from others
  • Avoidance of social events involving food
  • Malnutrition

Treatment for orthorexia nervosa

Orthorexia Nervosa typically follows the same treatment as for anorexia. Interventions include a treatment team that consists of a medical physician, psychiatrist, therapist, and dietitian. Various individual therapies, group treatment, and peer support groups are used to help the person recover. In conclusion, even though clinical teams have known about orthorexia for over two decades, it is not an official diagnosis. It is treated similarly to that of anorexia and success in recovery is possible.