Orthorexia Therapies Eating DisorderWhat Are Some Orthorexia Therapies for Eating Disorder?

If you are surfing Internet headlines for the symptoms of Orthorexia, the newest eating disorder diagnosis, it might sound confusing. But understanding therapists at a holistic family-based treatment center know it’s a real and valid threat to a healthy lifestyle.

For some health care providers, though, it’s remains a somewhat controversial topic. Here’s one reason why- on one health industry website, the symptoms for Orthorexia seem almost a self-contradiction in terms. It says that an orthorexic may avoid numerous foods, including those made with:

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

What? Does this mean that avoiding Monsanto’s infamous GMO products, or high-fructose corn syrup, aspartame, processed meats, sugars, flours, or commonly known carcinogens is now a bad idea? No, of course not. So how could eating “clean” possibly be an eating disorder?

When Eating Healthy Foods Becomes a Food Obsession

At a time when “natural food” stores are promoting all of their gluten-free, organic, or vegan options, some of their consumers may find themselves taking this concept to extremes. Imagine throwing a casual dinner party, only to have a guest show up with her own food. She won’t eat your bread, has to know if each ingredient in the salad is organic, and she is concerned that some simple organic vegetables you steamed might have come in contact with meat or dairy products. So steaks, and ice cream dishes for desert, are out of the question. But so is the all-natural vegetable soup you made, just for them. Because it has salt in it.

Most Reasonable Vegans Don’t Have These Problems with Their Friends

Having some low-calorie, or low-fat foods from time to time might be fine. Occasionally. But obsessive food-restrictive eating, like this dinner guest demands, can be a sign of Orthorexia, an increasingly common form of disordered eating. Unlike anorexia, when someone focuses on how much they eat, Orthorexia is all about what they eat. Many nutritionists and psychologists are finding this kind of obsessive behavior more and more common as restrictive food trends, like the gluten-free craze, continue to grow in popularity.

“The message in the past has mainly been about thinness but there’s been a turn and it’s become more about cleanness and purity,” says nutrition therapist Sondra Kronberg. She says that she’s seeing it more often among clients. “Those same people who struggle with compulsion and rigidity in their eating will take that cultural message to an extreme. It interferes with their quality of life.”

Orthorexia has been around for years. The term comes from Dr. Steven Bratman, who created the name for the disorder in 1997. Since then it has often been paired with other eating disorders, like avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder, or it is considered a form of OCD. And orthorexia therapies for eating disorder are becoming a major topic as a mainstream health issue as America becomes more health-conscious.

As Kaila Prins, a recovering orthorexic who runs a podcast, Finding Our Hunger, says, “Food is religion these days. Because if you’re eating healthy, you’re not dying, right?”

More research is being conducted now about this eating disorder, and it may be included in the next American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or DSM, the common standard of psychiatric disorders. In 2014, Doctors from a group of universities in Colorado published a study outlining criteria called “Microthinking about Micronutrients: A Case of Transition from Obsessions About Healthy Eating to Near-fatal Orthorexia Nervosa and Proposed Diagnostic Criteria.” It has been an ongoing debate.

What most health care professionals do agree, is that this disorder does present serious health risks. For example, one of physical consequences could be kidney malfunction. But like most food-based disorders, it also a social issue. People with Orthorexia typically avoid family dinners, because they don’t want to be pressured into eating something they don’t believe is healthy. They may even be paralyzed with anxiety when they are shopping in grocery stores. And they bring their own food to parties.

This is why the successful family-based residential treatment programs at Center for Discovery include Family Meal Therapy. In this process, the eating disorder patient and family are coached or guided by both trained therapists and nutritional counselors. Every patient’s treatment is tailored to fit their particular needs, which can be complex or unique. Orthorexia may originally be masked by health concerns, but there are usually hidden motivations, which can include a fear of poor health, a compulsion for complete control, an escape from anxiety, a desire to be thinner, or an attempt to feel more powerful. As it is with some other eating disorders, food becomes a major element in a person’s identity.

Recovery is Possible

Dr. Bratman’s research includes his own recovery from Orthorexia. He explains, saying, “I pursued wellness through healthy eating for years, but gradually I began to sense that something was going wrong. The poetry of my life was disappearing. My ability to carry on normal conversations was hindered by intrusive thoughts of food. The need to obtain meals free of meat, fat, and artificial chemicals had put nearly all social forms of eating beyond my reach. I was lonely and obsessed…I found it terribly difficult to free myself. I had been seduced by righteous eating. The problem of my life’s meaning had been transferred inexorably to food, and I could not reclaim it.”

As the U.S. food industry embraces healthy eating choices, it’s easy for many people not to realize just how serious this issue is. By thinking they are eating healthy, the orthorexic may lack awareness for the risks they pose to their own health. Recovered orthorexics can learn that it’s still possible to eat in a healthy way, but there will be a different understanding of just what healthy eating really means.

Don’t Let an Eating Disorder Call the Shots

Your health and the health of your loved ones can’t wait. Call Center for Discovery immediately, and you can speak to an admission specialist at 800.760.3934. Or fill out this form for a FREE confidential assessment. All calls are completely FREE and confidential. Center for Discovery’s team of highly trained experts have years of experience in successfully helping people with all types of eating disorders.


[1] Fast Company. The Newest Eating Disorder to (Maybe) Enter The DSM: Orthorexia. Retrieved August 19, 2016.

[2] Elle.  What Happens When “Clean Eating” Turns Into Obsession?. Retrieved August 19, 2016.

[3] Dr. Steven Bratman, MD. Orthorexia: Proposed Formal Criteria

[4] National Eating Disorders Association. Orthorexia Nervosa, by Karin Kratina, PhD, RD, LD/N.