Orthorexia nervosa is defined as the obsession with eating only healthy food to the point that it interferes with certain aspects of your life such as your social life, personal life and/or professional life. You may find yourself not wanting to go to a party because you are afraid there will be unhealthy and impure foods there that you may be forced to it. You may find yourself in the aisle of the grocery store obsessing over the ingredients and nutritional facts on the back of every packaged food item or spending hours food prepping to the point that is consuming your life. The complications of orthorexia nervosa are that you may think this is healthy however these obsessions and compulsions with food can actually be more harmful than healthy.

Signs and symptoms of Orthorexia

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. The following are known signs and symptoms of orthorexia nervosa:

  • Obsession with avoiding foods that contain animal products, fats, sugar, salt, food coloring or dyes and pesticides
  • Obsessive concern with food and the development of health consequences such as medical illnesses including
  • Asthma, allergies, and gastrointestinal problems
  • Obsession with consuming supplements and vitamins
  • An extreme limitation on food groups which may result in only consuming less than a total of ten ingredients
  • Increased amount of time spent thinking about food
  • Allowing food to revolve around one’s daily schedule
  • Obsession with meal prepping
  • Irrational concern about food preparation techniques and cleanliness of the kitchen
  • Feelings of guilt or shame when unable to adhere to diet standards
  • Avoidance of food prepared or brought by others
  • Extreme feelings of guilt or shame when consuming unhealthy foods
  • Feelings of power and satisfaction when consuming only healthy foods
  • Refusing to go out to eat or allowing oneself to be around other types of food
  • Isolating oneself from others because they do not share the same beliefs
  • Severe anxiety regarding how food is prepared
  • Avoidance of social events involving food for fear of being unable to comply with a diet
  • Thinking critically of others who do not follow strict diets
  • Spending extreme amounts of time and money in meal planning and food choices
  • Feeling fulfilled or virtuous from eating “healthy” while losing interest in other activities once enjoyed

Complications associated with Orthorexia Nervosa

Orthorexia nervosa may be difficult to diagnose because the individual most likely will not exhibit severe weight fluctuations however eating disorder experts and therapists strongly believe that orthorexia nervosa could lead to more severe eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa. In fact, many individuals will not be diagnosed with orthorexia nervosa until they have developed anorexia nervosa. Unlike anorexia and bulimia nervosa, orthorexia nervosa differs in that its preoccupations are centered on the quality of food rather than the quantity of food. Anorexia nervosa is characterized by significant weight loss and a fear of weight gain, whereas individuals with orthorexia nervosa are not necessarily concerned with weight loss but rather are focused on the desire to establish feelings of health, cleanliness, and pureness, particularly through their eating habits and food choices.