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Orthorexia Nervosa: Obsession For a Healthy Diet

Orthorexia Nervosa: Obsession For a Healthy Diet

What is Orthorexia?

  • Orthorexia is a condition that includes symptoms of obsessive behavior in order to have a healthy diet. Orthorexia sufferers often show symptoms and signs of anxiety disorders that often co-occur with anorexia nervosa or other eating disorders.

  • Orthorexia starts out as an innocent attempt to eat healthier, but orthorexics become obsessed with food purity and quality, a person with orthorexia will be fixated on maintaining and defining the perfect diet, rather than an ideal weight.

Which foods an Orthorexic will avoid?

A person with orthorexia will avoid the following foods:

  • Flavors, preservatives and artificial colors.

  • Genetically modified foods and pesticides.

  • Sugar, salt and fat.

  • Dairy or animal products.

  • Other ingredients that is considered unhealthy.

What are the signs of Orthorexia?

There are some Common behavioral changes that are considered signs of orthorexia:

  • Obsessive concern over food choices and health concerns such as allergies, asthma, digestive problems, low mood and anxiety.

  • Increasing avoidance of foods because of food allergies, without neither medical advice nor reasonable causes.

  • Overconsumption of supplements like vitamins and minerals, probiotics or herbal remedies.

  • Reduction of acceptable food choices which leads the sufferer to consume less than 10 foods.

  • Obsession over food preparation techniques, especially washing of food or sterilization of utensils to avoid food poisoning.

What are the Effects of Orthorexia?

  • Orthorexia symptoms are chronic, serious, and go beyond a lifestyle choice. Orthorexia sometimes can lead to true eating disorder such as bulimia or anorexia.

  • Obsession with healthy food can interfere with activities and interests and impairs relationships: One effect of this obsession is that it gives an orthorexic a sense of superiority to others. This can damage relationships with friends and family, as holding to dietary patterns becomes more important than relationships.

  • Obsession with healthy food can put the sufferer into physical danger: this obsession can cause a limitation of calories because available food isn’t considered to be good enough. The person with orthorexia may lose enough weight to give her a low body mass index like someone with anorexia. If the dietary restrictions are too strict, it can lead to malnutrition. In extraordinary cases, in the case of women with another disorders or addictions, orthorexia may lead to severe malnutrition and weight loss that can cause cardiac complications or even death.

How are Orthorexia and Anorexia Nervosa Different?

Obsession with weight is one of the primary signs of bulimia, anorexia, and other eating disorders, but it is not a sign of orthorexia. Instead, the object of the orthorexia’s obsession is with the health implications of their dietary choices. Whereas an anorexic person restricts food intake to lose weight, a person with orthorexia wants to feel healthy, pure and natural. The focus is on the quality of foods rather than the quantity. Sufferers of orthorexia and anorexia may show similarities such as control of food intake, citing undiagnosed food allergies as grounds for avoiding food and co-occurring disorders such as obsessive compulsive personality disorder.

What Is The Treatment for Orthorexia?

  • Psychotherapy: A type of psychotherapy which is called cognitive behavior therapy is useful for treating obsessive compulsive personality disorder. It teaches different ways of behaving, thinking, and dealing with situations that help him/ her feel less fearful or anxious.

  • Dietitian: work with the patient to have a normal attitude toward food and healthy diet without being overly obsessed. At the clinic, the professional should try to detect such disorders in order to help them.

Christelle Bedrossian
Beirut, Lebanon



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Dietitian Christelle Bedrossian