What is orthorexia?
Orthorexia nervosa is an eating disorder characterised by an obsession with eating healthy. It differs from anorexia in that the focus is on the quality rather than quantity of food eaten. The focus is usually not on losing weight, but on being as healthy as possible.
Having orthorexia is not the same as simply wanting to be healthy. It is a much more extreme version that is obsessive and disruptive to someone’s social life, psychological health, and (in severe cases) physical wellbeing.
As an example, when I fell into the clutches of orthorexia these were some of the things I did:
- Avoided going out with friends in case they chose somewhere I couldn’t get super healthy food
- Avoided anything made by someone else where I didn’t know what was in the food
- Avoided eating the same vegetables or fruit twice in one day
- Avoided any processed food because I was scared it would make me unhealthy
- Over-pathologised every little thing I felt was ‘off’ and attributed it to food and diet
- Chugged endless superfood powders daily
- Became convinced I was morally superior to others because of my diet
What are Treatment Options?
Orthorexia isn’t currently in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), which means it’s almost impossible to get an official diagnosis. This, combined with the fact that it’s easily dismissed as “just trying to be healthy”, makes it even harder to reach out for help. Going to see your GP is a recommended first step, but can also be tricky if they haven’t heard of orthorexia. Because of this, I’ve compiled a list of resources and research articles which will hopefully be informative and helpful.
As someone who has first-hand experience with orthorexia, please feel free to reach out if you need someone to talk to, or for more formal sessions to help improve your relationship with food, click here.
Resources and Research
This is a website run by Steven Bratman, the man who first coined the term orthorexia and who has co-authored several papers on the subject. He includes a self-assessment tool (note: not a diagnostic tool), as well as proposed diagnostic criteria and an FAQ section.
Formerly ‘The Blonde Vegan’, Jordan rebranded as ‘The Balanced Blonde’ after her diet became more and more restrictive (side note: she doesn’t blame veganism, she merely used it as a tool and justification for her restrictive eating behaviours) to the point where she was afraid of so many foods that she couldn’t function anymore. She has bravely told her story to the world, and serves as an interesting example of the effects orthorexia can have.
On orthorexia nervosa: A review of the literature and proposed diagnostic criteria – a really good summary of what we know about it so far, including suggested diagnostic criteria (please don’t use this to self-diagnose though)
The clinical basis of orthorexia nervosa: emerging perspectives – a good overview of what orthorexia is from a clinical perspective
Instagram use is linked to increased symptoms of orthorexia nervosa – my paper which links social media use to orthorexia
I hope these links and resources are helpful. Please do drop me an email or write a comment if you have any questions!