Orthorexia Nervosa is a disorder of eating characterized by obsessive and compulsive desire to eat healthy foods. In many cases, it can lead to isolation socially, loss of ability to eat naturally, and anxiety.

It is undeniably true that eating healthy foods and following it to the latter is the main way of promoting stable health and wellbeing. It helps reduce developing conditions like diabetes, hypertension, digestive problems, heart problems, and obesity.  Individuals with orthorexia Nervosa tend to pay excessive attention to eating strictly healthy foods. This denies them the chance to interact fully with healthy human activities and can lead to malnutrition.This article will discuss what orthorexia Nervosa is, its causes, how to diagnose it, and how it can affect an individual.

What is Orthorexia Nervosa?

Orthorexia Nervosa is also referred to as orthorexia. It all revolves around being too unhealthily obsessed with eating healthy foods. The word “orthorexia” is derived from the Greek word “ortho,” which means right.

Orthorexia Nervosa was proposed by an American physician Steven Bratman in 1997. This condition is uniquely different from other eating disorders, such as anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa. It rarely centers on losing. Orthorexia is categorically interested in taking quality foods and not quantity.

Individuals with orthorexia only try to fix a problem with the “purity” of their foods. They have an obsession with the benefits that can come about with eating healthy foods. Currently, psychiatrists have started giving orthorexia some attention. Still, neither the American Psychiatric Association nor the Diagnostic Statistical Manual-5 has given it a specific definition as an eating disorder.

Causes of Orthorexia Nervosa

Your health can be perfectly improved by following a certain healthy diet. That said, such a habit can gradually become extreme. With time, what you focused on with good intentions can become orthorexia.Researchers do not yet identify the precise cause of orthorexia Nervosa. The main attributing factor to this condition is obsessive-compulsive traits and coexisting eating disorders. Other risk factors associated with orthorexia are increased anxiety, need for food control, and perfectionism.

Several studies found that individuals focused on their wellbeing and health to satisfy their profession may also be highly predisposed to orthorexia. These include healthcare workers, ballet dancers, opera singers, athletes, and symphony orchestra musicians. The said risk factors may depend on a person’s age, level of education, gender, and socioeconomic status.

How to Diagnose Orthorexia Nervosa

To make a clear distinction between orthorexia Nervosa and healthy eating habits, a two-part diagnostic criterion was proposed in 2016 by Steve Bratman and Thom Dunn in a journal called Eating Behaviors.

Criterion A: Obsessive Focus on Healthy Eating

Here is the first part of diagnosing orthorexia Nervosa. It mainly revolves around an obsessive focus on eating healthily and is characterized by exaggerated emotional distress due to restricted dietary practices. It can be evidenced by:

  • Compulsive behavior is accompanied by mental preoccupation. An individual may believe that dietary restrictions may promote optimum health. He may also be preoccupied with his body image as an indicator of good or bad health.
  • Violating and breaking self-imposed dietary rules. This may cause an exaggerated fear of personal worthlessness, impurity, disease, shame, and negative physical criticism.
  • Severe dietary restrictions get worse with time and may lead to the elimination of the entire food group. Over time, the individual may start detoxifying or purifying himself by fasting or using cleanses.

Criterion B: Compulsive Behavior that Disrupts Daily Life

Over time, these compulsive behaviors accompanied by mental preoccupation may impair daily life as evidenced by the following:

  • Malnutrition, weight loss, and other medical problems may complicate a restricted diet.
  • Personal distress, poor socialization, impaired academic or vocational functioning result from beliefs or behaviors concerned with healthy eating.
  • Preoccupation with body image, identity, and self-worth.

Effects of Orthorexia Nervosa on Health

Orthorexia Nervosa may impact an individual’s health negatively. These effects majorly fall under the following categories of three divisions:

1.      Physical Effects

Studies that can attest to the effects of orthorexia Nervosa are limited. Still, this condition is believed to exhibit the same clinical complications as any other eating disorder. One study by the National Center for Biotechnology Information found that a limited supply of essential nutrients due to restricted eating can lead to anemia, malnutrition, or hypotension.

Other problems like impaired health of bones, metabolic acidosis, digestion conditions, and electrolyte and hormonal imbalances may set in as a result of severe malnutrition.

2.      Psychological Effects

People with orthorexia Nervosa can be extremely frustrated when their eating habits are disrupted. Additionally,after realizing that they have broken their self-imposed rules, they can go into self-hatred, feelings of guilt and be compelled to begin “purifying” themselves by fasting or using cleanse.These people may also spend much of their time researching, cataloging, and planning future meals. Similarly, they may also scrutinize whether the food wants to purchase “clean” or “pure.”

3.      Social Effects

People with orthorexia Nervosa rarely give up control when it comes to what they eat. They also strictly follow self-imposed rules governing the kinds of foods to be combined at a go or specific food to be eating during the particular time of the day.

With such restrictions, it may become hard for them to actively and happily partake in social occasions revolving around foods such as wedding parties and dinner parties. They highly value their food habits which can complicate social interactions. Over time, this can lead to social isolation, which is a common sign in people diagnosed with orthorexia Nervosa.


Focusing on what you eat, how and when you eat is one thing that is considered healthy. But being excessively preoccupied with every bit of bite may lead to orthorexia Nervosa. This condition is characterized by obsessive-compulsive control of what one eats. It can lead to severe malnutrition, social isolation, and other medical problems like anemia.

MS, Lund University, Sweden

Nutrition plays an important role in human life. Eating habits are one of the factors that affect our health. There is often a misconception among people that nutritionists force a very restrictive diet, but that is not true. In fact, I don't ban any products, but I point out dietary mistakes and help change them by giving tips and new recipes that I've tried myself. I advise my patients not to resist change and to be purposeful. Only with willpower and determination can a good result be achieved in any area of life, including changing eating habits. When I don't work, I love to go climbing. On a Friday evening, you are most likely to find me on my couch, cuddling with my dog and watching some Netflix.

Latest from Health