When “Healthy” Turns Obsessive: Addressing Orthorexia

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Written By:


Cilla Moore

In today’s wellness-focused culture, the pursuit of health and well-being is often championed as a noble endeavor. With countless influencers, diets, and fitness regimes flooding our social media feeds, it’s easy to become swept up in the quest for optimal health. However, when does this pursuit of health cross the line from being beneficial to becoming obsessive and potentially harmful? Enter Orthorexia, an eating disorder centered around an unhealthy obsession with healthy eating.

What is Orthorexia?

Orthorexia nervosa, coined by Dr. Steven Bratman in 1997, is not yet formally recognized as a clinical diagnosis in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). However, it is widely acknowledged within the eating disorder community as a serious and distinct condition. Orthorexia involves an extreme or excessive preoccupation with eating foods that one considers healthy or pure, to the point where it interferes with daily life and overall well-being.

The Thin Line Between Health Consciousness and Obsession

At first glance, the concept of wanting to eat healthily seems harmless and even commendable. After all, who wouldn’t want to nourish their body with wholesome, nutritious foods? However, for individuals with Orthorexia, this pursuit of health becomes all-consuming, leading to rigid dietary restrictions, intense feelings of guilt or anxiety when “unhealthy” foods are consumed, and a diminished quality of life.

Signs and Symptoms of Orthorexia

While Orthorexia may manifest differently in each individual, there are some common signs and symptoms to be aware of:

  • Obsessive focus on healthy eating: Spending excessive amounts of time researching, planning, and preparing “pure” and “clean” meals.
  • Severe dietary restrictions: Avoiding entire food groups deemed “unhealthy” or “impure,” leading to imbalanced nutrition.
  • Social isolation: Avoiding social gatherings or situations where one cannot control food choices.
  • Feelings of guilt or shame: Experiencing intense feelings of guilt, anxiety, or self-loathing when deviating from strict dietary rules.
  • Physical symptoms: Weight loss, nutritional deficiencies, fatigue, and digestive issues due to inadequate or imbalanced diet.

The Psychological Impact of Orthorexia

Beyond the physical symptoms, Orthorexia can have profound psychological effects, including:

Decreased self-esteem

Tying self-worth to dietary choices and body image.

Increased anxiety

Constantly worrying about food quality, purity, and potential health consequences.

Obsessive-compulsive tendencies

Developing rigid rituals and rules around food and eating.

Depression and social withdrawal

Feeling isolated and misunderstood due to extreme dietary restrictions and behaviors.

Treatment and Recovery for Orthorexia

Recognizing and addressing Orthorexia early is crucial for successful treatment and recovery. Treatment often involves a multidisciplinary approach, including:

  1. Psychotherapy: Helping individuals challenge and change unhealthy thoughts, beliefs, and behaviors related to food and eating.
  2. Coaching: offering guidance and support to individuals with irregular eating behaviors and attitudes towards food, body image, and weight. While these behaviors may not meet the criteria for an eating disorder, they can still significantly impact an individual’s physical and emotional health.
  3. Nutritional Counseling: Educating individuals about balanced nutrition, debunking myths about “good” and “bad” foods, and promoting a flexible and intuitive approach to eating.
  4. Support groups: Connecting individuals with peers who are experiencing similar challenges and providing a safe space for sharing experiences and coping strategies.

While the pursuit of health and well-being is undoubtedly important, it’s crucial to maintain a flexible approach to eating and lifestyle choices. If you or someone you know is exhibiting signs of Orthorexia or struggling with an unhealthy obsession with healthy eating, seeking professional help is the first step towards recovery and reclaiming a fulfilling and balanced life.

Remember, true health is not just about what you eat but also about how you feel, both physically and mentally. Embrace a holistic approach to health that values flexibility, enjoyment, and overall well-being over rigid rules and restrictions.

Cilla (IG: @itscillahope) is a licensed ED + Body Image therapist and Future Certified Intuitive Eating Counselor + Nutrition Coach based in Indianapolis! She has built a recovery community that is passionate about breaking free from any spectrum of disordered eating and finally stop talking negatively about your body!

Ryann Nicole

Licensed Therapist, Certified Nutritionist, and Virtual Wellness Coach

Ryann is a licensed therapist and virtual wellness coach who has assisted individuals worldwide in establishing a healthier relationship with food and their bodies.

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Ryann is a licensed therapist and virtual wellness coach who has assisted individuals worldwide in establishing a healthier relationship with food and their bodies.