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This article contains information that could be triggering to people with eating disorders. Disorders like anorexia and bulimia are mental illnesses that can be treated.

Contact an eating disorders helpline to get help for yourself or someone else with an eating disorder. Some services can be contacted through online chat or texting as an alternative to calling.

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Orthorexia, also known as Orthorexia nervosa, is a serious eating disorder characterized by an extreme aversion to foods perceived to be unhealthy, whether those foods actually are unhealthy or not.[1] While orthorexia is the subject of academic research, it is not currently formally recognized as a psychiatric disorder.[2]

The OED's first citation for use of the term is a 1997 article in the Yoga Journal (Sept.–Oct. 44) where the writer claims to have coined the term "orthorexia nervosa" by analogy with "anorexia nervosa".[3]


People with orthorexia refuse to eat foods that they think are unhealthy. Rather than just cutting back on less-than-healthy foods, someone with orthorexia will lump broad categories of food together as "bad for you" and avoid all of them entirely.

This might include avoiding foods that aren't organic, or aren't vegan, or are vegan, or are cooked, or are acidic, or are fruit, or aren't fruit (see Fruitarianism),Wikipedia or have too much yang, or contain even the slightest trace of high fructose corn syrup or trans fat or gluten, or that someone might be allergic to despite a lack of obvious symptoms.

Unlike your average vegetarian or healthy eater, someone with orthorexia will obsess over their diet to an unhealthy extent. Breaking their rigid eating rules may trigger an emotional spiral, and the obsession is so severe that their health, well-being, and everyday life ends up suffering.

They may also spend excessive amounts of time researching healthy recipes, judge other people for eating a less "healthy" diet, or obsess over social media accounts about "healthy lifestyles."[4]

According to National Eating Disorders someone with orthorexia may also spend hours per day thinking about what food might be served at upcoming events. However body image concerns may or may not be present in signs of orthorexia.


Diagnostic criteria aren't clear yet, making the condition not always easy to identify.[5]

Researchers have proposed a 2-part set of criteria.[6]

Obsessive focus on healthy eating

  • Behaviors or thoughts: Compulsive behaviors or obsessions related to diet
  • Anxiety: feelings of shame, fear, impurity, or other negative things when breaking self-imposed rules
  • Severe restrictions: eliminations of large categories of foods (such as food groups) and/or excessive cleanses & fasting

Behavior that disrupts daily life

  • Medical issues: malnutrition, serious weight loss, or other health conditions caused by disordered eating habits
  • Lifestyle disruption: significant stress and/or difficulties with work, school, socializing, or other areas caused by their beliefs/behavior
  • Emotional dependence: self-esteem, identity, body image, or other traits becoming dependent on self-imposed diet rules


Much like other eating disorders, orthorexia can lead to physical problems (such as anemia or malnutrition), impaired cognition, and social isolation.[7] (It's hard to go out to get dessert with your friends if even the idea of eating ice cream makes you panic.)

Anorexia nervosa[8] treatment will be necessary to counter such effects as a person may become seriously malnourished. Although these effects are not always life-long, they are long-term if a person does not receive proper medical care and attention.


There is currently no data on the most effective treatments for orthorexia, but researchers recommend options like:[2]

Many eating disorder experts treat Orthorexia as a variety of anorexia and/or obsessive-compulsive disorder therefore treatment usually involves psychotherapy to increase the variety of foods eaten and exposure to anxiety-provoking or feared foods, as well as weight restoration as needed.[9]

See also[edit]

External links[edit]