What is Orthorexia Nervosa?

Many of us are familiar with eating disorders such as Bulimia or Anorexia, but what about Orthorexia Nervosa?

Orthorexia Nervosa is an eating disorder in which an individual is obsessed with the quality and of their food. People with orthorexia want their food to be as pure and healthy as possible.

While there is nothing wrong with wanting to be healthy, obsessing over your food to the extent of origin, or setting strict guidelines for yourself will cause an unhealthy relationship with food.

Signs and Symptoms

As with most eating disorders, there are several signs and symptoms that can clue you in on whether you or someone you love is struggling.

However, unlike most eating disorders, orthorexia is often overlooked as someone just being “super healthy”. Here are some of the common signs and symptoms of orthorexia.

Health Worries

Those with orthorexia are often known to fear the potential of developing some kind of allergy or health complication due to certain foods.

For example, they may avoid nuts or seafood even if they’re not allergic to them. The fear is that their body could start to develop an allergy just by eating too much of a certain food.

Excessively Picky Eating

Super picky eating is one of the more obvious signs of orthorexia. You may notice someone always reading the ingredients on packaging. They may only eating raw/”clean” foods, or avoiding anything without an ingredients label.

orthorexia nervosa

While it’s great to be health conscious and care what you put into your body, this behavior is excessive. Any behavior that is an obsession has the potential to result in unhealthy thoughts, beliefs and behaviors.

Health Issues

In some cases, those suffering with orthorexia can experience health issues due to malnutrition. While this condition is all about people being particular about the quality of their food, this does not mean that they eat a variety of healthy foods.

While some may not, others may stick to a handful of favorite foods.

This is problematic as they might completely neglect important parts of a healthy diet. Certain vitamin and mineral deficiencies are often seen as a result.


As with most eating disorders, the suffering individual usually tends to separate themselves from others, especially when they’re eating.

They may avoid dinner plans or seem like they’re never hungry. They could also insist on eating before a meet-up to avoid eating with other people.

This is because they are either worried that they will not be able to find something that suits their preferences, or because they are self conscious about the way that they eat. 

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It has also been known that those with orthorexia can be judgmental of others who do not impose strict eating guidelines on themselves.

Since this is an eating disorder, their relationship with food is not a healthy one.

Guilt and shame are triggered if they fall off of their diets. They might judge themselves and others for eating anything considered unhealthy.

Additionally, they may constantly be struggling with rationalizing the occasional “slip” if they eat something “unhealthy”. 


Along with being very particular about what goes into their bodies, those with orthorexia will also be very particular about their surroundings.

Their home might be organized to the T. They may be considered a “clean freak” or “extremely particular” by their close family and friends.

While traits like this are relatively harmless, it is a common sign of someone with orthorexia.


Since people with orthorexia will avoid going out to eat due to not knowing what goes into the meal they get at a restaurant, it will induce extreme anxiety.

They may barely eat their food and claim that they do not feel well or are not “that hungry” just to get out of eating. 

How Common is Orthorexia Nervosa?

Since orthorexia is a relatively new medical condition, there is not as much definitive data on how common it is. We do know that it seems to affect more women than men which is typical for an eating disorder.

Also, there seems to be a direct relationship between the increase of cases of orthorexia and the use of social media.

Here are a few statistics that have been recently discussed.

  • Orthorexia affects up to 7% of people in a given group.
  • It affects women much more than men due to the social standards for women vs. men. The exact percentage of cases of women vs. men is unknown. I would argue that there are twice as many women than men who would develop orthorexia just based on how differently men and women are looked at in society. 
  • It affects more college age people than any other group. Health and fitness college programs have been known to house the majority in this group,. Cases potentially being anywhere from 25% – 85% of people showing signs of orthorexia development.

orthorexia nervosa

Common Causes of Orthorexia Nervosa


Physical or emotional abuse has the ability to cause several other health and mental disorders that are not properly treated.

Getting treatment from abuse can be the difference between developing an eating disorder such as orthorexia (or others) and living a healthy life.

No matter what kind abuse occurs, typically victims develop some kind of sense of poor self worth because of it. To an extent, they may believe that they deserve the abusive treatment.

They may also believe that they might not deserve the treatment but do not deserve much better.

However the abuse is rationalized, ultimately, they are determining that they are less than what they are. This usually leads to some kind of disorder, orthorexia included.


In some cases, dieting has been known to lead to the development of orthorexia. This is due to the fact that diets generally teach that clean food equals weight loss.

While this is typically true, some people may take it to the extreme and deprive themselves of anything “unhealthy” at all.

A moderate balance is always beneficial. Some people do not realize what their body needs and end up doing more harm than good. This is how extreme diets can lead to developing this eating disorder.

Social Media

While social media is a great tool for many things, it is also the cause for several eating disorders, including orthorexia.

Teens are especially susceptible to this as their peer groups tend to be more cruel and judgmental than adults. Anorexia, bulimia and orthorexia are unfortunately very common with teens (girls especially). 

orthorexia nervosa

Poor Self Esteem

You don’t have to go through  traumatic events such as abuse to have poor self-esteem. Thanks to social media and the constant comparison of ourselves to others, self-esteem issues are rising.

Of course, with that comes the desire to do something about it which can lead to unhealthy relationships with food to the point of developing eating disorders.

Orthorexia can be developed and dismissed as an extremely healthy lifestyle while damage to the body is actually being done.

It’s important for those with serious self esteem issues to seek help and get to the root of the issue. 

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Negative Effects of Orthorexia Nervosa


As briefly mentioned before, malnutrition can be an issue with those suffering from orthorexia due to how particular they tend to be.

Malnutrition can lead to serious health issues such as physical and mental dysfunction.

Relationships Problems

Since people with orthorexia tend to obsess over their diets, this can cause them to isolate themselves.

Also, those who care about them might try to convince them to work toward healthier eating habits.

Since those with orthorexia typically believe that what they’re doing is right and others are wrong, this could cause problems with their relationships.

Loss of relationships with family members and friends can happen if the individual is too stubborn or cuts people out.


While self-isolation is the choice of the individual, they can often experience loneliness.

A lack of socialization can lead to increased feelings of self-judgement and can increase harmful behaviors that are associated with eating disorders and poor self esteem.

Anxiety/ Depression

While it is known that people with eating disorders tend to also suffer from anxiety, the development of it depends on the disorder and experiences of the individual.

If you or someone you know is suffering from any eating disorder including orthorexia nervosa, seeking treatment may seem like an intimidating thing to do.

Talking to a professional, certified counselor is confidential and will improve your outlook on life. A counselor can help you understand things about yourself that you didn’t even know you were struggling with.

By clearing these blocks, you’re able to achieve new levels of progress and maintain a healthy lifestyle.

Not only that but the relationship you have with yourself will improve and prosper. This will lead to new successes and overall quality of life.

For other helpful information about orthorexia nervosa, check out these other articles from Montecatinieatingdisorder.com and centerfordiscovery.com.

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Hi, I'm Marissa! I'm passionate about mental and emotional health and want to share what I've learned over the years with others! I've seen first hand how mental health struggles can cause serious issues within relationships, work life, daily productivity, self-worth and more! I truly believe that we owe it to ourselves to bring more awareness to these life changing topics. Start your mental/emotional health journey by learning more today!

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