What is Orthorexia Nervosa? | Eating Disorders Victoria
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This page contains information about the condition known as orthorexia. Although not an official eating disorder diagnosis, orthorexia is a serious mental illness that can have severe consequences on a person’s health.

What is orthorexia?

Orthorexia is a term that describes an obsession with eating healthy food. It comes from the Greek words ortho, meaning ‘correct’ and orexis, meaning ‘appetite’.

A person with orthorexia is fixated with the quality, rather than quantity, of their food to an excessive degree. Orthorexia can start with ‘healthy’ or ‘clean’ eating, then progress to the elimination of entire food groups such as dairy or grains, and then to the avoidance of foods such as those with artificial additives, foods treated with pesticides, or particular ingredients (e.g. fat, sugar or salt).

Although orthorexia is not officially recognised as an eating disorder in the DSM-5, it is a serious mental health condition that can cause extreme health complications. Although there has not yet been much research conducted on orthorexia, it seems that orthorexic behaviours and attitudes are common amongst people with eating disorders such as anorexiabulimia or binge eating disorder.

Symptoms of orthorexia

The symptoms of orthorexia go beyond a simple preference and interest in healthy eating. A person with orthorexia may experience:

  • Strong anxiety about their food choices, particularly around their diet not meeting their personal high standards of ‘purity’
  • Social isolation as a person withdraws from activities and people who do not align with their strict dietary regime
  • Feelings of guilt following ‘slip-ups’
  • Heightened self-esteem when eating foods that are ‘healthy’
  • Mood swings, anxiety and depression

These are all warning signs that the disorder is progressing into a serious eating disorder.

Diet culture and orthorexia

It can be difficult to distinguish orthorexia due to society’s fixation on ‘clean eating’.

Whilst dieting has been around for centuries, the recent phenomenon of ‘clean eating’ has given license for orthorexia behaviours to be encouraged and celebrated. This makes it easier for individuals to unknowingly slip into disordered eating patterns and increases the risk for a serious eating disorder.

Learn more about disordered eating and dieting

Did you know that dieting is the most important behavioral risk factor for developing an eating disorder? We’ve put together comprehensive information on the risks associated with dieting and how this can lead to eating disorders.

Learn more

Recovery and treatment

With the right support, recovery from orthorexia is 100% possible. Many people who experience symptoms of orthorexia can go back to having healthy, balanced, joyful relationships with food.

It’s important to recognise that orthorexia is a serious mental illness. If you or someone you care about is potentially experiencing symptoms of orthorexia, it’s important to speak to a health professional as soon as possible.

Getting help for orthorexia

Eating Disorders Victoria has put together a step-by-step guide take if you are concerned that you may be experiencing orthorexia. It covers how to best prepare for an appointment with a health professional, and what treatment options may look like. Remember that you don’t have to go through recovery alone, and you have the best chance of success if you include people you trust on your journey.

Visit My Recovery Journey
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