Definition: Orthorexia nervosa is a type of eating disorder that involves an unhealthy obsession with ‘clean’ and ‘healthy’ foods, as well as restrictive behaviours.
Orthorexia nervosa is a type of eating disorder that can severely impact an individual’s life. Its characteristics include an unhealthy obsession with ‘clean eating’ that can become detrimental and disordered eating habits. These behaviors can cause both physical and mental health issues as a result.
Anyone can be impacted by orthorexia nervosa. People from different socioeconomic backgrounds, races, ethnicities, sexual orientations, genders, abilities, and more can and do struggle with this illness.
People with orthorexia nervosa will experience symptoms in different ways. This doesn’t make anyone’s journey anymore or less valid, it’s just important to remember that your own journey is unique to you.
- Having an obsession or preoccupation with healthy eating, foods, and nutrition
- Avoiding or refusing to eat foods or meals made by other people
- Only eating ‘safe’ foods and sometimes cutting out certain food groups that are deemed ‘unhealthy’
- A fear of unhealthy foods
- Social withdrawal
- Issues with body image
- Constantly checking ingredient lists, nutrition labels, and menus
- Spending long periods of time preparing ‘healthy’ foods that impact one’s day-to-day life
- Strict and rigid rules around food - how it’s prepared, how much is eaten, when it’s eaten, etc.
People may experience some or all of the above symptoms. In some individuals, there may be additional symptoms including anxiety, depression, and others.
It’s important to note that having orthorexia nervosa, or any eating disorder, doesn’t have a ‘look’. Weight loss and changes in appearance are side effects and are not part of the disorder itself. If you’re struggling with disordered eating urges, habits, or thoughts, you ARE sick enough and deserve proper care and support.
Eating disorder recovery entails working both on one’s physical and mental health and each journey will be unique to an individual. Treatments can include:
Some individuals may benefit from certain medications, such as antidepressants, to help with symptoms. In some cases, weight restoration may need to be the first step of recovery. This helps an individual to get to a weight that is healthy for their body and prevents any further physical damage. This then can lead to further treatments, as mentioned above.
It’s best to talk to your health team when looking at treatment options. They can recommend and guide you through what could be the best fit for you and your well-being.
I have a loved one experiencing orthorexia nervosa, how can I help?
If you have a loved one who is struggling, having an open conversation about how you can best support them can mean the world. For example, asking how you can best support them on their journey. You could offer to help with chores, send them a message to let them know you’re thinking of them, encourage them to maintain their eating habits, etc. Simply being a friend can often be the best thing to do. Maybe even working on a well-being plan with your loved one that may be useful to both of you.
Understanding this condition is also immensely helpful. It can help you and your loved one to better work with what they’re going through. Realizing that their eating disorder is an illness and not them can also be useful to both of you. It’s equally important to also remember to take time out for yourself for self-care.
It’s important for those struggling to know that you can fight and recover from orthorexia. You can find ways to heal from it. There is always hope and people who care about you who will support you on your journey.
Voices of Hope wants you to know that your life has value and you deserve the help, care, and support you need. You can fight orthorexia nervosa and you can heal from it and live a life free of it. We understand how difficult mental illnesses can be, but you are worthy, and you are strong. You can get through this. Reach out and keep fighting. You are not alone in your fight. We believe in you. And remember that there is ALWAYS hope.
Resources and Links:
- NZ Eating Disorders Clinic - Associated Conditions
- Psycom - Orthorexia
- WebMD - What Is Orthorexia?
- Love Your Kite
- Bite Back by Sarah Harry
- The Mighty - Orthorexia
- ED.org - Getting Help
- Orthorexia Bites
- Eating Disorder Hope - What Is Orthorexia Nervosa
- The Body Love Society
Voices of Hope does not offer direct mental health services and our team is not comprised of trained mental health professionals. If you require assistance, we recommend visiting our resources page for helpful information.
If you are in immediate risk of harm to yourself or others, or need advice for someone in your life that is at risk of immediate harm to themselves, please contact your local emergency services.