Orthorexia: what is it, causes, symptoms, treatment

Orthorexia is a type of eating disorder in which the desire for a healthy diet becomes the meaning and purpose of a person’s life.

The author of the term “orthorexia”, Stephen Bratman, experienced all the signs and manifestations of this eating disorder first hand. In the commune he organized (in the 70s of the 20th century), they ate only “correct” and “healthy” plant foods grown with their own hands. Gradually, however, this seemingly commendable desire turned into an obsession that subdued life, thoughts, and feelings of the members of the commune and Bratman himself. Everything that did not belong to “proper nutrition” gradually faded into the background and lost its meaning.

Who knows how this would have ended for Bratman, if not for a chance meeting with a monk who helped him understand that fanaticism in food is just as unacceptable as in any other matter, even if it is motivated by the best intentions to be healthy and live long. .

Today, orthorexia is not recognized as an independent disease, but is considered by psychologists and psychiatrists as a symptom of other disorders or just a violation of behavior on the verge of normal. However, experts agree that this is, nevertheless, a serious psychological disorder that requires urgent specialized care.

Orthorexia is dangerous. How?

Can the desire for a healthy diet be dangerous? It turns out that it can lead to big health problems if it’s orthorexia. Doctors warn:

  • if the chosen nutrition system is unscientific, it can lead to monotony in nutrition, insufficient or excessive intake of proteins and other vital substances;
  • due to severe and prolonged dietary restrictions, all body systems fail: the absorption of vitamins and microelements is much worse, blood counts worsen, sexual functions in men and women are disturbed, etc .;
  • exhaustion is a predictable outcome of a fanatical adherence to the chosen nutritional pattern.

In addition, psychologists note serious violations of social functions and contacts in orthorexics. The categorical division of others into “us” and “them” leads to a limited circle of contacts, to social isolation.


Orthorexia, as a rule, affects young girls, young women who strive for the chosen ideal (“I will be beautiful and slender, like …”), as well as successful socially active men with low or high self-esteem who want to match and outwardly some certain requirements of the environment, achieve perfection in all areas of their lives (the so-called perfectionists).

Signs of orthorexia can be considered the following:

  • food is chosen not according to taste, but according to a certain composition, place of production. For example, products with sugar, starch, “E-additives”, gluten, yeast, salt, etc. or not produced in ecologically clean areas are excluded from the menu;
  • each new product is thoroughly tested for usefulness and harmfulness; gradually the diet is narrowed to a minimum dangerous for health, it becomes monotonous;
  • punctual adherence to one of the many diets: protein, vegetable, salt-free, etc. This does not take into account that any diet is prescribed by a doctor according to strict medical indicators and for a certain period;
  • the fear of the “wrong” products becomes obsessive. If you had to eat something “harmful”, then orthorexic can artificially cause vomiting, punish yourself in any way;
  • a lot of time is devoted to compiling a menu with meticulous consideration of the health benefits of the selected dishes;
  • communication with others is reduced to endless discussions of the quality of products, methods of cooking, articles and programs on the topic of nutrition;
  • narrowing the circle of communication. Many do not consider it necessary to follow the dietary requirements imposed on them and gradually distance themselves from the orthorexic sufferer. He, in turn, excludes communication with those who are illegible in food, considers himself “higher and purer” than them, refuses joint feasts;
  • sometimes a strict internal ban on goodies comes into sharp conflict with an acute desire to eat something forbidden or to be like everyone else. A person then falls into the other extreme, starting to eat everything, which as a result leads to bulimia: periods of gluttony alternate with harsh cleansing of the body, bouts of remorse, abnormal physical exertion in order to lose weight, etc .;
  • sleep disturbances, deterioration in general well-being, anxiety, irritability, depression, cardioneurosis.

How to treat orthorexia nervosa?

To determine the presence of orthorexia, you can independently use the questionnaire.

If a person has realized his problem, but cannot get rid of it himself, he should contact the specialists and follow their recommendations. Eating disorders are treated by nutritionists, psychologists, and psychotherapists. A nutritionist will make a rational diet, taking into account the existing deviations in human health. Complex psychotherapy corrects the attitude to oneself, to one’s health, to food, to others. One of the key tips of the specialist is to enlist the support of loved ones who will help get rid of orthorexia and feel the taste for a full life.

Some Helpful Prevention Tips

So, orthorexia as a nervous disorder recognized by the medical community can be avoided:

  • listen to the reactions of your body to a particular product: if it causes disgust, then you should refuse it, even if it is super useful. Any product can be replaced by another, albeit with lower utility indicators;
  • periodically arrange a “holiday for the stomach” – visit cafes, parties with friends and relatives and do not suffer from the fact that you could not resist the temptation to eat the wrong food. Man needs pleasures, one of which is tasty food;
  • replace the passion for healthy food with another, more interesting, preferably socially useful hobby (volunteering, participation in the organization and holding of various events, visiting museums, exhibitions, lectures, etc.);
  • don’t trust the rave about the health benefits of a particular food or diet in the media: what’s good for one may be dangerous for another. As nutritionists themselves say, it’s not so much about the quality of what you eat, but about its quantity;
  • as you know, you should not trust the description of the composition and quality of products on store labels. Marketers often label a product as “gluten-free”, “sugar-free”, “caffeine-free”, “non-GMO”, “eco-friendly”, etc. These inscriptions are often…

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