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When Healthy Eating Becomes Unhealthy: Recognizing Orthorexia

Maintaining a healthy diet is often considered a positive lifestyle choice. However, when healthy eating goes too far, it can turn into a harmful disorder known as orthorexia. Orthorexia is a term used to describe an unhealthy fixation on healthy eating, leading to extreme food restrictions, anxiety around food choices, and obsession with the purity and quality of food.

While the pursuit of healthy eating is commendable, it is essential to recognize when it becomes detrimental to one’s physical and mental health.

Causes of Orthorexia:

Orthorexia often starts as an effort to improve health and wellness by adopting strict eating patterns, but it can spiral into an obsession. The causes of orthorexia can vary and may include:

  1. Diet Culture: The pervasive messaging that promotes thinness, perfectionism, and certain body types can lead individuals to become overly concerned about their eating habits.

  2. Social Media: Social media platforms can foster the belief that an ideal body is attainable through strict diets and exercise regimens, leading individuals to pursue unrealistic standards.

  3. Control Issues: Orthorexia can be an expression of deeper psychological issues around control, such as anxiety or OCD.

Symptoms of Orthorexia:

Orthorexia is not a formally recognized disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). However, some common symptoms that suggest orthorexia may include:

  1. An obsessive preoccupation with food quality, purity, and nutritional value.

  2. Strict dietary rules that eliminate entire food groups or types.

  3. Feeling guilty or ashamed when deviating from self-imposed dietary restrictions.

  4. Preoccupation with the preparation and consumption of food, including excessive amounts of time spent cooking and meal planning.

  5. Neglecting social activities or personal relationships in favor of maintaining strict eating patterns.

Consequences of Orthorexia:

Orthorexia can lead to several physical and mental health consequences, including:

  1. Nutrient deficiencies: Eliminating entire food groups or types can lead to nutrient deficiencies, which can result in fatigue, weakness, and malnutrition.

  2. Anxiety and Depression: Obsession with healthy eating can lead to anxiety around food choices, social isolation, and depression.

  3. Social Isolation: Orthorexia can cause individuals to avoid social situations that may include food, leading to social isolation.

  4. Eating Disorders: Orthorexia can progress into other eating disorders, such as anorexia or bulimia.

Treatment for Orthorexia:

Recovery from orthorexia requires a multifaceted approach that addresses the underlying psychological and nutritional needs. Treatment may include:

  1. Counseling: Counseling can help individuals identify and work through the underlying psychological issues that contribute to orthorexia.
  2. Nutritional Therapy: Nutritional therapy can help individuals restore a healthy relationship with food by providing guidance on balanced eating and safe food exposure.
  3. Medical Treatment: If individuals have developed physical health problems related to nutrient deficiencies or other complications, medical treatment may be necessary.


Healthy eating is an important aspect of physical and mental health. However, when it becomes an obsession, it can lead to detrimental health consequences. Recognizing the symptoms and seeking treatment for orthorexia is critical for those struggling with this disorder. By addressing the underlying psychological and nutritional needs, individuals can find a path to recovery and a healthy relationship with food.