Orthorexia is a relatively new term that is used to describe an obsession with healthy or “pure” eating.  Clean eating is a trendy buzzword.  Although it may seem innocuous, clean eating in all of its variations may have serious consequences that can contribute to orthorexia.  What exactly is the distinction between healthy, intuitive eating and orthorexia?

In a February 2018 article from Today’s Dietitian, the distinction is made clear: “Eating doesn’t become pathological until it becomes entangled with obsessive thinking, compulsive and ritualistic behavior, and self-punishment. Individuals with orthorexia often use a diet to achieve a feeling of perfection, purity, or superiority and may feel judgmental toward those who don’t follow a healthful diet.”  In other words, people suffering from orthorexia have great difficulty with flexible and spontaneous food choices.

Orthorexia may be difficult to assess and diagnosis because it often presents as “healthful eating”.  A restricted diet, compulsive checking, anxiety, and/or malnutrition or severe weight loss may indicate orthorexia. If you see the signs of orthorexia in yourself or someone you love, seek help immediately.  A registered dietitian and trained psychotherapist can help with recovery.


Characteristics of Orthorexia

National Eating Disorders Association

Compulsive checking of ingredient lists and nutritional labels

An increase in concern about the health of ingredients

Cutting out an increasing number of food groups (all sugar, all carbs, all dairy, all meat, all animal products)

An inability to eat anything but a narrow group of foods that are deemed ‘healthy’ or ‘pure’

Unusual interest in the health of what others are eating

Spending hours per day thinking about what food might be served at upcoming events

Showing high levels of distress when ‘safe’ or ‘healthy’ foods aren’t available

Obsessive following of food and ‘healthy lifestyle’ blogs on social media platforms

Body image concerns may or may not be present