Updated: Aug 31, 2020
Orthorexia is the term for a condition that includes symptoms and concerning behaviour in a quest for the healthiest diet possible. Individuals struggling with these issues are focussed on healthy foods rather than on weight or body image/shape. This distinction is key in differentiating orthorexia from other common disordered eating patterns. Athletes may equate “clean” eating with performance optimization.
One will fixate on eating foods that provide a feeling of being very pure and healthy. One may avoid groups foods containing things, such as:
Artificial colors, flavours or preservatives
pesticides or genetic modification (GMO)
Fat, sugar or salt
Animal or dairy products
Other additives perceived to be unhealthy
Intense concern over the relationship between food choices and health/medical concerns such as asthma, digestive problems, low mood, anxiety or allergies. Often those struggling with orthorexia are very concerned with the link between food and symptoms or illness.
There may be increasing avoidance of foods due to perceived food allergies, in the absence of medical advice and consumption of supplements, herbal remedies or probiotics.
There is often a decrease in number of acceptable food choices, such that the sufferer may eventually consume few groups of foods. Irrational concern over food preparation techniques, especially washing of food or sterilization of utensils is often present. This can interfere with ability to prepare food or eat out.
Those suffering with orthorexia may find that food obsessions begin to hinder daily function. Inflexible rules and beliefs about food may lead to social isolation.
Worsening emotional symptoms can indicate the disease may be progressing into a serious eating disorder:
Feelings of guilt when deviating from strict diet guidelines
Increase in amount of time spent thinking about food.
Feelings of satisfaction, esteem, or fulfillment from eating “healthy”
Having critical thoughts about those who do not adhere to rigorous diets
Fear that eating away from home will make it impossible to comply with diet
Distancing from friends or family members who do not share similar views about food
Avoiding eating food bought or prepared by others
If you are concerned that someone you know is suffering from symptoms consistent with orthorexia, the first step is having them see their primary care physician.
Treatment of orthorexia involves a “whole person” approach with a multidisciplinary team, including a physician experiences with this diagnosis, psychologist and registered dietician.