Orthorexia Nervosa is a type of eating disorder characterized by an extreme focus on “healthy” eating. When healthy eating becomes an obsession, the individual may start to cut out more and more foods, ingredients, and/or food groups from their diet. They may, for example, stop eating gluten (without a diagnosis of an allergy or celiac disease), any processed food, seafood or fish, all sugars, oils, and so on. People with Orthorexia Nervosa usually start with a few foods they won’t eat and then progress to more and more. With Orthorexia Nervosa, the desire for healthy eating begins to affect a person’s physical and psychosocial health. Even though the root cause is not a desire to lose weight, in advanced cases extreme weight loss can occur, similar to the weight loss seen in anorexia nervosa. In addition to the health risks associated with malnutrition and weight loss, the individual also faces psychological trauma and social difficulties.

Behavioral signs that a person might be struggling with Orthorexia Nervosa:

  1. Constantly checking ingredient labels and nutritional information

  2. Spending inordinate amounts of time on “health food” or nutritional sites, or similar social media sites (i.e. Instagram “healthy eating” groups)

  3. An increase in concern about the health of ingredients

  4. Increasing inability to eat certain kinds of foods and an increasing amount of “fear foods”

  5. Cutting out an increasing number of food groups

  6. Avoiding eating with others if they do not control the menu

  7. Showing high levels of distress when “safe” or “healthy” foods aren’t available

  8. Frequent “cleanses” where the person fasts or eats a specific diet intended to rid the system of “toxins”

(National Alliance for Eating Disorders, 2022)

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