Ask Amelia Nutrition

What Is Orthorexia?

what is orthorexia

If you caught The Today Show this morning, you may have heard the term Orthorexia for the first time.  Though not listed in the official Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) as an eating disorder, it is a real condition characterized by an obsession with healthy eating, and mostly affects women.  Someone with Orthorexia might display any or all of the following symptoms:

  • Very restricted diet — many foods are forbidden because they’re perceived to be unhealthy
  • Self-diagnosed sensitivities or “allergies” to certain foods, not because of a doctor’s diagnosis or medical test result
  • Inability to be flexible in new eating situations or social settings — might bring own food when eating with others
  • Emaciated body type or exceedingly skinny
  • Overly interested in nutrition, food, and/or new dieting trends

If you’re thinking that these symptoms seem similar to those of Anorexia Nervosa, it’s because they are.  So much so that many professionals argue that Orthorexia is the same as, or a predecessor of Anorexia, and thus shouldn’t be thought of as a separate disorder.

Personally, I believe that Orthorexia should be given more attention.  With so much food information (and misinformation) constantly being thrust at consumers, it’s hard not to become a little obsessed.  Many people begin to believe that Food A is toxic, or they’re allergic to Food B, or that Food C makes them fat, etc.  If this unhealthy relationship with food or obsession with healthy eating is recognized and treated early on, perhaps we can prevent more women from falling down the slippery slope of a paralyzing eating disorder that’s nearly impossible to cure.


  • Richard
    August 25, 2011 at 5:09 pm

    One of the huge problems with the DSM is that it’s geared toward conditions that can be treated by pharmaceuticals. So other conditions, which don’t respond to pharmaceuticals, or are more complicated to treat, are not given their proper respect in the DSM. By the way, I really like your blog. I drifted over here from Kath Eats Real Food, which I read regularly, and have found your blog VERY informative in the presentation of information. Please keep up the excellent work. I’m sure there are many others (like me) who read the blog without commenting. You’ve got a knack for focusing on specific issues, and synthesizing the information into “news you can use” in a very well-organized manner. You’ve really got a talent for this. Great job!

  • Amelia
    August 25, 2011 at 8:45 pm

    Hi Richard. Thanks so much for your kind words. Its really nice to hear you find my blog helpful!

  • Anna Herforth
    August 26, 2011 at 6:57 am

    Thanks Amelia, this was useful to see. I have seen it in both women and men, sometimes men who have had minor heart attacks and completely overhaul their lifestyle — which is great, but sometimes even that can go too far. In my opinion, this is a different disorder than anorexia nervosa. Both may be “anorexia”, or lack of appetite, and may have to do with control, but the similarity ends there. Their underlying motivations are quite different — and thus interventions to treat them should be different. Seems that nervosa has to do with basic low self image or self worth, and orthorexia has to do with protecting the self (fear of death?).

  • Amelia
    August 26, 2011 at 9:55 am

    Great points, Anna. And good reminder that even though this is more common in women, it affects men too!

  • Isabella (SixPackAvenue)
    August 27, 2011 at 10:36 am

    Hey Amelia! I just stumbled across your website and must say, I really like it! It’s beautiful* So now I follow you on Twitter 😉 Thank you for sharing this post. It’s a very interesting topic and I think that what it comes down to is the fact that there is so much information regarding optimum nutrition and so much contradiction between them that it is no wonder so many are left confused and more frustrated and restricted than ever.
    Now even the most natural things have negative claims.
    And the more we dissect the situation, the more we bring up problems that disturb our well-being.
    The only solution I would recommend to this, is that people learn to observe their mind and come to a place of inner peace and harmony where they are free judgment and thus feel the confidence to blossom with their own guidance.
    If people started to listen to themselves and awaken to what’s best for them, they wouldn’t need to search for other people’s approval.
    Our body is always talking to us and when we listen to it, we are always guided to what’s best for us. This is such a wonderful place to be and I invite people to explore that.
    I used to be just like that until I came to realize this 🙂
    Best wishes for a wonderful weekend!

  • Amelia
    August 27, 2011 at 2:02 pm

    Thanks for your thoughtful reply, Isabella. I couldn’t agree more – listening to our bodies is the best way to maintain good nutritional status – we get more feedback than we think, we just need to learn to listen!

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