Orthorexia Signs & Dangers

Orthorexia is a type of eating disorder that is described by one’s obsession with healthy eating and placing oneself on seriously restricted diets. In many cases, orthorexia starts off as being a genuine desire to eat healthy and live a better lifestyle. However, an individual can quickly start to cut more and more foods out of his or her diet until he or she will only eat specific foods that are prepared to his or her liking. An individual with orthorexia will often put just as much time and energy into thinking about food as someone who is struggling with anorexia or bulimia. Individuals with this condition will also place an extremely large focus on the calories they are consuming and the health benefits of the foods they eat, including how the food was prepared and processed. Those with orthorexia focus on eating foods that make them feel healthy to such an extent that they tend to avoid foods containing the following:

  • Pesticides or genetic modification
  • Artificial colors, flavors, or preservatives
  • Unhealthy fat, sugar, or added salt

While orthorexia might begin as an intended healthy diet, it can quickly grow out of control and a variety of health concerns can develop. While little is known about orthorexia, there are options for recovery that are effective.

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Statistics

Orthorexia is a newly recognized eating disorder, and, therefore, it has not found its way into the DSM-5, causing it to be more challenging to determine the prevalence of this condition. However, studies suggest that rates of orthorexia are growing each year. In addition, it is believed that this disorder occurs equally in men and women, though it is most common in those who are middle-class and around 30 years of age.

Causes and Risk Factors of Orthorexia

The primary reason for the development of this disorder is an individual’s compulsive need to improve his or her health. However, there are many underlying motivations that can cause someone to push him or herself to the extreme in terms of his or her diet, including:

  • Searching for spirituality through food
  • Overcoming chronic illness
  • Escaping from fears
  • Improving self-esteem
  • Using food to create an identity
  • A strong desire to be thin
  • Compulsion for complete control

Signs and Symptoms of Orthorexia

Those who have orthorexia will exhibit a variety of signs and symptoms. In many instances, they will show extreme behaviors that go above and beyond the desire to just live a healthy life, causing them to suffer from physical, mental, and emotional upset. Some of the most common behaviors of orthorexia can include:

  • Feeling as if certain foods are dangerous
  • Engaging in emotional eating
  • Self-esteem being based on eating healthy foods
  • Total elimination of entire food groups in an attempt to eat clean
  • Avoidance of social events involving food due to fear of being unable to comply with self-imposed dieting restrictions
  • Has severe anxiety about how food is prepared
  • Feeling guilt or shame when unable to maintain self-imposed dieting restrictions
  • Losing interest in activities once enjoyed because they are solely interested in eating healthy
  • Increasingly critical and more rigid about eating
  • Thinking critically of others who do not follow a strict diet
  • Spending extreme amounts of time and money in meal planning and food preparation
If you feel that you are in crisis, or are having thoughts about hurting yourself or others, please call 9-1-1 or go to the nearest emergency room immediately.

Effects of Orthorexia

If orthorexia goes untreated, it can lead to permanent effects and a variety of other dangerous life consequences. As this condition grows worse, it can be start to mimic the effects linked to anorexia and bulimia. Some of these effects can include:

  • Osteoporosis
  • Problems with cognition
  • Lowered immune system
  • Malnutrition
  • Social isolation
  • Emotional instability
  • Kidney failure
  • Infertility
  • Nutritional deficiencies
  • Low sense of self-worth
  • Anxiety and stress
  • Heart disease

Co-Occurring Disorders

Additional mental health disorders can occur alongside a diagnosis of orthorexia, including:

  • Depression
  • Obsessive compulsive disorder
  • Anxiety
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