What is Orthorexia Nervosa?

Sally Foster
Sally Foster

Good nutrition is an important part of a healthy lifestyle, and most people would benefit from focusing on eating more healthfully. However, for some people, healthy eating can turn into an unhealthy obsession. Individuals for whom nutritious eating becomes an all-encompassing obsession may be suffering from an eating disorder known as orthorexia nervosa.

Anti-anxiety drugs and antidepressants are sometimes prescribed to treat orthorexia nervosa.
Anti-anxiety drugs and antidepressants are sometimes prescribed to treat orthorexia nervosa.

Orthorexia nervosa is a term coined by Dr. Steven Bratman, a Colorado specialist in eating disorders. The phrase takes its name from the Greek root words orthos, meaning "right," and orexis, or "appetite." While this condition has gained a lot of attention in the psychiatric community, it is not currently recognized in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual's list of official eating disorders.

Those with orthorexia nervosa often stick to such a restricted diet that they become underweight.
Those with orthorexia nervosa often stick to such a restricted diet that they become underweight.

Individuals suffering from orthorexia nervosa may become so obsessed with healthy eating that it intrudes into other areas of their lives. For example, patients frequently create very specific systems for what they are allowed to eat based on the nutritional value of their foods. In many cases, patients restrict their diets to the point that they become underweight. However, unlike patients suffering from anorexia nervosa, an eating disorder driven by a desire to be thin, individuals with this condition seek to attain optimum nutrition and purity through their diets.

People who have orthorexia nervosa become fixated on healthy eating as well as on weight.
People who have orthorexia nervosa become fixated on healthy eating as well as on weight.

Orthorexia nervosa is characterized by a compulsion to eat only foods that are "pure" or "correct." In many cases, patients spend large amounts of time thinking about healthy food, frequently planning menus a day in advance. As the disorder progresses, the list of foods an individual is allowed to eat may become increasingly restrictive. Because of this, orthorexia nervosa can make it difficult for sufferers to eat outside the home. Patients may begin to feel isolated from others, as their restrictive diet prevents them from participating in many social activities.

Patients with this condition may also suffer from depression or obsessive-compulsive disorder. Generally, sufferers are perfectionistic, placing their value as individuals on their ability to adhere to a "perfect" diet. In this sense, the disease shares many characteristics with anorexia nervosa.

Although orthorexia nervosa is not yet officially recognized by the psychiatric community, patients usually benefit most from psychological treatment. Usually, eating disorder specialists are best equipped to treat patients. As with other eating disorders, antidepressants or anti-anxiety medications may also be effective in treating orthorexia nervosa.

Orthoreia nervosa may develop from a desire to be more sexually appealing.
Orthoreia nervosa may develop from a desire to be more sexually appealing.
Sally Foster
Sally Foster

Sarah is a freelance writer living in Istanbul, Turkey, where she has taught numerous English language courses and runs a blog focusing on the expat community. Since joining the wiseGEEK team several years ago, Sarah has become a veritable fount of knowledge on many obscure topics. She has a B. A from the University of Oregon, where she majored in Romance Languages (Spanish and Italian) and Linguistics and an M.A. in TESOL from the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey.

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Discussion Comments


@Dillzy: What I'm going to say is going to be heavy handed because I'm reading a lot of idiocy on this page, but understand you are automatically disrespecting yourself and anyone who takes the time to passionately self-learn something and be responsible. People are assaulted constantly by programming detailing the heroes that medical doctors are, what great humanitarians they are, that research into charity is one day going lead somewhere. It's all false a charity in the medical field. It never yields results because it's not meant to.

Years back, no one ever thought the earth was flat. That's crap why is it relevant? Because it's a myth that is a slight on the common person suggesting people are idiots unless they learn from completely backward schools. Health wasn't an issue a hundred years ago, though you may have been convinced otherwise, because everyone was health literate and responsible before the days of licensing. People had to have common sense about scammers and were responsible for themselves. Now you have a culture of irresponsible morons who think these TV show idol doctors will save them with some miracle drug that is never coming or some stem cell monstrosity as their great hope. Here is a reality check for you: People in these fields see no future in them. The drugs are becoming less effective from resistance, stem cell researchers are hitting walls. The only medical fields worth a damn are trauma and trauma surgeons. These folks are amazing at what they do, but they are being bogged down by irresponsible folks. Just as you are led to believe licenses keep things legit, this is in direct contrast to reality. It simply keeps it all economically controlled.

Every medical doctor lives to make a name for himself by naming some symptom or grouping of symptoms something. Falling for any of these ridiculous labels that completely lack understanding of integrative gross anatomy function should be termed a condition in naivety, with symptoms of not understanding grammar logic and rhetoric and a complete inability to filter out nonsense mind projection and false correlations.

A disease doesn't do anything; it's just a diagnosis label. It doesn't cause anything, nor do bacteria or viruses cause damage to a healthy cell. Go read what has to be done to get a virus to infect someone. It involves damaging the cell with radiation so it bonds with the virus. So guess who is responsible for your illness? Everything they tell you is PR and scapegoating. You're not getting attacked. You're sabotaging yourself from within so you are damaged and you get infected.

In spite of what you might think, these doctors have no training in health. It's simply not their field. The doctors in the medical profession have a monopoly due to their television programs. These people are trained in suppressing trauma or stabilizing with drugs or surgery. They don't know much beyond that. Even the specialists have very little clue how the body works. It's all theoretical and they are field specific. They have no business pretending expertise in gross anatomy.

Irresponsible people are the reasons hospitals are full of people in chronic degenerative conditions. Your friend is going to get used to having no friends because you're all going to die before she does, anyway. Or she is going to start gravitating towards people who take responsibility, or she will become less heavy-handed or you will drag her down into depression with some crap diagnosis.

Her problem is you and your friends only recognize pieces of paper as having value whether currency or a school certificate. It's funny, really. Jungle animals know what types of food they should be eating, but the population doesn't, and none of those animals have a diploma. The groups that educated you in school on nutrition had no fundamental training in this at all, yet you eat up their crap all the time.

You don't question their credentials, but you eat from their food pyramid that's killing people left and right. Understand that regulators and government have an economic responsibility to industry that comes before your individual health. You as the buyer have the power to take responsibility or keeping feeding into the ponzi scheme.

In closing, if you have any symptoms on your skin, your kidneys are already beginning to fail. If you can't go a few days without meat, your adrenals are failing. If you have freckles, your adrenals are poorly metabolizing sugars and you have fungal overgrowth from acid putrefaction in your GI tract. Any darkness, whiteness or yellow in your eye is a sign of tissue damage in a correlative area of the body. Do understand a shiny certificate doesn't teach you how to learn, evaluate or get your own ignorance out of your way. It teaches you vocabulary and protocol. It's indoctrination after all, hence doctors.


The disorder isn't just "healthy eating!" There is no vast conspiracy to poison you, and despite what Oprah tells you, the world does not revolve around you. When did everyone get so damned narcissistic and entitled? I don't know if this should be classified as a mental disorder, because I am not qualified to make that assessment, but I do know this behavior is a great indicator that the person can be a jerk.

Did the article say "If you question what's on your fork, you're crazy!"? No, it didn't! It's extreme behavior. When what you eat defines who you are; when you feel like you're doing a noble, righteous act by simply eating, by looking down on people who don't eat just like you. Do you see the difference? And do you think doctors just grab a stethoscope, take a semester of Latin, and go to work, just making stuff up? No, but do you know who *does* do that? Every sleazeball with a product to sell that promises to eliminate toxins that don't exist or cure you of fictitious disorders (by the way, just because you think you have a disorder, doesn't mean that it's real). They slap labels on products promising that it is organic, toxin-free, chemical free (everything is chemicals), hate-free, and free of bad karma or evil corporate hate energy. They capitalize on your scientific illiteracy and allow you to blame all your problems on "The Man". It is an industry easily as big and corrupt as what you people like to call "Big-Pharma." At least real drugs work.

Of course, there are doctors who lie, cheat, or are incompetent and even downright dumb. But does that mean all of them are? No, and reading a pamphlet and watching Oprah does not make you more qualified or more knowledgeable about medical issues that the guy who actually went to medical school.

Am I going to change anyone's mind? Of course not. I gave up on providing evidence, logic, and reason long ago, because there is a modern phenomenon called "cognitive dissonance", and because everyone is so self-entitled and uninformed today, most people won't even consider for a second if they are wrong or not. Regardless of evidence, most people today just dig in. So it's pointless to reason any more. Now I just openly mock. Thanks for ruining my society.


I think that this is a very serious disorder. My sister may have this problem and depression too. She has not left her house for a year or seen any of our family. The only person she has seen is her husband and he is enabling her.


Yes, living in a country where over 70 percent of the population is fat and 35 percent are obese. Where in the space of six short years we went from 65 autoimmune diseases to over 150. Where autism in our children went from 1 in 1500 in the late 1980's to 1 in 100 today. Yes, that might give anyone pause to wonder what is on my fork today and what will it give me tomorrow?

In a woman's lifetime, her chances are 1 in 3 she will die of cancer; for a man it is 1 in 2. I do remember a time when it was 1 in 100 for both.

But thank God we have a doctor who can distract us from this sad reality by telling us that thinking and acting on what might be a problem is a mental problem, oh thank you. He is a doctor (just a step down from God in the USA) and came up with this Latin term for something he made up. He was probably on his own drugs and the influence of plenty of MSG.

I also remember when, in the USSR if you thought too much about things like freedom and the rights of the individual, that Soviet doctors there locked you up and gave you plenty of drugs so you did not question the status quo.

I wonder if orthorexia nervosa is the first step in that direction. Hmm. How long before we will see the first pill that gets this disease under control you great doctor you?


When eating healthily becomes an obsession, when straying from your restricted diet causes you to feel guilty and bad about yourself, when you're having to scrutinise every label and packet as well as the cost of organic health foods, it doesn't make for a peaceful balanced lifestyle.

I got to the point where I would go without eating, would feel very confused about food choices and would crave all the so-called wrong foods as my blood sugars would get so low. It is the farthest thing from healthy eating.

I was relieved when attending a seminar on eating disorder to discover the condition orthorexia. I hadn't been able to relate to anorexia as i wasn't obsessed with weight and calories but purity and the right foods. I am starting to try and eat anything but it isn't easy. I have also realized it so much more than food issues but a way of coping with uncomfortable feelings.


this is a very bad disorder to have. i don't have it personally, but my friend does. what should i do to help her get through this hard time? please can someone help me?


I'm still wondering if I fall into this category. I believe in natural foods and limit processed as much as possible. Prior food poisoning prior has led me to be more cautious when eating out.

I am not vegetarian by any means and enjoy poultry and fish a few meals per week. I never cared much for the taste of red meats. I'm very thin and have difficulty gaining weight because I am particular and the types of foods they recommend to gain weight have no taste to me.

I know society has caused us to become more aware now of what we feed ourselves, especially with the rise of obesity and diabetes.

I believe because Americans have no true culture we can't find the perfect diet or meal plan to live by day after day. Too many choices. If we could only live like groups such as the Cretans, Italians, Japanese, we would be a less obsessive more settled and healthier society.


I believe this disorder can start in several ways. I will tell you mine.

First off, I have always been extremely skinny. That's just my body type. So I've been used to people saying things about me being anorexic etc. Well my junior year of college I caught food poisoning. To this day I do not know what it was that I ate that caused the sickness.

Anyway, I immediately (literally) developed this phobia having to do with foods. It was as if I could only eat food that I saw get prepared or I bought and cooked, etc.

Anyway, over time my phobia, obsessive compulsive ways grew stronger and I could no longer eat meats, etc. I am very skinny, underweight, but I do eat and I want to eat and my problem has nothing to do with wanting to be skinny. It has come down to me wanting to eat healthy food so my body will be healthy. Basically exactly what is stated above.

I have a phobia I will become sick and I really just can't stomach the food because the thought grosses me out. It is a lot more complicated to explain but that is it in a nutshell.

I stay so skinny because there are so few things that I can actually eat. What I usually do is drink a lot of Boost supplement drinks, etc., when I cannot be at home to cook food.

I can still eat out but I am very picky. I could write a book about this but I hope it gives you some understanding of this eating disorder, if it can be called that. Honestly if this country got rid of fast food and got more places that served salads, whole grains, etc. and focused on cleanliness I would be nice and plump.


Is this some sort of defense of the food industry which is giving us no choice but to eat only home prepared food? I have found that without careful advance planning, one cannot put together a healthful meal anywhere outside the home, including schools, hospitals, restaurants, senior centers, etc., etc. Not one of these places have eliminated trans fats, reduced sodium to normal levels, or provide sufficient whole grains, fruits and vegetables to provide a nutritious meal under current USDA guidelines. I would like to propose a new name, "Orthorexia Tranquillitas", for those of us who try to eat healthful food and believe they are celebrating life and their good health.


Believe me - this disorder is very very real!

I have a friend whose obsession with healthy eating, combined with a censorious attitude towards those not interested in following 'her plan', has alienated her from her friends, and even some of her family.

She is also a follower of 'natural remedies', and scolds and admonishes those who aren't of the same mind. She constantly warns those who will listen of the 'evils' of sugar, fats, processed foods, and most meat - in any form, and tells them they *must* reform or suffer the serious consequences of ill-health!

If anyone has an illness or malady, she insists they can cure it by using natural remedies (or by cutting out meat, milk, sugar etc), and recommends some treatment or other (she has *never* had any formal training in medicine, natural or otherwise in her life).

She complains that 'nobody ever listens to her - meaning nobody does as she recommends etc.

It has come to the stage when she realizes she now has very few friends, and can't understand why everyone avoids her.

She does have a heart of gold, and would never knowingly hurt anyone - but her obssession with 'healthy' (expensive organic food and even more expensive organic 'something-or-other' quirky supplements), she's driving us all mad (and away).

So - does anyone have any suggestions? --Dillzy


Obviously some drug company needed to create a disease to be able to sell their new poisons through the medical establishment.


i have recently heard of this and am trying to grasp what it is all about. Its fairly vague in saying that too much healthy food can cause you to be sick and have an eating disorder. I agree that any type of compulsion is probably unhealthy, but with this disorder, I am unclear. One would have to be depriving themselves of certain essential fats, complex carbs or proteins to truly make themselves sick or die. So I am just curious what are the details exactly that make someone unhealthy by eating too much healthy food?


Wow, I never thought that healthy eating could become a problem!

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