Orthorexia – symptoms, causes, effects

Healthy diet is considered as a good habit. Usually people start to keep to eat healthy food to improve physical performance or health. However, the border between healthy nutrition and orthorexia is very thin. And although the motives are good, paradoxically, orthorexic, instead of improving health, destroys it.

We hear numerous, often contradictory, advice about healthy nutrition. In such a flow of information it is easy to get lost. As a result, we can quickly lose control of how you eat. It’s not hard to fall into this addiction trap.

For the first time orthorexia was determined by the doctor Stephen Bratman. He made this diagnosis for himself. The doctor recalled years later that, as a child, he struggled with allergies. His parents made sure that he did not eat, for example, milk or gluten. Since childhood, Stephen Bratman was told that only the right diet guarantees health. Later, in adulthood, the discoverer of orthorexia realized that the fear of junk food got in childhood, becomes an obsession.

So he came to the conclusion that orthorexia is the result of psychological problems, which are expressed in the desire to control everything related to his diet.

Where does orthorexia come from

Orthorexia is quite reasonable disease and initially assumes only positive intent. Unlike anorexia or bulimia, it is not accompanied by a desire to build a perfect body or lose weight. The main motivation is taking care of health.

There are several reasons why orthorexia becomes widespread. One of the main is the fashion for a healthy diet. Its active propaganda by the media and people around. The example of stars also works. Julia Roberts and soy milk, that she always drinks, Gwyneth Paltrow who has a personal chef traveling with her around the world, preparing food from raw vegetables. The pressure is added by modern society, which does not cease to shout about the harm of product groups or their individual species. Like pork is too fatty and increases cholesterol, poultry is stuffed with steroids, etc.

Thus, the oethorexic becoming a vegetarian. Not only he stops eating meat, he also refuses processed foods because they contain dyes and preservatives. He begins to eat only at home and only what he prepares himself. In general, its nutrition is still full, as it replaces animal protein with soy protein, legumes. But when it cause an overabundance of flatulence, he refuses them too.

Further orthorexic recalls that somewhere he has read about the power of solar energy – “maybe this will make me the healthiest!?” Thus, it is possible to reach the edge.

Causes of orthorexia

Personal predisposition

This is the key one. Perfectionists, people with low self-esteem, easily falling into extremes and feeling the lack of control over their lives. They are prone to the appearance of orthorexia. Keeping a strict diet gives them an illusory sense of security and controlling the life.


People who suffer from diseases that require a specialized diet can begin to approach it too responsibly. This leads to extremes in nutrition.

Socio-cultural impact

Promoted fashion for a healthy diet and good bodyshape can lead to extremes in food issue.


Children whose relatives are fond of healthy eating can adopt this habit.

Symptoms of orthorexia

A distinctive feature of orthorexia, as well as other eating disorders, has obsessive nature. It manifests itself in the strict regulation of nutrition and dislike for people who eat differently. Radical adherence to a “healthy” diet increases the orthorexic’s self-esteem. He feels he can control his nutrition, which makes him better than other people in his eyes. When he violates one of the established nutrition rules, he feels guilty and punishes himself.

The symptoms of orthorexia are quite difficult to determine. It all starts with a change of beliefs and views on food, the rejection of sweets and fatty meat. Every day there is a rejection of new products in favor of only clean and healthy,of the best quality.

Another symptom is excessive use of intense exercise or other physical activity, which often leads to overtraining.

A typical orthorexic also almost does not feel hunger. The patient does not know when he is full and when he is hungry, how much food he needs. He can’t see the onset of satiety.

Such a system of nutrition leads to poor health. The patient may feel dizzy, have problems with memory and concentration. A person suffering from orthorexia also suffers from abdominal pain, he often changes his mood quickly.

Women have another symptom: menstrual irregularity.

orthorexia nervosa symptoms

It is worth paying attention to the following symptoms:


  • obsessive thought
  • thorough analysis of the products quality
  • planning time for meals, distinct schedule
  • the belief that healthy food will be the source of a better life
  • belief in diet makes you better than other people
  • strong belief that only a strict diet is adequate and acceptable nutrition
  • denial that a radical healthy diet can cause serious harm to health and life.


  • exclusion of certain foods, their fundamental avoidance
  • a careful study of the labels
  • careful selection of products, choosing only those that meet all the rules of proper nutrition
  • a special method of cooking, consisting in the exclusion of certain types of food processing (frying), because of the belief that such food is harmful
  • adjustment of all spheres of life to the idea of a healthy diet.


  • guilt and anxiety if deviate from the established nutrition rules
  • feeling alone, alienated, misunderstood by others
  • mood deterioration, depression associated with situations in which a person does not comply with the diet requirements
  • a sense of self-power, control and effectiveness with getting more restrictions.

Social life

  • avoid contact with people who do not follow the rules of a healthy diet
  • preference is given to the company of people who think and act the same way

Effects of orthorexia


Over time orthorexic eliminates more foods from the diet. The list of “good” products is getting shorter. This is the way to exhaustion and destruction of the body.

Deprived of important nutrients macro and micronutrients body weakens and begins to function incorrectly. There are such health problems as anemia, hormonal failures and decreased immunity.

Orthorexia as a psychological disorder is often associated with weight loss. Patients suffer from anemia and osteopenia, which eventually turns into osteoporosis.

In extreme cases, this can lead to death.

The result of orthorexia may also be the appearance of other mental disorders, such as depression.

The disease is also associated with low self-esteem. People with orthorexia often experience mood swings. They experience a strong sense of guilt or panic attacks in moments of any deviations from the diet plan.

Social life

orthorexia nervosa effects and consequences

The next result is social exclusion. Orthorexic escape from public life. He doesn’t want to eat out (if has not taken food cooked by him). He does not find common topics to discuss with family and friends, because nothing but food interest him. Orthorexic  separates from people and prefers to eat alone.

Orthorexics often refuse to communicate and feel lonely. It is assumed that social isolation is a way of eliminating undesirable behavior and consumption of unhealthy foods. Food quality becomes more important than social or even family relationships. Their life is subordinated to the power supply.

In the end, instead of health, a person gets only more diseases and problems.

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