Getting to Know Orthorexia Nervosa, Too Obsessed with Healthy Food


Eating healthy foods such as fruits and vegetables is highly recommended for health. However, being too obsessed with healthy food is not recommended because it can develop into an eating disorder known as orthorexia nervosa .

Let’s get to know orthorexia nervosa more closely, starting from its definition, causes, symptoms, and treatment. Here we go!

1. What is orthorexia nervosa?

Citing Healthline , orthorexia nervosa is an eating disorder that involves an excessive obsession with healthy food. The first to coin this term was Steve Bratman, a doctor from the United States, in 1997.

People with orthorexia nervosa tend to focus on food quality, not quantity. Their focus is not on losing weight or wanting to be lean like people with anorexia and bulimia . They have extreme views about the “clean” or “purity” of food and are obsessed with its benefits to the body.

2. What are the signs or symptoms like?

According to some studies, if a person has these signs, they may have orthorexia nervosa:

Have an intense fear of foods they consider unhealthy and will avoid them.
Has an excessive obsession with healthy food, its nutrition, and its benefits.
Obsessively checking nutrition labels and food compositions.
They are very strict about eating what they think is healthy.
Strongly avoid certain types of food, such as gluten, carbohydrates, sugar, fat, or animal products.
Spending too much time planning, buying, and preparing food they think is healthy.
Criticize the eating habits of others.
Avoid social events because they are not sure about the quality and cleanliness of the food served there. If forced to come, they will bring their own food or not eat at all!
Inadvertently experiencing malnutrition and weight loss as a result of strict dietary restrictions.
Feeling healthy food is everything to prevent and cure disease.
Feeling depressed, stressed, and anxious if you eat unhealthy foods.

3. What are the causes and risk factors?

Researchers are not sure what the exact cause of orthorexia nervosa is . However, there are several risk factors that may influence its development. One of them was or still has obsessive-compulsive tendencies and eating disorders.

It could also be due to individual factors such as having perfectionist tendencies, high anxiety, and the desire to have everything under control. Interestingly, students who majored in health-related subjects were more likely to show symptoms of orthorexia nervosa than other majors.

What about social factors? Having good nutritional knowledge, higher incomes, access to foods that are considered healthy (such as organic products), and the influence of social media have all contributed to the development of this eating disorder.

4. How to diagnose it?

In fact, orthorexia nervosa does not yet have formal diagnostic criteria. Experts are not sure whether this is a unique eating disorder, part of another eating disorder (such as anorexia), or a subtype of obsessive compulsive disorder ( OCD ).

For now, the average healthcare professional uses diagnostic tools such as:

ORTO-15: This screening tool has 15 questions to identify symptoms and behaviors associated with orthorexia nervosa .
ORTO-R: This is actually the ORTO-15 in its newer and up-to-date version. The question is considered more relevant than the previous version.
Bratman Orthorexia Test (BOT): Has 10 questions about obsessive thoughts about food, beliefs about nutrition and health, and more. However, it is not commonly used.
Eating Habits Questionnaire (EHQ): To measure knowledge, positive and negative feelings, and behaviors related to healthy food consumption.

5. What is the proper way of handling?

Maybe, some people think orthorexia nervosa is not too urgent to be treated. In fact, if left unchecked, the effects may be as severe as other eating disorders.

We are advised to seek help from a professional, such as a doctor, psychologist, or nutritionist. Perhaps, psychotherapy will be given to treat underlying disorders such as anxiety, depression, and OCD.

To relieve anxiety and calm the mind, we may be advised to do meditation, yoga, or taici. All of this aims to dispel false beliefs about food and reduce excessive obsession. And most importantly, find people who always provide support , whether it’s family or friends.

Well, that’s a brief explanation of orthorexia nervosa that you need to know. Hopefully this information is useful, yes!