Orthorexia Symptoms & Signs

Carolina House provides leading orthorexia treatment to ensure long-lasting recovery for a healthier and more satisfying life.

Understanding Orthorexia

Learn about orthorexia treatment

Orthorexia is a type of disorder that characterized by healthy eating habits that have been taken to dangerous levels. Though not classified as a disorder in the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), orthorexia is recognized by many experts as a serious disorder that can cause significant physical and psychological distress.

In most cases, orthorexia starts as an honest attempt to live healthier. However, a person might start cutting foods out of their diet until they are only eating foods that have been prepared in particular ways. An individual with orthorexia will spend an exceptional amount of time thinking about food, which is similar to someone with anorexia or bulimia. They might also ruminate about the calories they are consuming and grow overly concerned about the health benefits of these foods, as well as how the food was processed and prepared. Those who have orthorexia are fixated on consuming food that will keep them healthy to a point where they will avoid foods that are necessary for their continued wellbeing.

While orthorexia can start off as a diet where an individual is attempting to become healthier in their eating habits, it can quickly spiral into dangerous behaviors that can lead to serious health risks. While little is known about orthorexia, there is hope for recovery.


Orthorexia statistics

There is very little information on the prevalence of this orthorexia, however, research suggests that it is growing in prevalence each year. In addition, it is believed that orthorexia occurs equally in people of all genders, but is most common in middle-class adults who are in the 30-year-old range.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for orthorexia

The primary reason for the development of this specific type of eating disorder is an individual’s compulsive need to improve their health. Even so, there are often many underlying causes that can impact an individual’s decision to go to extremes with their dieting, including:

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

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of orthorexia

Those who battle with orthorexia will show a variety of signs and symptoms. In many instances, they might exhibit behaviors that push past the norm in terms of living a healthy life, and instead cause them to suffer from a number of physical, mental, and emotional effects. Some of these behaviors can include:

  • Engaging in emotional eating
  • Self-esteem is based on eating healthy foods
  • Increasingly critical and more rigid about eating
  • Feeling as if certain foods are dangerous
  • Feeling guilt or ashamed when unable to maintain diet standards
  • Losing interest in activities once enjoyed because they are solely involved in eating healthy
  • Thinking critically of others who don’t follow a strict diet
  • Spends extreme amounts of time and money in meal planning and food preparation
  • 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 diet
  • Has severe anxiety about how food is prepared


Effects of orthorexia

If orthorexia goes untreated, this disorder can cause permanent health damages to occur, as well as a number of negative life consequences. As orthorexia persists, it can begin to mimic the same dangerous effects that anorexia and bulimia can produce, including:

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

Co-Occurring Disorders

Orthorexia and co-occurring disorders

Some other mental health conditions that can develop in an individual who is battling with orthorexia can include:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Obsessive compulsive disorder

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