Orthorexia seems to have become a hot topic regarding eating disorders nowadays. It is characterized by acquiring an unhealthy focus or obsession with eating in a healthy manner, which can in turn damage your well-being. It needs to be noted, however, how it is not yet an official diagnosis accepted by mental health experts. 

The main characteristic of orthorexia is how the person obsesses too much about eating pure food, and eventually, it can lead the person towards not accepting other people’s food but only the one they make themselves finally, it can also lead the person to avoid whole meals. Furthermore, certain experts believe that orthorexia could be similar to other eating disorders such as bulimia and anorexia in that there needs to be certain control over food.

Symptoms can vary, but there is mainly worried about the kind of food you will eat, whether it is pure or not, the food quality is also very much part of a symptom as well as the sources of the food you will ingest and not acquiring that knowledge can lead to anxiety. Furthermore, there is the concern about food being prepared by other individuals. This can lead to the person as previously mentioned to avoid eating outside of their comfort zone and even skipping some meals due the anxiety of not knowing what is inside the food they would eat. Moreover, there is the fear of sickness or fear that the food prepared by others and not by you could lead you to become sick because you worry whether it is clean and whether it is healthy for the individual.

There is always the risk that the person might show physical signs of malnutrition due to this obsession because the person might be limiting herself or himself to certain foods that are actually important and nutritious and this in turn could lead to weight loss. Additionally, the individual might also spend a significant amount of time doing research about certain types of food and this can lead the individual towards planning and thinking about a single meal for hours. There is also the issue of dropping whole categories of food, such as, for example, quitting eating grains, sugars, gluten, or any other food that seems unhealthy for the individual.

There exists the possibility for the individual to have fear of losing control of food, meaning how the individual is proud of eating and preparing healthy food, but there is the fear of what would happen if the individual did not thoroughly prepare one meal or skips a meal that he or she prepared for a long time. It could happen that the individual begins to be overly critical of what other people such as friends are eating and not having an explanation for why the person per se is following a strict diet. Finally, the individual could begin acquiring thoughts of guilt about what he or she ate or self-love doubts due the choices in food and this can lead to following a vicious cycle.

The risk factors for orthorexia vary just like with any other eating disorder. However, the main factors that are thought by professionals are biological factors, such as having a family history with eating disorder, psychological factors of the person per se, such as being a perfectionist, being dissatisfied with one’s body or even a history of anxiety, and lastly, there is environmental causes which includes having been bullied in the past regarding one’s weight, being a trauma survivor or acquiring the idea of aiming for an ideal body type.

by Marta Padron Pena, Mental Health Intern