What is Orthorexia

by | Eating Disorder Recovery

Orthorexia is an eating disorder that takes “healthy eating” or “clean eating” to an extreme. It may occur alone or with other eating disorders. Orthorexia is not a recognized DSM-5 diagnosis. Therefore, there is no single definition. Below are characteristics of orthorexia. 


  • Feeling preoccupied with food.
  • Being anxious about your health.
  • Experiencing the need to control your food.
  • Researching foods and their ingredients.
  • Examining food labels. 
  • Avoiding or eliminating certain foods because you’ve labeled them as “unhealthy.” 
  • Eliminating gluten, grains, sugar, dairy, or animal products for a non-medical reason.
  • Bringing your own food to to social events. Or not eating at gatherings with food.
  • Avoiding gatherings where food is likely to be present.
  • Feeling anxious or guilty after eating a food that you’ve labeled as “unhealthy.”


Please note: this blog isn’t intended for diagnostic purposes. If you think yourself or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, please contact us for help. We’d love to work with you individually. Or provide you with resources for recovery.


Now you may be asking – what’s so bad about wanting to eat “healthy?” 


Categorizing foods as “healthy” or “unhealthy” is subjective. Especially as it relates to orthorexia. These labels are inconsistent and lack scientific backing. Eating or avoiding a type of food will not determine your health status. Health is multifactorial. Hence, it includes genetics, environment, stress, sleep, food, and movement. When it comes to food, you can pursue health by eating enough, eating a variety of foods, and having a good relationship with food. Unfortunately, the nature of orthorexia works against all three.


It can limit your food variety.

Foods are categorized by the types of nutrients they provide. Therefore, if you reduce or eliminate your consumption of certain ingredients, foods, or food groups, you increase your risk of nutrient deficiencies. As a result, this can affect many parts of the body. For example, bone strength or heart function.


It can limit your food intake.

This makes it more difficult to meet the energy needs of your organs. For this reason, your body may be forced to slow down its efficiency and conserve in certain areas. In order to prioritize the energy its being given. This can manifest as fatigue, poor concentration, constipation, slowed heart rate, and more.


It can increase stress around food.

Orthorexia often leads to worry about food and health. This takes up a lot of brain space on a daily basis. It can make it difficult to be present at work, school, or with loved ones. It can also make it difficult to go to social events. Thus, leading to isolation. 


If you or someone you know is exhibiting signs of orthorexia, we can help! We assist people in normalizing their eating habits and developing healthier relationships with food, their bodies, and movement. 




“What is Orthorexia Nervosa?” Center For Discovery, https://centerfordiscovery.com/conditions/orthorexia/. Accessed September 5th, 2022.


Nazario, Brunilda. “Orthorexia.” WebMD, https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/eating-disorders/what-is-orthorexia#:~:text=Orthorexia%20Treatment-,What%20Is%20Orthorexia%3F,coined%20the%20term%20in%201996. Accessed September 5th, 2022.


Final Notes

For more information, contact us at Courage to Nourish today. Our eating disorder dietitian nutritionists are located in College Park, Maryland. and Columbia, Maryland. As well as Alexandria, Virginia. Colorado. and Pennsylvania. Read more about the Courage to Nourish team. We’d love to support you in eating disorder recovery.

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sydney richards courage to nourish

Syndey Richards, RD, LD

As a professional who used to work in a corporate setting, I have seen the negative, daily impact that diet culture has on people’s lives. This led me to discover intuitive eating and Health At Every Size ©, which I now use in working with clients in recovery at the partial hospitalization and intensive outpatient level. I love helping clients find a way of nourishing, moving, and viewing their body that is satisfying and sustainable.

registered dietitian for eating disorders


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