Are you affected by Orthorexia Nervosa?

Causes of Orthorexia Nervosa

Orthorexia nervosa is an eating disorder characterized by restrictive eating secondary to obsessive behaviors in pursuit of a healthy diet. Although this not considered an official eating disorder recognized by the DSM V, which is the authoritative guide to the diagnosis of mental disorders, this eating disorder is recognized by eating disorder therapists as it can have many negative mental health effects and is known to lead to anorexia nervosa if not professional treated. Orthorexia nervosa, like all other eating disorders is not a choice but rather an unconscious behavior that develops due to an unhealthy relationship with food. Many individuals are pressured to conform to a certain image portrayed in society, which leads to strict dieting, and obsessions about healthy food which can further lead to feelings of anxiety, isolation and depression.

There is not one specific cause that is known to lead to orthorexia nervosa and not enough research has been performed to correlate specific causes however similar to other eating disorders, there are risk factors that can lead to unhealthy relationships with food.

  • Past history of trauma
  • Unhealthy relationships
  • Unresolved personal conflicts
  • Low self-esteem
  • Perfectionist personality
  • Long history of dieting
  • Substance abuse
  • Obsession with exercise
  • Overwhelming society pressures
  • Unresolved childhood trauma
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Bullying
  • Social media obsession
  • Intense need to “fit in”
  • Need for extreme control

Implications of Orthorexia Nervosa

Ironically, a person who is obsessed with healthy eating congruent with orthorexia nervosa is actually more at risk for problematic health issues. Restricting or avoiding foods or entire food groups, like fats and carbohydrates can increase an individual’s risk for malnutrition and nutritional deficits. It is also possible to experience weight loss that can also contribute to medical complications.

The social and psychological implications of orthorexia nervosa are also significant and devastating. A person with orthorexia may withdraw from their social life and all meaningful relationships in their pursuit to eat “healthy” and “clean,” forsaking many of the things in their life that had been meaningful. Eating behaviors associated with orthorexia nervosa may even jeopardize a career or ability to thrive in a job or as part of a family unit. A person with this disorder may also experience extreme forms of guilt, depression, and anxiety when unable to follow their food rules, which can lead to more serious mental health issues.

Treatment to the problem

Orthorexia nervosa, like many other eating disorders, results from underlying unresolved feelings and orthorexia nervosa gives individuals a way to overcome their low self-esteem and vulnerable ego. When an individual’s concept of self-worth and identity are wrapped up in such stringent and unhealthy behaviors, the pressure to maintain perfection only worsens, resulting in the continuation of the disorder. No matter what is behind the relationship between orthorexia and perfectionism, the simplest way to combat it is to remember a fundamental truth: perfection does not exist. More often than not, eating disorder treatment is necessary in order to overcome this battle. The psychotherapy approaches offered in eating disorder treatment can allow an individual to acknowledge the underlying feelings and triggers associated with their orthorexia nervosa and find strategies to develop healthy coping mechanisms and ways to live in reality without striving for perfection. In other words, treatment for orthorexia nervosa is more than “just treating an eating disorder”; there are so many deep underlying triggers that must be addressed.

Orthorexia nervosa is known to lead to anorexia nervosa, which has the highest mortality rate out of all mental health disorders. Treatment for orthorexia nervosa is also necessary to prevent progression to another eating disorder such as anorexia nervosa. Many individuals will not be diagnosed with orthorexia nervosa until they have developed anorexia nervosa. Unlike anorexia and bulimia nervosa, orthorexia nervosa differs in that its preoccupations are centered on the quality of food rather than the quantity of food. Anorexia nervosa is characterized by significant weight loss and a fear of weight gain, whereas individuals with orthorexia nervosa are not necessarily concerned with weight loss but rather are focused on the desire to establish feelings of health, cleanliness, and pureness, particularly through their eating habits and food choices.

Treatment for orthorexia nervosa alone or in combination with anorexia nervosa does differ, as individuals with anorexia nervosa are focused on weight restoration in treatment. Seeking treatment for your orthorexia nervosa can be challenging, as there are many treatment centers with a multitude of treatment options available. The most important aspect of treatment is making sure you feel comfortable with the treatment center and with your treatment team. If you are not comfortable then you are less likely to be vulnerable about your feelings and your eating disorder, which can create inner personal conflicts during the treatment process. Other important aspects of treatment includes finding a reputable and licensed treatment facility, working out the finances and insurance coverage, debating whether or not to go out of state for treatment, making sure the facility treats co-occurring disorders and provides trauma informed care.