What is Orthorexia Nervosa?

Orthorexia Nervosa is not a diagnosable eating disorder, according to the current Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), nor is it planned to be included in the updated version scheduled for 2013. Researchers are investigating the symptoms described as orthorexia nervosa. Rather than a desire to lose weight, those who suffer from orthorexia nervosa want to feel healthy, natural, and/or pure.


Orthorexia Nervosa is a term that was coined in 1997 by Dr. Steven Bratman to describe those who have an unhealthy obsession with eating healthy foods.


  • Obsessive and/or intrusive thoughts regarding healthy eating that may take up a considerable amount of time and/or interfere with other aspects of one’s life
  • Distrust of food prepared by others
  • Avoidance of social situations that center around food
  • Difficulty distinguishing feelings of hunger, fullness, or food cravings
  • Feelings of guilt or disgust when eating something that is not on a meal plan
  • Use of food to avoid life issues
  • Feelings of self-esteem or superiority based on foods eaten or not eaten
  • Searching for spirituality through food
  • Personal identification or self-esteem based primarily on healthy eating
  • Emaciation in some cases
  • Need to purchase and prepare all foods ingested


Because orthorexia nervosa is not a diagnosable disorder, an effective treatment protocol has not yet been developed. It may be difficult for sufferers to comply with a plan for medication management because they are likely to see such chemicals as unnatural and unacceptable. Some suggest that identifying a cause for the obsession and processing those deeper emotional issues may be important in treatment. Others suggest that suffers must learn to recognize other important aspects of their personality beyond someone who eats healthy foods. Groups may actually not be helpful for orthorexia nervosa because social isolation can be a motivation for treatment for sufferers. It is always helpful to learn new techniques to manage stress while making any lifestyle change.


There is no known prevention for orthorexia nervosa. Education on the importance of a balanced diet and lifestyle may be helpful to those at risk.

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