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Orthorexia: an obsessive eating disorder

Orthorexia: an obsessive eating disorder

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If within eating disorders the best known concepts are bulimia or anorexia nervosa, many others have been discovered and become serious health problems for many people around the world. There are several types of eating disorders, while some are immediately associated with the problems they cause, or the way they manifest, others are still relatively unknown or go unnoticed. At least in name.

This is the case with orthorexia. However, like anorexia and bulimia, two of the most well-known eating disorders, this type of disorder has something in common: obsessive thinking about food. Therefore, today we explain in more detail what orthorexia is and its symptoms.

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What is orthorexia?

A concept that was only identified in 1997, by the doctor Steve Bratman, orthorexia can be framed in eating disorders, although it is not yet included in the Diagnostic Manual of Mental Illnesses. According to its definition, this clinical condition arises when there is an obsession with eating foods considered good and healthy.

© Mikhail Nilov/Pexels

This concept is, however, subjective – at least in the eyes of those who begin to suffer from this disorder. After all, this type of obsession is related to the ideas of those who have it, so the definition of good and healthy can vary and not be effectively the most correct. In terms of differentiation, orthorexia stands out for being obsessed with quality and health, rather than quantity and weight.

Why is orthorexia considered an eating disorder?

Although not yet listed in the Diagnostic Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), orthorexia has similarities when compared to the eating behaviors characteristic of other eating disorders.

You can find out more about eating disorders on the VillaRamadas blog

Although the basis of thinking behind someone suffering from orthorexia is healthy eating, it can affect everyday life and develop into a compulsion.

PreparacaoRefeicao pexels ella olsson 1640775
Some of the people who suffer from orthorexia begin to obsess over eating only specific food groups and end up not varying their daily diet. This type of behavior is just the beginning of other problems, such as vitamin deficits for example. © Ella Olsson/Pexels

The assumption that gives rise to orthorexia is concern about health, however excessive concern quickly evolves into obsession and, consequently, into a state of compulsion. Those who suffer from orthorexia do not accept losing control, successively adopting increasingly strict rules regarding their diet and initiating abstinence behaviors.

What are the symptoms of orthorexia?

The symptoms of orthorexia may not necessarily be evidenced at a physical level, as in the case of anorexia for example, but more often by the behaviors evidenced. Some of the situations that lead to believe that orthorexia may be developing are:

  • Rigorous meal planning;
  • Restricted rules regarding food;
  • Abrupt exclusion of foods for being “bad”;
  • Abstinence from specific food groups.
Ortorexia Distúrbio Alimentar
Often those who suffer from orthorexia begin to develop obsessive self-imposition behaviors, not supporting the exclusion of certain foods as a medically justified decision © Andres Ayrton/Pexels

But, as in all cases, a symptom is not synonymous with an identified disease. According to Steve Bratman, the doctor who gave rise to the concept of orthorexia, if there are positive answers to a range of questions, it may be an indication of the presence of orthorexia. There are 10 questions:

  • Do you think more than 3 hours a day about your diet/food?
  • Do you plan your meals several days in advance?
  • Is the nutritional value of your meal more important than the pleasure of eating it?
  • Has your quality of life decreased at the same rate as the quality of your food has increased?
  • Have you become stricter with yourself lately?
  • Does your self-esteem go up when you eat healthy?
  • Did you give up eating foods you liked so you only ate the ‘right foods’?
  • Does your diet/food make it difficult to eat out, thus alienating you from your family and friends?
  • Do you feel guilty when you stray from your diet/food?

Do you feel at peace with yourself and in complete control when you eat healthy?

Is orthorexia treatable?

Healthy eating
© Unsplash

Yes, orthorexia can be treated, always with a multidisciplinary professional team. And the first step, as in so many other psychological disorders, is for the individual to admit the existence of a health problem.

Treatment for orthorexia should always be done with a team that is qualified to treat psychological problems related to eating disorders, capable of evaluating the emotional and psychological causes underlying the problem.


At VillaRamadas we have the right tools to help you in this type of situation. If you feel you need help, talk to us. If you know someone who may be going through a more difficult situation, please help them and get them to us. We can help with treatment, in order to provide balance in your well-being and a better quality of life.


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