Health information

Orthorexia: when proper nutrition becomes dangerous

What associations does the phrase "healthy eating" usually cause? As a rule, the majority recalls a balanced diet, fresh fruits and vegetables, organic products that do not have chemical additives. And it would seem that to maintain good health, you need to eat just such food. But what if we say that sometimes even such seemingly ideal food for the human body can cause a health disorder? Do not believe? So, you do not know anything about what is orthorexia and what consequences it causes.

What is orthorexia?

Orthorexia, or nervous orthorexia, is an unhealthy obsession with the ideas of proper nutrition. Today, this diagnosis is not included in ICD-10, however, experts around the world are actively using this term to describe the condition of patients.

The term "orthorexia" itself was coined in the late 90s of the twentieth century by the American doctor Steven Bratman. And it all started with the fact that in the 1970s Bretman himself first became a vegetarian, and then gradually began to exclude from his diet, as he thought, harmful products. The doctor himself came to his senses and did not cross the red line. But later the doctor began to notice in his patients what he eventually called orthorexia.

The basis for the medical neologism of Orthorexia was the Greek words: "ortho", that is, "correct", and "orexia", which means "appetite", "craving for food". Orthorexia Nervosa is an obsession with the quality of the products used. People with orthorexia often also show signs of anxiety disorders, which are accompanied by anorexia or other eating disorders. Ortoreksik is so obsessed with eating healthy food that it turns into its main goal in life, eclipsing everything else. And it all starts with, so to speak, excessive interest in healthy eating. Over time, this interest increases and takes the main place in the life of orthorexica, and the use of products from the list of "forbidden" causes him to feel guilty, anxious and panic attacks.

And although orthorexia is not yet recognized as an official disease, but today experts have already developed a classification for this disorder.

Orthorexia of the first type provides a person with a craving for adherence to a healthy diet, but with already quite noticeable pickiness to the quality and purity of products.

Orthorexia of the second type is when the observance of proper nutrition is turned into an obsessive idea for a person, and his behavior, in particular in terms of food choices, shows signs of mental disorder.

Also, experts concluded that orthorexia usually develops in two stages. At the first stage, a person begins to show attention to all sorts of healthy eating systems. As a rule, the most popular dietary theories fall under the scope. For example, raw foods, vegan food system, paleo-diet and others. But, importantly, many of these systems are unsafe with long-term compliance. For example, you can not eat only smoothies, no matter how useful these drinks may be, and at the same time maintain health. However, the problem is that orthorexics are so fixated on wholesome food that they don’t notice when such food becomes unsafe.

Over time, the number of products in the orthorexica diet gradually decreases. He spends more time on thinking about wholesome and harmful food, as well as how to prepare dishes. And this is the second stage of the progression of the deviation. And if in the life of orthorexics a breakdown on “harmful” food happens or he finds himself in a situation when he has to eat even a small amount from his list of prohibited foods, then almost everyone will have hard cleansing to detoxify the body. But what is interesting, in most cases, even after the toughest detox programs, ortorex will not say that his body is sufficiently free of toxins and slags. In other words, his whole life turns into a kind of pursuit of cleansing and protecting his body from harmful substances.

Many experts compare orthorexia with other eating disorders. But if anorexia and bulimia are a fixation on the amount of food consumed, then ortorexia is an unhealthy obsession with food quality. But studies have shown that people with orthorexia also tend to develop anorexia. However, while anorexics are trying in every possible way to hide the problem from others and deny their diagnosis, ortoreksi, on the contrary, are proud of their principles and try to convince others of the correctness of such eating habits.

How to recognize orthorexia

Despite the absence of this disorder in the International Classification of Diseases, experts have already described and classified the symptoms of orthorexia. So, what should you pay attention to in time to recognize the signs of nervous orthorexia in yourself or a loved one.

Of course, in itself, the desire to eat organic and healthy food, can not be called a deviation. However, orthorexics select certain products for their menu not with the goal of achieving or maintaining an ideal body weight. For them, it is important to maintain a healthy diet as such. Therefore, such persons can (and, as a rule, almost always do), refuse any food that they consider unhealthy, even if they feel severe hunger.

Orthorexics usually exclude from their diet products that contain:

  • flavors, colors or preservatives;
  • fat;
  • sugar;
  • salt;
  • pesticides;
  • GMO;
  • other ingredients that, from the point of view, ortoreksika considered harmful.

People suffering from orthorexia, as a rule, also refuse from dairy products and food of animal origin.

Orthorexics can be recognized by special behavior in terms of food consumption. They strictly divide all food into good and bad, ecologically clean and polluted. They always have obsessive concerns about the health effects of the food product. That is, such a person always remembers the "dark side" of food. For example, citrus fruits are useful, but they contain too many acids; milk is good, but it can contain bacteria or cause indigestion; fruits are beneficial, but can cause fungal diseases; sea ​​fish - this is useful, but it can cause mercury poisoning.

Another serious symptom that may indicate the presence of orthorexia is a very limited list of products that a person allows himself to use. Often in orthorexics, this list is reduced to 10 or even fewer types of food.

The third sign of deviation: a person excludes from his menu all products that may cause allergies. And this is even despite the fact that he was never diagnosed with allergies.

On the contrary, there are always a lot of (often too) products containing probiotics, as well as plants with healing properties and nutritional supplements, which are supposed to have a beneficial effect on the body.

And of course, all people with orthorexia with excessive scrupulousness approach the process of cooking. In particular, in all that relates to the washing and sterilization of both the products themselves and the dishes. Such people strongly avoid eating outside the house. They categorically refuse to buy food or cooked by others, because they are not sure about the quality of such dishes.

In addition to behavioral symptoms, a person suffering from orthorexia also has a number of emotional reactions. He always feels happy and satisfied with eating healthy and ecologically clean food, and, on the contrary, “nibbles” himself if he has eaten a product that, in his opinion, is harmful. Such persons usually often and for a long time reflect on the themes of food and its effects on the body. Orthorexics in advance clearly plan their nutrition program and if they move away from it, they feel guilty. And almost every ortoreksik condemns people who, in their opinion, eat wrong, which often creates conflict situations in the family and between friends.

In addition, according to the observations of specialists, people with orthorexia often have other disorders, such as:

  • increased anxiety and panic attacks;
  • depression;
  • obsessive compulsive disorder (obsession with the idea);
  • bipolar disorder;
  • mood swings;
  • propensity to social isolation;
  • Substance Abuse Disorders

Consequences of orthorexia

Symptoms of orthorexia are usually chronic. The obsession with healthy food can progress to such an extent that over time it begins to crowd out other interests, worsens a person’s relationship with others, and even becomes physically dangerous. In particular, we are talking about the state when orthorexia develops symptoms of anorexia or bulimia. The obsession with healthy food often limits the amount of food consumed (they seem harmful to humans) and, therefore, the daily calorie is reduced. If a person puts too severe food restrictions on himself, this can lead to chronic malnutrition. As a result, there is a strong weight loss and various diseases develop, including in the form of cardiovascular problems and even death.

In the late 1990s, German specialists examined people adhering strictly to the raw foods system. It turned out that about a third of women of childbearing age suffer from amenorrhea, almost half of men and 15% of women have iron deficiency anemia. Calcium, iron, zinc, magnesium, iodine, and vitamins B12, E, and D were in short supply in all raw foodists. Some of the beneficial elements simply ceased to be absorbed by the body, although they were present in the consumed food in sufficient quantities.

Permanent severe restrictions can cause disruptions to prohibited products, but after that, orthorexica has a feeling of guilt for what has been done. As a result, a person is trying to quickly cleanse your body of "harmful" food. Because of what is possible the development of bulimia. On the other hand, such breakdowns loosen the psyche of orthorexics: because of what happened, he may become depressed, experience anxiety disorders, lose self-esteem.

In addition, nervous orthorexia leads to a deterioration of social activity, up to complete isolation. One of the consequences of the desire to use only the right products, prepared only in the most healthy way, is a breakdown in relations with relatives and friends. Such a person often begins to impose his own food system on his family. For ortoreksika in the late stages of the violation of the preservation of good relations with loved ones becomes less important than compliance with the selected diet.

Diagnosis and treatment

You can check whether you have a tendency to orthorexia yourself at home. To do this, you must answer a few questions compiled by experts:

  1. Do you think about the benefits and harm of food more often than on any other topic?
  2. Choosing any product, you first learn how it can be harmful to health?
  3. Do you have a feeling of guilt or shame if you step back from your ideal diet?
  4. All food cooked not by you seems suspicious to you?
  5. Do you feel safe only if you stick to your eating plan and eat your own cooked food?
  6. Do you openly or mentally judge people who are not as scrupulous about food choices as you are?

Affirmative answers to at least a few of these questions may indicate the presence of nervous orthorexia.

Stephen Bretman, who developed the theory of orthorexia, also identified possible risk factors that could push a person into an obsession with good nutrition. So, according to his theory, people are more prone to orthorexia:

  • who have been on a strict diet for a long time;
  • whose parents gave excessive attention to healthy food;
  • who have suffered or are suffering from a disease requiring a special diet;
  • who have signs of perfectionism or obsessive-compulsive disorder;
  • suffering from phobias associated with illness or death.

Orthorexia treatment is usually a combination therapy aimed at restoring balance and moderation in life. Patients with such a disorder always need the advice of a psychotherapist and a nutritionist. The first will help get rid of obsessive states and unreasonable fears, the second will help you choose a healthy eating plan without harm to the body. This does not mean that the new diet will be contrary to the rules of healthy eating. Most importantly, it is necessary to convince orthorexica that the daily diet must contain a certain amount of calories, proteins, fats, carbohydrates, essential vitamins and minerals. In other words, a person must realize that he can adhere to almost any healthy nutrition system with the only condition: such a diet should provide him with sufficient nutrients.

In addition to "colloquial" therapy, such patients often need medical treatment. In nervous ortorexia, antidepressants and sedatives can be prescribed to alleviate the symptoms of mental impairment. The drugs in this group allow you to adjust the activity of brain waves, which helps to change the mood and thinking of the patient.

If, due to orthorexia and malnutrition, complications have arisen in the form of disruption of the digestive, cardiovascular or hormonal systems, the patient is prescribed an appropriate treatment program aimed at restoring health.

The desire to eat right is a great thing, but only until it goes beyond common sense. If this idea acquires the symptoms of unhealthy obsession, it can cause mental and physical disorders.

Article author:
Izvozchikova Nina Vladislavovna

Specialty: infectious diseases specialist, gastroenterologist, pulmonologist.

Total experience: 35 years.

Education: 1975-1982, 1MMI, San gig, high qualification, infectious diseases doctor.

Science degree: doctor of the highest category, PhD.


  1. Infectious diseases.
  2. Parasitic diseases.
  3. Emergency conditions.
  4. Hiv
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Watch the video: Elimination dieting may be symptom of orthorexia WVIZ (February 2020).