What is Orthorexia?

Orthorexia is an extreme fixation over the quality and purity of food. Individuals with orthorexia only consume food they perceive to be as “healthy” or “pure.” Such rigid food ideals can often lead to an unbalanced diet, malnutrition, weight loss and severe emotional distress.

A key defining factor of someone with orthorexia is that given the choice between eating something they’ve identified as healthy and going without food, they would choose the latter. Those impacted often have such strict food rules that they eliminate consumption of entire food groups that often include: processed foods, sugar, meat, dairy products, carbohydrates and/or gluten. When individuals stray from their self-imposed diet, severe anxiety, distress and self-punishment – restriction, purging or excessive exercise – can result.

While those with orthorexia often begin following certain rigid eating patterns with improved overall health as their goal, the extreme measures start to have the opposite effect over time. Sometimes the condition becomes so intense, one experiences severe weight loss and malnutrition. Damage to personal relationships and a general lack of interest in other activities or hobbies are also common.

Unlike other eating disorders stemming from poor body image or the need to lose weight, orthorexia is primarily driven by the obsession to “eat clean” and “be healthy.” It’s important to note that dieting or focusing on “healthy” eating does not mean an individual has orthorexia. The major differentiator is that those with orthorexia have difficulty moving away from their rigid behavior – and, when they do, emotional turmoil results, including guilt, shame and fear of sickness or disease.

It is common for individuals who suffer from orthorexia to also have anxiety disorders or other eating disorders, especially anorexia and bulimia. While it is not officially recognized as a stand-alone eating disorder, orthorexia should be cause for concern and specialized treatment is recommended.

Symptoms of Orthorexia

  • Weight loss
  • Malnutrition
  • Low self-esteem, negative body image
  • Depression, high anxiety
  • Social isolation or withdrawal
  • Guilt or self-punishment when straying from a “clean” or “healthy” diet

Warning Signs of Orthorexia

  • Fixation on food quality and purity
  • Rigid segmentation of “healthy” and “unhealthy” foods
  • Highly inflexible eating patterns
  • Heavy focus on organic, pure and/or raw foods
  • Avoidance of foods (such as dairy products or foods containing gluten) without documented allergies to them
  • Increased concern about the relationship between food (processed foods or genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and health
  • A high level of attention to planning, purchasing and preparing food
  • Frequent or severe body cleanses
  • Sudden weight fluctuations

Risk Factors for Orthorexia

  • A history of dieting
  • Low self-esteem
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

Health Risks of Orthorexia

  • Malnutrition
  • Depression
  • Severe anxiety
  • Irritability
  • In rare cases, death

Orthorexia Treatment

While orthorexia is not officially recognized by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders(DSM-5) as an eating disorder, it is a condition that requires medical and psychological care.

At Walden, we provide specialized treatment – including individual and group therapy, nutrition counseling, meal coaching and more – for individuals of all ages and genders. Our goal is to help those with orthorexia address any underlying conditions, restore balanced eating habits and improve their quality of life.

Walden offers one of the nation’s only full systems of care, with treatment and programming at all levels. No matter what your background or individual needs may be, and regardless of the complexity of your disorder, Walden will provide the personalized care and support you require, as close to home as possible.

Our continuum of care includes treatment at all levels:

  • Inpatient Hospitalization
  • Residential
  • Partial Hospitalization
  • Intensive Outpatient
  • Outpatient

At Walden, we provide comprehensive treatment that addresses all facets of the disorder, while providing superior care across several areas. This includes:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) – Helps the patient identify, interrupt and replace distorted thinking and associated behaviors with healthy and adaptive coping skills.
  • Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) – Combines CBT techniques with mindful meditation to help you discover new ways to manage and regulate emotions, identify triggers and work toward changing negative and unhelpful behaviors.
  • Family-Based Treatment (FBT) – Designed for adolescents, family-based treatment includes parents as active and integral parts of the treatment team. Families help restore weight and a positive adolescent identity in their children as part of a coordinated three-phase approach.
  • Other
    • Individual and Group Counseling
    • Nutritional Counseling
    • Expressive Therapy
    • Relapse Prevention

Regain Your Life. Walden Can Help.

If you are concerned that you – or a loved one – may have an eating disorder, we are here to help. Please call 781-647-6727 to speak with a Walden eating disorders intake specialist, or complete the form on this page, to begin your journey to recovery.

Getting Started: Intake Assessment

Help for orthorexia is always a quick and confidential phone call away.

We will conduct a brief (10 to 15 minute) telephone intake, during which we will review your concerns, and gather basic background, medical history and insurance information. From there, we will determine whether a more detailed, in-person clinical evaluation is required at the Walden location closest to you.

The evaluation will be conducted by a member of Walden’s clinical staff, and will include a psychiatric assessment, an in-depth review of clinical information and a recommendation for the proper level of care. Primary care referrals are not required and we will work with your insurance provider or providers for approval of orthorexia treatment.

The entire assessment will be confidential, and we will make it as easy and comfortable for you as possible.

Orthorexia Treatment Insurance

Walden is proud to be “in network” with most insurance providers and managed care companies. This means adolescents and adults with orthorexia can have the flexible and cost-efficient access to treatment they need. Click here for a list of organizations with which Walden has contractual relationships.

Learn More!

For more information regarding Walden's treatment services, please fill out the form below.

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