What We Treat
What is Orthorexia?
Orthorexia is a pattern of disordered eating behavior involving 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.
How to Tell if Someone Has Orthorexia
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 by orthorexia 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 behaviors commonly associated with other eating disorders like restriction, purging or excessive exercise can result.
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.
How Healthy Intentions Can Lead to Negative Outcomes with Orthorexia
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.
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 for Orthorexia is recommended.
Symptoms of Orthorexia
As with eating disorders like anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating disorder, orthorexia can present with several serious symptoms that negatively affect mental and physical health. The following are some common orthorexia symptoms to watch for:
- Weight loss
- 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
With so much focus on ‘healthy’ or ‘clean’ eating in today’s culture, warning signs of orthorexia can be easy to miss. The following are some orthorexia warning signs to watch for if you suspect that you or a loved one may be crossing from health-consciousness into disordered eating territory:
- 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 or GMOs – and health
- A high level of attention to planning, purchasing and preparing food
- Frequent or severe body cleanses
- Sudden weight fluctuations
Learn more about warning signs of orthorexia.
Risk Factors for Orthorexia
While there is no way to predict exactly who will or won’t struggle with orthorexia, there are some orthorexia risk factors that can cause an individual to be more apt to suffer from orthorexia at some point in their lifetime. Some common orthorexia risk factors include:
- A history of dieting
- Low self-esteem
- Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
Health Risks of Orthorexia
Since a focus on health or ‘clean eating’ is so normalized, it can be easy to see orthorexia as a less serious problem than more commonly known eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia, but orthorexia can pose equally serious risk to overall physical and mental wellbeing. Some orthorexia health risks include:
- Severe anxiety
- In rare cases, death
Read our blog posts about orthorexia to learn more about orthorexia symptoms, treatment and more.
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 orthorexia diagnosis and treatment – including individual and group therapy, nutrition counseling, meal coaching and more – for individuals of all diagnoses and genders. Our goal with orthorexia treatment is to help those with orthorexia address any underlying conditions, restore balanced eating habits, and improve their quality of life.
Regain Your Life with Orthorexia Treatment. Walden Can Help.
If you are concerned that you – or a loved one – may have orthorexia or another eating disorder, we are here to help. Please call 888-305-2997 to speak with a Walden eating disorders intake specialist, or complete the form on this page, to begin your journey to orthorexia recovery.
Getting Started with Orthorexia Treatment: Intake Assessment
Help for orthorexia is always a quick and confidential phone call away.
As a first step to getting help for orthorexia, we will conduct a brief (10 to 15 minute) intake assessment by telephone, during which we will review your concerns and gather basic information about your background, medical history and insurance coverage. We will then schedule your evaluation with a member of our clinical team.
The clinical orthorexia evaluation 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 orthorexia 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 orthorexia treatment they need. Click here for a list of organizations with which Walden has contractual relationships.
Learn more about warning signs of orthorexia.