Warning Signs of Orthorexia

December 19, 2023

Most teens are aware of the importance of good nutrition. However, in some cases, the well-intentioned pursuit of a healthful diet can transform into an obsession known as orthorexia. At The Forum, we believe in recognizing the fine line between health-conscious eating and disordered eating. Though not as widely recognized as other eating disorders like anorexia nervosa or bulimia, orthorexia is equally concerning and can severely impact your child’s physical and mental health.

What Is Orthorexia?

Orthorexia’s defining characteristic is an extreme preoccupation with consuming “healthy,” “pure” or “virtuous” foods. While planning and eating balanced meals is beneficial, orthorexia involves a rigid obsession that can lead to nutritional deficiencies and impaired social functioning. It shares similarities with anorexia nervosa, particularly in terms of food restriction and the potential for malnutrition.

Identifying orthorexia can be challenging, as it often starts as a seemingly harmless desire to make better food choices. However, some behaviors and thought patterns may indicate your child is developing or has developed orthorexia.

  1. Compulsive ingredient monitoring: A constant need to check and recheck ingredient lists and nutritional labels for every food item.
  2. Restricting foods: Gradually eliminating entire food groups like carbs, sugars, gluten, meat or dairy under the guise of health.
  3. Limited diet: Unwillingness to eat anything outside a small group of “safe” foods.
  4. Preoccupation with what others eat: An unusual level of interest in what other people are eating, often accompanied by judgment or unsolicited advice about their food choices.
  5. Sense of superiority: A feeling of loftiness based on dietary choices.
  6. Excessive perfectionism: High levels of fastidiousness regarding diet and health.
  7. Preoccupation with upcoming meals: Spending an inordinate amount of time thinking about food preparation, ingredients and recipes.
  8. Distress in absence of “safe” foods: Experiencing anxiety or extreme stress when the foods on their “approved” list are not available.
  9. Heavy social media use: Obsessively following health, food and lifestyle blogs or influencers’ social media accounts, which can reinforce and exacerbate unhealthy behaviors and attitudes around food.

Disordered Eating Focused on “Healthy” Choices

Food is more than fuel; it’s also a source of pleasure and an integral part of social and cultural experiences. Seek professional counseling if your child shows warning signs of an unhealthy fixation on their diet or nutrition. Early intervention can prevent further health complications and address the underlying psychological factors contributing to this disorder. Treatment typically involves nutritional counseling and therapy, focusing on developing a healthier relationship with food and addressing mental health issues like anxiety, perfectionism and compulsive behavior.

No matter what your child’s disordered eating looks like, it can severely affect their physical and mental health. Please contact The Forum for help with adolescent eating disorders like orthorexia. We advocate for a balanced approach to nutrition and health. Recognizing and addressing orthorexia is a critical step toward reclaiming a balanced, sensible view of food.