Orthorexia nervosa, or orthorexia, was first termed in the 1990’s, (1) and is described as an obsession for healthy eating or having the “perfect” diet. (2) This obsession is more than a simple interest or curiosity with healthy eating – it can drastically impact a person’s quality of life, relationships, and could lead to serious health issues, including nutrient deficiencies, malnutrition, or unintended weight loss. (2)

While orthorexia has not yet been classified as a form of eating disorder, it does strike resemblance to other mental health disorders. (1) For instance, both anorexia and orthorexia involve the restriction of food – the key difference lies in the how and the why. (1) Those with anorexia focus on restricting the amount of food they consume to try and achieve the “perfect” body; those with orthorexia focus on restricting the types of food they consume, in an effort to create the “perfect” diet. (1) Orthorexia has also been found to share similarities with obsessive-compulsive disorder, or OCD. (1,2)

The National Eating Disorders Association identifies the following as the signs and symptoms of orthorexia:

  • Compulsive checking of ingredient lists and nutritional labels
  • An increase in concern about the health of ingredients
  • Cutting out an increasing number of food groups (all sugar, all carbs, all dairy, all meat, all animal products)
  • An inability to eat anything but a narrow group of foods that are deemed ‘healthy’ or ‘pure’
  • Unusual interest in the health of what others are eating
  • Spending hours per day thinking about what food might be served at upcoming events
  • Showing high levels of distress when ‘safe’ or ‘healthy’ foods aren’t available
  • Obsessive following of food and ‘healthy lifestyle’ blogs on Twitter and Instagram
  • Body image concerns may or may not be present (2)


If you or someone you know is experiencing signs or symptoms of orthorexia encourage them to speak to a health professional such as a Registered Dietitian. Nutrition Assessment Clinic can help you or a loved one explore their relationship with food, ensuring they are meeting their nutrient needs and fostering a healthy relationship with food and their body.


  1. Kovem, N. S., & Abry, A. W. (2015). The clinical basis of orthorexia nervosa: emerging perspectives. Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment, 11, 385-394. http://doi.org/10.2147/NDT.S61665
  2. National Eating Disorders Association (2018). Orthorexia. Retrieved from https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/learn/by-eating-disorder/other/orthorexia

Author: Mikaela Horton, MHSc(c), BASc for nutritionassessment.com