Orthorexia: Defined & Discussed

Feb. 23, 2021
Broccoli and almonds on a plate with word Good?

Simply put orthorexia is the “unhealthy obsession with eating healthy.”   

Orthorexia is a form of disordered eating and although not formally a part of the DSM-5 (diagnostic manual used to diagnose eating disorders), it is considered by many providers an eating disorder.  

The term orthorexia and understanding what it represents is important. There are many facets of wellness culture, or diet culture, that would have us think that “just wanting to eat well” is healthy for us.  

When does the desire to eat or be “healthy” go too far? 

For some, it all starts with just wanting to eat “better,” they read on a blog or see in a magazine, examples of meals or snacks that would make them look or feel better. It is alluring sure, so we take that information and apply it. We start buying all organic fruits and vegetables, we cut out our favorite after dinner foods or we remove food groups all together, in the name of “health.” The sense of control can be intoxicating.   

Then the tables turn. 

Now, all we can think about is food. We are offered a snack or dinner at a friend’s house and we are stressed, “is this healthy?” “can I eat this?”  That stress can even make us preoccupied with food, it is all we can think about all day, planning our next meals or deciding what we are going to eat to fit into our new set of food rules. Food rules, by design, are not sustainable and rigid in nature. So, when we eat something that is not part of our new plan, we are filled with more stress and guilt, maybe even shame.  

Orthorexic tendencies often remove whole food groups and by default lots of nutrients.  

All the food rules collected, can turn into now a very small list of “approved” foods, excluding many nutrients needed to have a well-nourished and functioning body leaving us susceptible to poor health outcomes.  

Orthorexia is not flexible; it is not balanced and can lead to a very unhealthy relationship with food and our body.  

The Takeaway

If you recognize this is occurring, steps can be taken to get support and turn things around. It is common, with all the messages received about food and bodies in our culture, to easily adopt some of these rules. Notice if you are being rigid with foods, if making food choices has become a challenge because nothing feels “healthy enough.” Notice if much of your day is spent thinking about food or running through lists in your head, you deserve to free up some of that brain space!  Support is available if you are looking to have a better relationship with food and embrace recovery. Wellness can be about what we add to our lives, not what we take away! 


Individual consultations on nutrition and/or fitness are available for students at Campus Health. Dietitians Lisa MacDonald, MPH, RDNChristy Wilson, RDN, and Ashley Munro, RDN, CDCES are available for appointments most days of the week.  At this time, most appointments will be held via HIPAA-compliant video conference.

To make an appointment, call: (520) 621-9202