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The Hidden Dangers of Orthorexia Nervosa: A Q&A Guide

What is Orthorexia Nervosa (ON)?

Orthorexia nervosa (ON) is an eating disorder where individuals have an obsessive focus on eating foods they consider healthy. This obsession can lead to severe physical, emotional, and social risks.

What are the physical risks of ON?

Malnutrition: Ironically, striving for perfect nutrition can cause malnutrition. Individuals with ON often suffer from inadequate caloric and nutrient intake due to restrictive diets. A study on Chilean nutrition students found that those at risk of ON had significant dietary restrictions, leading to potential caloric and protein deficiencies (Villa et al., 2021).

Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders: ON often links to gastrointestinal symptoms like irritable bowel syndrome. This connection exacerbates health anxiety, causing further dietary restrictions and creating a vicious cycle of health issues (Gajdos et al., 2021).

Physical Impairments: Extreme weight loss, fatigue, and a weakened immune system frequently occur in individuals with ON. Studies using the Orthorexia Nervosa Inventory (ONI) highlight these physical impairments, showing the severe toll this disorder takes on the body (Oberle et al., 2020).

How does ON affect emotional and psychological health?

Emotion Regulation Issues: Individuals with ON often struggle with emotion regulation, showing high levels of attachment-related anxiety and avoidance. They experience significant anxiety, depression, and stress, making it hard to maintain emotional stability (Strahler et al., 2022).

Obsessive-Compulsive Traits: ON shares many characteristics with obsessive-compulsive disorder. Perfectionistic traits often predict orthorexic tendencies, leading individuals to exhibit obsessive behaviours and a compulsive need for dietary control (Novara et al., 2021).

How does ON impact social relationships?

The obsession with healthy eating often damages social relationships. Individuals with ON may isolate themselves to maintain their dietary regimen, leading to social isolation and difficulties in maintaining social interactions (Gkiouleka et al., 2022).

What are the social and behavioural risks of ON?

Disordered Eating Patterns: ON often coexists with other eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia nervosa. This overlap indicates a risk of developing other severe eating disorders in individuals with ON (Ramacciotti et al., 2011).

Health Anxiety: High levels of health anxiety can worsen ON symptoms, leading to further dietary restrictions and obsessive behaviours. This anxiety reinforces the disorder, making it harder to break free from unhealthy eating patterns (Gajdos et al., 2021).

What can be done to address ON?

Awareness and understanding of the risks associated with ON are vital. It is crucial to recognize when healthy eating becomes obsessive and harmful. Effective treatment and support can help individuals affected by ON find a healthier balance in their approach to food.

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