What Causes Orthorexia Nervosa? Its Symptoms And How To Treat It?

The term orthorexia is derived from two words, ‘ortho’ meaning straight and ‘orexia’ meaning appetite. Orthorexia Nervosa is a condition which is characterized by a pathological fixation of eating proper food. The condition has certain similarities with “Anorexia nerovosa”, however the difference between the two is that anorexia is concerned with the quantity of food consumed while orthorexia is concerned with the quality of food that is consumed.

Individuals suffering from Orthorexia Nervosa are prone to be very selective and at times picky about the food that they consume.

While having a selective and healthy diet has great benefits in promoting overall health, it requires significant amount of willpower and hence very few people are able to accomplish it gracefully.

Inability to accomplish a healthy change in diet gracefully results in a higher risk of suffering from a wide range of nutritional deficiencies which in turn impacts the overall health of the individual. Individuals with Orthorexia Nervosa fall under this category.

Causes Of Orthorexia Nervosa

While the underlying reason for the development of the condition is to purse a healthy diet, very few are able to achieve this gracefully. Orthorexia Nervosa is caused due to certain extreme diets which include consumption of raw food (raw foodism) or complete dependence on fruits (fruitarianism) or conducting extreme fasts (breatharianism)

The condition is often associated with a faulty dietary practice which is characterized by resisting temptations, increasing the duration between two meals, self-condemning for failure to adhere to faulty dietary regimens and an overall feeling of superiority over others with “unhealthy” dietary practices.

Orthorexia Nervosa Symptoms

The primary symptoms associated with the onset of this condition are associated with nutritional deficiencies which may interfere with overall work performance of an individual. Some of the characteristic features of the condition include,

  • Individuals with this condition are prone to recurrent flu and colds, due to lowered overall immunity. Experts suggest that individuals with orthorexia nervosa are at a higher risk of developing chronic diseases like cancer.
  • Inadequacy of vitamins and minerals in the diet is associated with osteoporosis, atherosclerosis, alteration in blood pressure and blood sugar levels in the blood, etc.
  • Inadequacy of proteins may result in muscle wasting and generalized weakness. Inadequacy of carbohydrates and fats in diet may lower the energy levels and result in feeling listless and tired.
  • Invariably individuals suffering from this condition have a pale, listless and thin skin texture.
  • Eventually the cognitive and memory functions of the individual also get affected. Irritability, inability to concentrate, forgetfulness, etc are some of the other common symptoms.

How To Treat Orthorexia Nervosa?

The treatment of this condition primarily focuses on counseling in order to clear the myths associated with the faulty eating habits. Peer group support and family support plays a vital role in helping an individual overcome this obsessive habit.

  • The focus of the treatment is aimed at helping the individual revert to a more balanced diet approach. Supplementing the food with vitamins, minerals and other nutrients may become important to alleviate some of the symptoms associated with the condition.
  • Ensuring that the diet comprises of a balanced quantity of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and dairy products is important.
  • Herbs like Alfalfa can help improve appetite and thereby enhance the ability of individuals with Orthorexia Nervosa to increase the intake of healthy food.
  • Trans-fats and processed food needs to be avoided completely.
  • Regular exercising is helpful as it prompts appetite and creates a sense of well being.