Orthorexia Nervosa usually begins with a focus on healthier eating which becomes an obsession with healthy food. People suffering from orthorexia are often obsessed with “pure” or “clean” foods. Someone with orthorexia might only eat whole foods, unprocessed foods, or foods without fat, salt, sugar or animal products. A person with orthorexia might also prepare foods in specific ways, cleaning the food meticulously or insisting that it be cooked thoroughly to kill bacteria. Over time, orthorexia leads to social isolation, malnutrition, and severe anxiety regarding eating. Although orthorexia can result in weight loss, the goal is more about eating “correctly” than losing weight.
Treatment approaches for orthorexia include cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) and Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP). CBT helps the client change or challenge distorted thoughts about food. The ACT model can be used to help build mindfulness skills and a higher level of acceptance of uncomfortable thoughts and feelings. ERP is more behavioral in nature, and involves specific homework assignments such as reintroducing formerly “bad” foods and eating meals with others. While this diagnosis shares many features with obsessive compulsive disorder, and medication can be useful in treating it, medications are often viewed with apprehension, as a person with orthorexia might also insist on using only herbal supplements. Here at EDTC, we have worked successfully with many clients suffering from orthorexia using the treatment methods mentioned above.