Social Consequences of Clean Eating and Orthorexia

Woman struggling with clean eating

Clean eating has become much more popular in the last decade. Orthorexia has typically developed from clean eating, and little is understood about the social consequences of these issues.

Neither is a defined diagnosis and is a term to describe a lifestyle pattern of eating. What social implications come from individuals who clean eat or struggle with orthorexia?

How Clean is Clean?

Clean eating can be described as behaviors that are centered on healthy eating, proper nutrition, restrictive eating patterns, and strict avoidance of foods that are considered or perceived to be unhealthy or impure [1].

Some examples of clean eating diets are the Low Carb, Super Healthy Family, Paleo, and Raw Food diets. Many boast various health benefits by following the regimens, but they all involve massive cuts in food groups and choices and can be nutritionally insufficient.

Often following these lifestyles can lead to obsessive thoughts and behaviors around eating a ‘clean, pure, and healthy’ diet, which can lead to Orthorexia.

Typically with orthorexia individuals will limit their food intake to that which they deem as pure and clean such as raw foods. Often this can lead to cleanses that are seen as purifying.

These behaviors can result in significant weight loss and malnutrition. Individuals who are seen as clean eaters or have orthorexia, typically see substantial issues in daily functioning.

Often this lifestyle includes a majority of time dedicated to planning and research around foods that are acceptable. This can limit social gatherings, connections, and loss of relationships [1].


Research shows that people make judgments of others based on their eating behaviors [1]. Analysis on consumption stereotypes shows that individuals subscribe to stereotypical attributes towards others based on what they eat.

Individuals have mixed views of those who engage in healthy dieting. Some describe eating low-fat foods as positive and see people more attractively if they eat those foods.

Others see low-fat foods positively on attributes such as conscientious, attractive, and moral compared to people who eat more high-fat foods.

Another group, however, see those who eat low-fat diets as high-strung, unhappy, self-centered, and antisocial.

So the reviews are mixed when studying social perceptions of individuals who follow a more clean eating diet.

A different study that looked at perceptions of those with orthorexia found that orthorexia was seen as less distressing as eating disorders, and less likely to have sympathy for the individual, and stigma was high towards those with orthorexia [1].

Individuals with orthorexia may become socially isolated, or have little ability to do anything other than thinking about, researching, and planning food intake [2]. Typically conversations are limited, and when engaging in discussion, it generally is around food, meals, types of foods, chemicals, purity of foods and so forth.

Society Is Knocking

Society continually pushes healthy eating and thinness, and that these two go together. From advertisements to TV shows, the idea that everyone can be thin, and following a healthy and proper diet will lead to thinness which equals success is all around.

It can often change the way one thinks about food and their lifestyle. Choosing to begin eating clean, which can lead to orthorexia, pushes a person to hide behind the way they eat to avoid social situations and get-togethers.

Many restaurants and grocery stores have gotten on the bandwagon of clean eating, and it is much easier and more acceptable to eat this way than ten years ago. In a recent study, however, pure eating still carries a stigma.

Clean eaters are perceived more negatively if they were vocal about their clean eating behaviors versus someone who was not [3]. Social ramifications are ever present in today’s culture.

Woman dancing in the rain

Stigma can be associated with control and blame, that those who have tried clean eating before have heard that they are ‘boring’ or ‘no fun’ because they no longer eat the same foods as peers, loved ones, and friends. There are adverse consequences for clean eating, and this is more so in people that extremely use clean eating or develop orthorexia.

Social Media has also turned into a clean eating platform [4]. Restaurants, Pins, Facebook feeds, Instagram posts with food-perfect photos seductively display healthy foods.

They opt to show that clean eating can aid in better fitness performance, more healthy and pure eating, and increasing social life because of lifestyle choices. It can distort individuals ideas and values of what defines their own life and body.

A nutrition therapist, Dr. Karin Kratina, a specialist in eating disorders, states that she is ‘seen a rise in orthorexic patients…and I get a new client every week with orthorexic symptoms [4].’

One reason for the rise in its popularity is due to society’s fixation on health. People, cultures, and media have moralized eating, weight, food, and exercise. People are beginning to believe that food, or clean eating, is the answer to any problems.

Generationally, younger people, such as college and high school age, are more fixated on health and fitness, and it is not about what is good for your body, but what you are portraying on your social media platforms as ‘healthy [4].’

Eating healthily, clean eating, and even orthorexia is now seen as being a morally right person, something you can be proud of and see as an accomplishment.

In conclusion, social consequences of healthy eating include individual exclusion and negative judgment and perceptions based on the severity of the person who clean eats. Social media has taken flight with healthy eating and its values and morals that are perceived from this lifestyle.

Being able to understand that a person has true qualities and core self-features that make them who they are, not a diet, not a lifestyle choice. Intrinsically we are who are defined by our traits, not the foods we eat.

Image of Libby Lyons and familyAbout the Author: Libby Lyons is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Certified Eating Disorder Specialist (CEDS). Libby has been practicing in the field of eating disorders, addictions, depression, anxiety and other comorbid issues in various agencies. Libby has previously worked as a contractor for the United States Air Force Domestic Violence Program, Saint Louis University Student Health and Counseling, Saint Louis Behavioral Medicine Institute Eating Disorders Program, and has been in Private Practice.

Libby currently works as a counselor at Fontbonne University and is a Adjunct Professor at Saint Louis University, and is a contributing author for Addiction Hope and Eating Disorder Hope. Libby lives in the St. Louis area with her husband and two daughters. She enjoys spending time with her family, running, and watching movies.


[1] Nevin, S. M., & Vartanian, L. R. (2017, August 25). The stigma of clean dieting and orthorexia nervosa. Retrieved September 25, 2017, from
[2] Orthorexia Nervosa. (n.d.). Retrieved September 25, 2017, from
[3] Hosie, R. (2017, September 02). Clean eating negatively affects social perceptions of a person, finds study. Retrieved September 25, 2017, from
[4] Social Media is Turning Clean Eating into Eating Disorders. (2016, May 04). Retrieved September 25, 2017, from

The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Eating Disorder Hope understand that eating disorders result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an eating disorder, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Published on October 18, 2017.
Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on October 18, 2017.
Published on