Orthorexia: Understanding If I Need Professional Treatment

Woman eating food fighting Orthorexia

Contributor: Stephanie Ceranec, Med, LCPC, Eating Disorder Program Coordinator, Timberline Knolls Residential Treatment Center.

When it comes to eating disorders, people are generally most familiar with anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorder. However, there are many other forms of eating disorders that may not be as well known but have the potential to reap destructive consequences.

Orthorexia nervosa is an eating disorder that is overlooked for many reasons, particularly because it is often disguised as “healthy eating,” which is applauded in our culture today. While orthorexia is not an eating disorder with diagnosable criteria, there are many specific behaviors that are identified by this condition.

Understanding Orthorexia Nervosa

In a culture where “clean eating” has warped into a viral dieting trend, many of the behaviors associated with orthorexia can go unnoticed. Social media feeds are full of images that display perfectly crafted plates of “healthy” foods, with individuals becoming obsessed about every bite that is put into their bodies. However, when does this obsession become more harmful than helpful?

The term orthorexia nervosa translates to a “fixation on righteous eating.” Individuals with orthorexia become obsessive about eating foods that are “pure” and “clean” and, as a result, develop rigid eating habits that can become quite restrictive. A person with orthorexia will typically feel a sense of validation and superiority for their eating choices and food intake, with self-esteem and identity wrapped in their diet.

Other symptoms of orthorexia include, but are not limited to, the following [1]:

  • Feelings of intense guilt or self-loathing when diet rules are broken
  • Escalating dietary restrictions overtime, including elimination of certain foods and/or food groups
  • Frequently engaging in fasts, detoxifications, and/or “cleanses” in order to purify the body of toxins
  • Experiencing fear of diseases and/or bodily impurities
  • Mental preoccupation with food behaviors, food, and dietary practices

When to Seek Professional Help

Preparing foodIf you or a loved one is struggling with any of the above symptoms, it is important to talk to someone about connecting with professional help. The behaviors associated with orthorexia can result in many negative side effects, including adverse health consequences, mental/emotional distress, strains on relationships with loved ones, financial stressors and more.

If at any point you are unable to appropriately carry out your normal activities or find yourself compromising your responsibilities due to abnormal behaviors around food, this is a good indication that something might be wrong.

Speak with an eating disorder specialist today who can help you better determine what course of professional treatment will be most effective for your recovery.

Stephanie Ceranec photoAbout the author: Stephanie Ceranec, MEd, LCPC, oversees the Eating Disorder Specialist team. She provides awareness, training and education to clinical and support staff. In addition, Stephanie provides group therapy and works in a collaborative team effort in providing eating disorder treatment.

Stephanie began at Timberline Knolls as a Behavioral Health Specialist and found her path as an Eating Disorder Specialist. Prior to Timberline, Stephanie worked in a Chicago Public School and assisted individuals with disabilities to build connections in the community through activities and exposures.

Stephanie received a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from Eastern Illinois University and Masters in Education with a focus on both School and Community Counseling from DePaul University.


[1]: Dunn, T.M & Bratman, S. (2016). On orthorexia nervosa: A review of the literature and proposed diagnostic criteria. Eating Behaviors, 21, 11 -17.

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 a 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 December 24, 2018.
Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on December 24, 2018.
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