The Hidden Dangers of Orthorexia Nervosa.

In today’s health-conscious society, eating right often receives praise. However, there’s a darker side to this pursuit of dietary purity: orthorexia nervosa (ON). This lesser-known eating disorder involves an obsessive focus on eating foods considered healthy, leading to severe physical, emotional, and social risks.

Physical Risks

  1. Malnutrition: Ironically, striving for perfect nutrition can cause the opposite. Individuals with ON often suffer from malnutrition due to restrictive diets, resulting in inadequate caloric and nutrient intake. A study on Chilean nutrition students found significant dietary restrictions in those at risk of ON, leading to potential caloric and protein deficiencies (Villa et al., 2021).
  2. Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders: Orthorexia nervosa often links to functional 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).
  3. 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).

Emotional and Psychological Risks

  1. 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).
  2. 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).
  3. Impact on 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).

Social and Behavioral Risks

  1. Disordered Eating Patterns: Orthorexia nervosa 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).
  2. 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).


Orthorexia nervosa poses significant physical, emotional, and social risks. While the pursuit of healthy eating is generally good, it’s crucial to recognize when this behavior becomes obsessive and harmful. Malnutrition, gastrointestinal issues, emotional distress, and social isolation are just some of the dangers associated with ON. Awareness and understanding of these risks are vital for providing effective treatment and support for those affected by this condition.

By recognizing the signs and understanding the consequences, we can better support individuals struggling with orthorexia nervosa and help them find a healthier balance in their approach to food.


Villa, M., Opawsky, N., Manriquez, S., Ananías, N., Vergara-Barra, P., & Leonario-Rodriguez, M. (2021). Orthorexia nervosa risk and associated factors among Chilean nutrition students: a pilot study. Journal of Eating Disorders.

Strahler, J., Wachten, H., Neuhofer, S., & Zimmermann, P. (2022). Psychological Correlates of Excessive Healthy and Orthorexic Eating: Emotion Regulation, Attachment, and Anxious-Depressive-Stress Symptomatology. Frontiers in Nutrition.

Gajdos, P., Román, N., Tóth-Király, I., & Rigó, A. (2021). Functional gastrointestinal symptoms and increased risk for orthorexia nervosa. Eating and Weight Disorders – Studies on Anorexia, Bulimia and Obesity.

Oberle, C. D., De Nadai, A. S., & Madrid, A. L. (2020). Orthorexia Nervosa Inventory (ONI): development and validation of a new measure of orthorexic symptomatology. Eating and Weight Disorders – Studies on Anorexia, Bulimia and Obesity.

Novara, C., Maggio, E., Piasentin, S., Pardini, S., & Mattioli, S. (2021). Orthorexia Nervosa: differences between clinical and non-clinical samples. BMC Psychiatry.

Gkiouleka, M., Stavraki, C., Sergentanis, T., & Vassilakou, T. (2022). Orthorexia Nervosa in Adolescents and Young Adults: A Literature Review. Children.

Ramacciotti, C., Perrone, P., Coli, E., Burgalassi, A., Conversano, C., Massimetti, G., & Dell’Osso, L. (2011). Orthorexia nervosa in the general population: A preliminary screening using a self-administered questionnaire (ORTO-15). Eating and Weight Disorders – Studies on Anorexia, Bulimia and Obesity.

McComb, S. E., & Mills, J. S. (2019). Orthorexia nervosa: A review of psychosocial risk factors. Appetite, 140, 50-75.

Domingues, R. B., & Carmo, C. (2020). Orthorexia nervosa in yoga practitioners: relationship with personality, attitudes about appearance, and yoga engagement. Eating and Weight Disorders – Studies on Anorexia, Bulimia and Obesity.

Valente, M., Brenner, R., Cesuroglu, T., Bunders-Aelen, J., & Syurina, E. (2020). “And it snowballed from there”: The development of orthorexia nervosa from the perspective of people who self-diagnose. Appetite, 155, 104840.