Orthorexia nervosa exists, and is an unhealthy obsession with eating healthy food.
Orthorexia nervosa, as I originally defined it, indicates an unhealthy obsession with eating healthy food. The term is derived from the Greek “ortho,” which means “right,” or “correct,” and is intended as a parallel with anorexia nervosa.
I realize this sounds like an oxymoron. How can focusing on healthy food be bad for you? The apparent contradiction has led to a great deal of challenge of the concept.
But the emphasis is intended to be on “unhealthy obsession.” One can have an unhealthy obsession with something that is otherwise healthy. Think of exercise addiction, or workaholism. I never intended the expression to apply to anything other than extreme cases of over-focus, particularly where the person themselves would rather lighten up and stop thinking about it so much.
Symptoms of orthorexia nervosa may include obsession with healthy eating and emaciation, among other things. Orthorexic subjects typically have specific feelings towards different types of food. The obsession for healthy foods could come from a number of sources such as family habits, society trends, economic problems, recent illness, or even just hearing something negative about a food type or group, which then leads them to ultimately eliminate the food or foods from their diet. According to the abstract of a 2004 study quoted on PubMed, a service of the National Institutes of Health, “The analysis of the physiological characteristics, the social-cultural and the psychological behaviour that characterises subjects suffering from ON shows a higher prevalence in men and in those with a lower level of education
There has been no investigation into whether there may be a biological cause specific to orthorexia nervosa. However, Donini et al. link orthorexia to a food-centered manifestation of obsessive compulsive disorder, which has a lot to do with control. A 2013 study of college students found that orthorexia severity was negatively associated with self-reported executive functioning. This means that the better the student did with cognitively complex tasks, including planning and decision-making, the less likely the student was to have orthorexia.