The difference between anorexia and orthorexia (Q&A pt.6)

Anorexia nervosa is a common known term. Although the idea of an emaciated person does not always correspond to reality, we know that anorexia nervosa has to do with restrictive eating. But what is orthorexia? The term was first used in 1998 (anorexia nervosa, although under a different name, was already discussed in the 18th century). So, this post is about the differences and overlaps between anorexia and orthorexia .

Hey, I was wondering if a person can have both: anorexia and orthorexia nervosa? I only eat clean and eat small portions to lose weight.

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Definition Anorexia Nervosa

Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder characterized by weight loss (or missing of adequate weight gain in growing children); as well as difficulty maintaining an appropriate body weight for their height, age, and body type. Many sufferers also have a body dysmorphic disorder. People with anorexia severely restrict their calorie intake and food choices. Some sufferers also resort to compensatory behaviors such as excessive movement/exercise and/or vomiting and laxatives. Contrary to the assumption that all anorexic people only restrict their eating (type I “restrictive subtype”), there is also subtype II “binge-purge subtype”, in which binge eating and binge episodes as well as compensatory/restrictive episodes occur.

“Anorexia is the number 1 mental illness with most deaths, but just for educational purposes, it is NOT the only eating disorder. There are binge eating disorder, orthorexia and many others that go beyond being skinny”

Definition Orthorexia Nervosa

“I did not expect her to completely fall into orthorexia. She would tell you that she is following a “healthy lifestyle,” while instead this is absolutely disordered and terrible to see!”

Orthorexia nervosa describes a pathological obsession with a “perfect” diet. It is characterized by a restrictive diet, ritualized eating habits, and a strict avoidance of foods considered unhealthy or unclean. Contrary to the intention of living as fit and healthy as possible, orthorexia nervosa can lead to nutritional deficiencies, medical complications and a reduced quality of life. So, suffering from orthorexia about more than just wanting to eat “healthy”.

Warning signs that someone may have orthorexia:

  • compulsive reading of ingredients and ingredient lists
  • an increased concern about how certain foods and ingredients affect the body (in terms of health)
  • limited selection of (pure/organic/…) foods that are allowed
  • increased interest in what others are eating
  • an unusual amount of time is spent learning about nutrition
  • Concern about what will be served at events/birthdays/… | Bring their own food, even if you have no allergies
  • Feeling stressed/anxious when not being able to choose from the allowed/healthy foods
  • Doubts and dissatisfaction regarding the body can, but do not have to be present.

overlaps between anorexia and orthorexia

"I am extremely annoyed by wellness-related and clean eating-related accounts on social media, because these are just trying to mask orthorexia nervosa”

The most important factors influencing the development and maintenance of both eating disorders are perfectionism and control. Anorexia and orthorexia nervosa result in an excessive focus on nutrition-related issues. The following are additional signs and symptoms that can occur with both anorexia nervosa and orthorexia nervosa:

  • Strict behaviors and rituals related to meal preparation
  • Feelings of guilt after consuming “forbidden” foods
  • more time is spent thinking about food
  • The food determines the daily routine
  • Refusing to eat out or anything else
  • social isolation and
    Avoiding social events where food might play a role
  • malnutrition

differences between anorexia and orthorexia

Anorexia and orthorexia share the same word root “rexia”, which means something like “hunger” in Greek. However, the two disorders differ in many ways, which is also evident from the word parts “ana”, which roughly means “without” and “ortho”, which means “right”. This implies that anorexia nervosa sufferers drastically limit/control their eating habits and orthorexia sufferers take extreme measures to only eat “clean”. The focus at Orthorexia is not on the body (weight), but rather on “health”.

  • Food focus is characterized in sufferers of anorexia by paying close attention to how certain foods and amounts eaten affect body weight and appearance

  • For sufferers of Orthorexia, the focus on food results from their close attention to how food affects their “health”. (Health in “..”, since it is about the subjective, self-assessed health)

aspects of recovery in orthorexia

The therapy and aspects of recovery are similar to those in the treatment of anorexia. It is inevitable that people will face their fears and work through fear foods. At the same time, it is advisable to look at where the desire for health and fitness comes from and which nutritional myths are actually true. Psychotherapy is recommended, as well as nutritional therapy, in which you can learn how to apply the knowledge you have acquired about nutrition in a way that supports you in achieving your life goals and satisfaction.


rund um das Thema Genesung von Essstörungen, Intuitives Essen oder "Health at every size"/ eating disorder recovery related, about intuitive eating or health at every size.
anorexia und orthorexia | anorexia and orthorexia
anorexia und orthorexia | anorexia and orthorexia
anorexia und orthorexia | anorexia and orthorexia
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