Orthorexia Nervosa is a type of eating disorder where the individual has an unhealthy obsession with healthy eating, which can sometimes extend to fitness too. 

However, unlike with other eating disorders where individuals often change their diet in order to lose weight or fulfil their body image goals, most of those with orthorexia tend to focus on the perceived health and nutritional value of food. 

According to Beat Eating Disorders (BEAT), an estimated 1.25 million people in the UK suffer from an eating disorder. More specifically, around 1% to 7% suffer from orthorexia. It is important to note, however, that because orthorexia isn’t officially classified as a medical condition, this is merely an estimate and some studies suggest the percentage may be much higher.  

What is most worrying is how NHS England recently disclosed that almost 10,000 young people started receiving treatment for eating disorders between April and December of 2021. This is an increase of almost two thirds since before the pandemic.

The actual causes of orthorexia can and will vary massively from case to case. For example, a past history of trauma, unhealthy relationships, low self-esteem, substance abuse, mental health and a need for control may all be a reason why someone develops this eating disorder. 

However, another cause of orthorexia and any eating disorder is social media. 

New findings by the Mental Health Foundation found that among teenagers, 37% felt upset with their body image and 31% felt ashamed. A recent Sky News article also found that one third of young men in the UK are changing their appearance in order to conform to the stereotypes promoted on social media. 

So, with eating disorders and particularly orthorexia on the rise, what are the key symptoms to look out for?

An individual suffering from orthorexia will often experience low moods or depression and feelings of guilt and anxiety around eating (and sometimes fitness). They may also cut out large food groups and constantly plan their meals and groceries to the extent that it impacts their everyday lives. 

Figuring out the right way to approach someone who may have an eating disorder can be extremely difficult but it is possible to help. One key step to helping someone is to talk to the individual privately in a calm and approachable manner. It is important in this situation to never accuse but rather to listen to everything they say, and really hear them. Alternatively, speaking to a professional for advice, such as a doctor, can also be useful.