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Difference Between Orthorexia Nervosa and Anorexia Nervosa

What is Orthorexia Nervosa and Anorexia Nervosa?

Both the terms are the disorders associated with an obsession for food in one way or another. However, people who suffer from orthorexia nervosa are obsessed with foods that offer health and focusses consumption of only quality and pure foods. In an obsession to eat only clean and healthy foods, such people usually isolate themselves from their social circle. Additionally, their well-being is taken to a toss with restricting themselves to several food associations and that results in lack of vital vitamins and nutrients whereas people suffering from anorexia nervosa are focused on extreme fear of gaining too much weight, an altered body appearance, inability to maintain a normal weight and intense eating habits that prevent too much gain of weight.


  • Both can result in: excessive emphasis on food-associated discussions, pictures, topics, a strict diet (restriction over few items), perfectionism (only pure and clean foods) the co-occurrence of too much stress and deliberate harm or injury to oneself, and the urge for control. 
  • Both terms share same Greek root word, “rexia’ meaning “hunger”.
  • Both disorders revolve around perfectionism and control
  • Isolation from others or avoiding social events that involve food
  • Malnutrition
  • Ego-syntonic nature
  • Magical conceptions about food
  • Spending too much time thinking about food

Orthorexia Nervosa

Orthorexia nervosa is an eating disorder in which the person is obsessed with clean, pure, healthy food rather than totally stop eating. They are just bothered and worried about the purity and quality of food they consume, refining and limiting their diets as per to their own knowledge and understanding of which foods are of good quality, pure and clean.  Extreme and too much obsession with particular diets like veganism (the practice of abstaining from the use of animal products), raw food, macrobiotics (a fad diet based on ideas about types of food drawn from Zen Buddhism) fruitarian diet (only fruits) etc. can result in alteration and harm to psychological and physical well-being. Etiologically Orthorexia refers to ‘right eating’ while Anorexia means ‘lack or loss of appetite for food’. 

Anorexia Nervosa

Anorexia nervosa, also termed as Anorexia, is a disorder (specifically eating disorder) in which people think and believe that they have gained excess weight and are overweight when they are not. Such people are obsessed with body appearance and becoming thin. They consume in iterations, eat only narrowed down group of foods and manage their weight and check their weights frequently. They do intense work out

They can also indulge in exercising excessively, force themselves to vomit or even use laxatives to produce weight loss. They are concerned with the quantity of food they eat.

Difference between orthorexia Nervosa and anorexia Nervosa


Orthorexia Nervosa

Here the individuals are concerned that how healthy and good foods will contribute in maximizing their health. Here the focus is on how the food affects perceived well-being or health. 

Anorexia Nervosa

Anorexia nervosa is characterized by emphasis on how foods affect body image and appearance 


Orthorexia Nervosa

Orthorexia nervosa is characterized by an emphasis on how food or diet influences perceived health 

Anorexia Nervosa

Anorexia nervosa involves obsessive thinking where people think that they are overweight when they are not. 

Symptoms and warning signs

Orthorexia Nervosa

  • Obsessed with reading and investigating nutritional labels and ingredient lists 
  • Gravely concerned about the role of ingredients in a particular food towards maximizing health
  • Totally eliminating all sugar, all carbohydrates, all diary, all animal products and all meat
  • Extreme obsession for specific foods and emphasis on a narrow group of food items that are regarded as ‘clean’ ‘healthy’ or ‘pure’
  • Observe urge to always figure out what healthy and pure foods other eat
  • Dawdling a lot of time pondering about what food items will be available at the upcoming social events
  • Extreme anxiety and stress when ‘pure’ and ‘clean’ and ‘safe’ foods are unavailable.  
  • Extreme obsession towards healthy food and healthy lifestyle blogs and vlogs on twitter, Instagram and Pinterest
  • Body appearance concerns could be present or could be absent

Anorexia Nervosa

  • Whole body – electrolyte – water imbalance, dehydration, tiredness, dizziness, low BP, feeling of cold
  • Weight – weight considered too low for good health, weight loss, or chronic weight loss and thinness
  • Behavioural – binge eating (frequent consumption of unusually large amounts of food), compulsive behaviour, hyperactivity (attention difficulty), impulsivity (issue with emotional or behavioral self-control), or social isolation
  • Mood – anxiety, uneasiness (a feeling of discomfort), or guilt
  • Gastrointestinal – constipation (less than three bowel movements a week) or vomiting
  • Menstrual – erratic monthly cycle 
  • Developmental – delayed puberty (when a girl or boy goes through several body changes later than the usual age range) or slow growth
  • Other symptoms – brittle nails (nails split, peel, or are simply weak), bruise, cold sensitivity, stress, dieting, dry skin and hair, headache, or reduced heart rate


Orthorexia Nervosa

No fear or concern for becoming fat

Anorexia Nervosa

Intense fear of obesity

Obsession about

Orthorexia Nervosa

Obsession about quality of food intake

Anorexia Nervosa

Obsession about the quantity of food intake


The points of difference between Orthorexia Nervosa and Anorexia Nervosa have been summarized as below:

Orthorexia Nervosa vs. Anorexia Nervosa

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References :

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

[1]Fombonne, E. (1995). Anorexia nervosa. The British Journal of Psychiatry, 166(4), 462-471.

[2]Sánchez, F. G., & Rial, B. R. (2005). Orthorexia nervosa. A new eating behavior disorder. Actas Esp Psiquiatr, 33(1), 66-68.

[3]Yager, J., & Andersen, A. E. (2005). Anorexia nervosa. New England Journal of Medicine, 353(14), 1481-1488.

[4]Image credit: https://pixabay.com/photos/healthy-eating-salad-food-57255/

[5]Image credit: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Association_of_Anorexia_nervosa_with_psychiatric_and_metabolic_traits.jpg

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