National Eating Disorders Association

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I'm in a place I never thought I would be. My daughter has a disease which I just don't understand.

I'll give you the basics and see what advice you can give me. I'm 100% in her corner, I just don't know whether to press issues or stand back.

My daughter is a Div 1 athlete. She has been diagnosed with orthorexia. (only eats clean foods). This started in HS. She is now a Junior in college. It started with only wanting to eat healthy foods. The sport was an easy coverup (as she explained to us recently). We truly had no idea. She's maintained a fairly good weight throughout all of this. Things took a bad turn this past summer and we finally strongly encouraged her to see the athletic department's nutritionist who in turn referred her to the psychologist.

She's been going to therapy for about 5 months. She's open with us and is really trying. She has gained some weight and does look better (her eyes and face aren't so drawn and tired looking). Her athletic performance shockingly hasn't been affected by this disease. I don't know how it couldn't have been but she had a great season this past fall. My husband and I were looking for signs of lack of fitness and strength but she was the most fit of any athlete on the field and one of the strongest.

So, she's been home for the first time for an extended amount of time for the first time in a couple of years. She's eating a fair amount of food but no foods which are outside of what she considers healthy. Should I be pushing this or letting it go?

I know that she had a really rough time with her ED when she first came home but seems to have settled in a bit better as the break has gone on. But still not eating anything outside of her "clean diet" Anyone have any experience with this? This is how the whole ED started. It got bad with restrictions and excessive exercise this past summer but while I wouldn't say she's eating to excess, she's still not eating a lot. Excessive exercise is difficult to moniter as she has a program that she needs to follow from her coach over break which is pretty intensive.

She is open with us and is on medication. It's difficult to know if she's making progress or if she's just holding steady .

Hello dontknowwheretoturn and

Hello dontknowwheretoturn and welcome to the forums! A portion of your post was edited due to mention of specific foods which may be triggering to other forum members. Our community guidelines can be found here:


Orthorexia can seem like a strange thing alright. It's hard to fault the things they eat, but the fact that the person is so mentally effected and constrained by their obsessions - That's where the issue is.

You probably have figured out by now that "safety" is a big part of this. If a person is going to "stay safe" it's going to involve some fairly rigid personal control. Which is one of the themes which ties it in with the other eating disorders. The exercise thing can also involve themes of control and safety as well. And really, who among us doesn't hope to feel safe and in control ? So there really are some potent emotional themes here that she'll need to be aware of, and see if she can experiment with letting go of some bits of the sort of rigidness that's involved.

You mentioned that she was able to be open with you about her situation, so that's a positive thing right there.

Has she been able to tell you what she wishes she was able to do ? These are difficult matters, but If so, that's probably a start.



So glad that you decided to post here! I struggled with orthorexia nervosa throughout high school so perhaps I can offer something that is somewhat helpful. I honestly look back and my parents didn’t really know what to do. My mom was so scared, I found out later she was sneaking stuff into my 'acceptable' food to increase the amount of calories. But otherwise, she did not push me towards eating any particular thing and for the most part just encouraged me to seek professional help I needed. I started seeing a therapist for the first time- and began getting at the underlying root causing my ED. It didn't happen overnight but over time, my need to cling onto ED behaviors became less and less. It is a process. But what ultimately led to my recovery was my own inner work- learning how to identify my emotions for the first time in therapy and beginning to develop my identity outside of the ED.

As much as you care for your daughter and want to help, my instinct says that ultimately her recovery will happen on her own timing. I know that as much as others tried to be helpful and encouraging, if I wasn’t ready to eat certain things, I wouldn’t. Breaking out of the good food/bad food mentality takes a lot of time and happens gradually. I honestly think the best thing you can do for your daughter is just continue to be a safe space for support, continue to foster the openness in what she’s going through and be there to listen. You can support her but it’s ultimately her fight. And it seems like she is on the right track with seeing a therapist & is putting in the effort. And it’s awesome that she is able to be open with ya’ll and will be super important in this process.

Keep us posted on how your daughter is doing and how things are going. And be sure you are taking care of yourself as well & getting support as you continue to go through this with your daughter. Let me know if there’s anything else I can help with. Hope to hear from you again soon.

<3 Lovetowrite81

following up

So, Christmas break ended and she's back at school. If I had to guess I would say that she lost a few pounds over the break. She seems to be much better at school, happier and pretty open. I don't think her food intake at school has improved. She's still not getting enough calories and is working out with her sport which is excessive by non-NCAA athletic standards.

In my mind, I think she is at a dangerous crosspoint. She either needs to stop the sport until she's healthy or someone needs to be pushing her to eat more calories/food varieties. How do I know which is the right way to go?

We are out of state so this complicates things...

I also have a 19 year old

I also have a 19 year old college daughter with Orthorexia. I feel like I'm in a similar spot (I don't understand it). The insistence on "clean eating" is putting her physical health in danger. I try reason and logic, but it is usually a losing battle. I watch her eat salads and drink water (in addition to other things of course) and then she is frustrated when she fails to gain weight. Honestly, I don't know if she really wants to gain weight like she claims or if it is just the disease causing deception yet again. Part of me feels like if she were sincere in her desire to get better and gain weight then she would accept the help. But this is a very strong-willed kid, and a very stubborn condition. I don't have any answers for you, but I can definitely understand your frustration and concern.


My 12 year old is in the same position. after a 2 week hospital stay and inpatient and intensive outpatient she is back home. It is very difficult to disagree with her as she eats so healthy most people when they see her eat would seem to think she is very healthy. They do not see all the time that goes into thinking about the next meal, the need to prepare her meal, the excuses to make when a restaurant that she does not agree with is chosen for dinner. Its not even the amounts as she eats large meals and never leaves anything on her plate but gaining i still very difficult. When we went over what a typical day of food would be, our therapist stated that this is what someone on a a diet would eat. It finally hit me, but still very difficult to add challenge foods, and for me as a father its difficult for me to decide to get into an argument to add a challenge food other than to let her eat her balanced meal. Brutus94, I hear you when you say your not sure if she really wants to gain weight but she is always genuinely surprised when she does not gain weight. She also suffers from anxiety which makes this all the more difficult.