Understanding perceived characteristics and causes of orthorexia nervosa in online communities – A Reddit analysis

Marie-Christine Opitz*, Emily Newman, Helen Sharpe

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

The present study analysed individual experiences of orthorexia nervosa (ON), a term commonly associated with obsessive health behaviors. With no universal definition available in research or practice, this study aimed to analyse six months of publicly available Reddit data to identify common characteristics and perceived causes of ON as reported in eating disorder- (ED) and diet-related subreddits. A Python code was used to extract comments from a publicly available Reddit data archive. To explore themes for each category of subreddit, a text-mining approach was combined with thematic analysis within a social constructionist framework. In both subreddit categories, the manifestation of ON was conceptualized in the context of shifting ED expressions and associated with the perception of food as a threat as well as the pursuit of superiority. In ED-subreddits, commenters discussed ON as a safety mechanism for health anxieties, the role of the body as visualising ON, and ON’s role within a proactive selfcare culture. Diet-related subreddit themes encompassed the conceptualization of ON as health perfectionism, ON’s underlying mental health concerns, and ON pathology as the result of problematic norms. The analysis of 246 online comments revealed a wide scope of ON conceptualizations and highlighted the need for a coherent diagnostic model of ON, which takes into account sociocultural as well as individual factors.
Original languageEnglish
Article number6
Number of pages20
JournalCyberpsychology: Journal of Psychosocial Research on Cyberspace
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 29 Nov 2022

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • orthorexia
  • Reddit
  • social media
  • eating disorders
  • diet


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