Orthorexia: Misplaced Fixation

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Orthorexia: Misplaced Fixation

Orthorexia–ever heard of it?  I came upon this term about 18 months ago when someone accused me of being orthorexic.  The person didn’t know me, but thought I had the condition when  I had the audacity to suggest (upon being asked) that organic fruits and veggies are better for her health than so-called Healthy Choice meals.  The nerve of me.

The “Condition”

For the record, orthorexia means “fixation on righteous eating”.  What’s so wrong with that?  I’m starting to think that the fixation that’s the problem is other people focusing on my healthy eating.

Another aspect of this “disorder” that is troubling is that anyone could have it if they’re particular about their diets.

It doesn’t have to be raw veganism (which I personally think is a great diet for people who feel amazing doing it).  If you become convinced that fast food is the ONLY healthy food, you, too, could be orthorexic!

The final thing that bothers me greatly is that people confuse “orthorexia nervosa” with anorexia nervosa.  Anorexia is a real disease, and people die from it.

It feels like the creator, Dr. Steven Bratman, wants to give credence to his idea by his choice of name.  I feel like he’s trying to pull the wool over people’s eyes and give weight to his idea by linking it so closely to such a dreaded disorder.

People are buying it, too.  Just Google images of orthorexia.  What you’ll see is bony models and painfully this actresses like Lara Flynn Boyle and Victoria Beckham.  I refuse to speculate on the health of these women, but I think it’s terribly unfair that they’re being labeled yet AGAIN by an overzealous doctor without a credit in the DSM.

The final insult in his choice of name is the one that is being most overlooked.  Bratman isn’t calling it an eating disorder, but rather a form of OCD.  So why the name, sir?

I think that far too few people focus on eating well, and those of us that give a crap about what goes into our mouths and bodies are weird.

I can accept that, I don’t mind being different because we don’t eat refined sugar or grains, or chemical “foods”.  However, just because we think differently doesn’t mean you get to slap a label on me.

This so-called disorder is not recognized by the DSM-IV, and it’s not going to be included in the DSM-V.  The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders is the handbook that tells us what mental illnesses exist and their criteria for diagnosis.

Orthorexia being excluded comes as no surprise to me.  My bachelor’s degree is in psychology, and I struggled with a diagnosable eating disorder for a number of years.

Believe you me, eating whole, organic foods with a focus on raw plant food is a much different thing than puking up your second DQ Blizzard of the day.   Been there, done that.

Supposed Characteristics

Here are some traits of the “disorder”:

1. Spending considerable time–often 3 or more hours per day–thinking about healthful foods and planning what to eat.

I guarantee you I don’t think about food three or more hours per day.  Now.  But when I was first learning about food and nutrition, of course I did.  It’s called a learning curve.  Anything worth doing takes some time, and I’m glad I invested it when I did, because my family reaps the benefit of excellent health now.

2. Experiencing guilt, fear or self-loathing when straying from this diet.

Notice that it doesn’t say “false guilt”.  Know why?  Because there’s a legitimate reason to fear for your health and well being when you stray from a solid, balanced diet.

If anyone should feel guilty, it’s this label-pushing quack who says that I shouldn’t feel guilty for eating a diet full of junk.

I won’t apologize for trying to prevent cancer, heart disease, and diabetes with my family’s diet.

Essentially, the medical community is trying to tell me that because I take seriously the belief that food is medicine and reject their pill-pushing propaganda, I’m the one with the disorder.

That’s right, medical community.  I’m hoping you never have to see much of me.  If  I’m ever seriously ill, I’ll use your services in treating REAL diseases.  Until then, I’ll kindly keep to myself, thank you very much.

3. Placing the virtue of the food above the pleasure of eating it.

OK, I confess that I do this.  I don’t really like brussels sprouts, but I eat them.  Mom told me that veggies were good for me, and I believed her.  Guess it’s mom’s fault that I have orthorexia.  It’s always the mother!

4. Sacrificing relationships and once-enjoyed activities in order to eat the “right” foods.

Wait, I do this too.  I won’t go to certain places with friends because they only offer fried and cheese-laden bar food (I do live in the South, remember).

I don’t drink like I once did, either.  I sure enjoyed that.  Oh, wait, that’s because drinking several nights a week might be bad for my health.  Hmm.

Heaven forbid that I do go out with my friends who are having a pint and choose to abstain from the “food” and drink.  Then I spend the whole night hearing about what a party pooper I am so they can feel better about their own bad choices.

Who’s the crappy friend now?  As one of my favorite bloggers, Kristen, said recently, “Every bite of food is a chance to make my body and baby stronger and healthier… or not. I choose stronger and healthier”.

But here’s a question: why is it ok to avoid these things at certain times in life, like during pregnancy or while battling cancer, and not others?  Is it really so terrible that I’d rather avoid the bad stuff altogether?

When women are pregnant, they’re praised for eating well and being disciplined.   When people have cancer, their physicians often give dietary advice.  Why is it that pregnancy and major illness are acceptable times for healthy foods to take their rightful, visible places in our diets?

5. Gaining self-esteem and a sense of control from eating healthy foods.

For the love of Pete.  So where is it ok to garner self-esteem?  Is it ok to feel better about myself because I exercise?  If so, why not about healthy eating?  This keeps getting more and more absurd.

6. Looking down on others who don’t eat the same way.

I think this is a problem of perception.  Ask anyone who has experienced life change, they all want to share it with others. Don’t confuse zeal for trying to guilt another person.

True, there are people who will take offense when you decline their advice.  I get that.  However, most people are genuinely interested in helping you feel as good as they do.

So the next time I offer you a green smoothie instead of your Lean Cuisine, feel free to say “no”.  Just know that I do it because I genuinely care about your health and wellness, not because I feel superior.

If you hear that little whisper inside of you that says “there is another way”, I’d love it if you’d follow it down the rabbit hole. But careful, you might be labeled with a made-up psychological disorder, too.

Dunce photo from Gibbs Magazine

Frenemy photo from Elle

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