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Orthorexia or Healthy Eating?

Several months ago I heard something on the news that nearly made me fall off my chair. It was a segment that basically said that people who avoid eating sugar, soy, dairy, additives, preservatives and pesticides may be suffering from Orthorexia. Then about a month later I saw another very similar segment.

Although it currently isn’t listed formally in the DSM, the clinical definition of Orthorexia is defined as an eating disorder that is characterized by an obsession with healthy eating.

Steven Bratman, a medical doctor from Colorado, is responsible for the phrase and definition. According to Bratman, the criteria to determine if you have Orthorexia depends on your answer to these two questions.

“Do you care more about the virtue of what you eat than the pleasure you receive from eating it? Does your diet socially isolate you?” Furthermore he says the person with Orthorexia wants to feel pure, healthy and natural.

There’s a couple problems with these criteria. Basically, Dr. Bratman has it all backwards. First of all, you should care greatly about the virtue of your food. Eating foods that are lacking in nutritional value and pumped full of chemicals lead to deterioration in mental and physical health and the development of many chronic health conditions, syndromes and diseases. The food you eat should be as virtuous as possible. There’s an old quote by Socrates that is quite full of wisdom, “thou shouldst eat to live, not live to eat.” If you are more concerned with the pleasure of eating the food than the virtue, then that is called “addiction.” It is irresponsible and reckless behavior that has negative consequences on your health.

Secondly, if you eat a healthy diet, there is going to be a certain degree of isolation, because most restaurants and people in society are eating a toxic diet. If you don’t want to partake in drinking the cool-aid, then you must isolate yourself to some degree. If the health conscious had access to more restaurants that serve organic, healthy foods, then we wouldn’t have to be isolated. The ones who should change are the people providing and eating the unhealthy food, not the people who want to eat healthy.

Third, wanting to feel pure, healthy and natural are healthy desires, not unhealthy.

Bratman says that sometimes Orthorexia leads to malnutrition or death because they refuse to eat. Now, granted if someone’s day is so consumed with meal planning and thoughts of healthy eating that it interferes in their day to day life or they don’t eat enough, then there is a problem here. However, this is a very different scenario than a desire to eat healthy, be pure and natural.

If you have a true obsession with food, or an obsession of any kind, then there is a problem with neurotransmitters in the brain, and one of the primary reasons neurotransmitters become disrupted is because of a diet that includes sugar, caffeine, white flour, additives, preservatives, soy, dairy, pesticides etc. So the cure for someone with a “true” obsession is to eat a healthier diet that will restore balance to the neurotransmitters, not go back to the standard American diet that is pumped full of toxins and lacking in nutrition that will perpetuate it.

Being overly concerned with the virtue of your food is prudent in this day and age, because the food supply is becoming more and more toxic and lacking in nutrients every day. If you don’t watch carefully, then your health will deteriorate drastically.

Now, let’s go back to the segment on the news for a minute. What was most disturbing and frightening about the news segment was the presentation. It didn’t focus on the aspect that the unhealthy behavior would be on not eating enough so it would result in death or malnutrition. It focused on minimizing the toxicity of an unhealthy diet and pathologizing behaviors that encourage health.

The news segment said something along the lines that you might have Orthorexia if you will only eat organic food, if you only eat healthy foods, and if you avoid sugar, soy, dairy, additives, preservatives and pesticides. This presentation is frightening because it basically encouraged people to eat unhealthy and made it seem that you were abnormal and unhealthy for choosing a healthier diet. There are very valid and healthy reasons to avoid these substances.

Let’s take a look at each of these substances briefly.

Sugar

Sugar is a highly addictive substance that is lacking in any nutritional value that alters and damages the endocrine system, metabolic system, nervous system, gastrointestinal tract, cardiovascular system and immune system, as well as the kidneys, liver, pancreas and colon. It is a major contributing factor to nutritional deficiencies and most chronic health conditions in society today like depression, heart disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, hyperactivity, anxiety disorders, addiction, fatigue, attention deficit and many more.

Soy

Soy is one of the most common foods to result in a food sensitivity, it is high in phytoestrogens which often leads to the development of or exacerbation of hormonal imbalances and it has naturally inherent toxins that impairs digestion and absorption and damages the thyroid and pancreas.

Dairy

For some, dairy is damaging to the gastrointestinal tract and a common instigator of chronic ear aches in children, irritable bowel, acne, asthma, inability to lose weight and much more.

Additives and Preservatives

Food additives and preservatives disrupt the neurotransmitters in the brain and are linked to a variety of conditions like hyperactivity, conduct disorder and attention deficit.

Pesticides

Pesticides are powerful neurotoxins that destroy the endocrine system, detoxification system, metabolism and reproductive system, weaken the immune system disrupt neurotransmitters and damage the central nervous system.

Why would anyone want to put these substances into their body? These substances should not be in your food. Organic food in its whole and natural state is the normal way your food should be eaten. Covering, injecting etc. your food with these toxic substances is what’s unhealthy and abnormal.

It is appalling that we are now labeling health conscious people who choose not to eat toxic food as having an eating disorder.

Although Orthorexia isn’t a formal medical condition yet, there are many who are pushing to have it listed as an eating disorder in the DSM. In my opinion, we can probably safely assume that the manufacturers of sugar, additives, pesticides, soy etc. with money to lose, are the one’s behind this push.

It is an outrage that you are considered to be emotionally healthy if you are addicted to sugar, caffeine, nicotine, white flour, junk food, prescription drugs etc. to get through the day, willing to pound down junk food that has no nutritional value and leads to the development of emotional disorders and pump your body with toxic chemicals that destroy the human body.

The people who are really emotionally unhealthy are those coming up with these ridiculous labels and criteria. The ones who should be labeled with the eating disorder are the ones who are willing to eat these foods without even thinking about it or questioning the rationale behind it.

Another very wise quote by J. Krishnamurti comes to mind that is very fitting for this situation as well.

“It is not a sign of good health to be well adjusted to a sick society.”

Orthorexia Reference

{ 2 comments… add one }

  • Cathy B. July 30, 2010, 2:29 am

    So glad I discovered your website. I love the way you think!

    I am following the Paleo diet. It is the perfect diet for me, given the multiple food sensitivities I have, not to mention diabetes type 2, psoriasis, and morbid obesity. By following this diet (also have eliminated eggs and nightshades), I have lost 47 lbs. so far, my blood sugar is in the normal range, my psoriasis is much improved, and I have much more energy and feel much happier.

    I am going to a wedding next week and I asked about the food, wondering if it might be a buffet where I could pick some foods that work for my body and supplement with food from my “survival kit”. I was told it was a 4 course dinner and was given the menu. Of course, it made me weak in the knees, reading about all the delicious dishes, loaded with grains, dairy, sugar, etc. I know if I eat these foods, given my diagnosed sensitivity to gluten, casein, soy, and eggs, I will get very, very ill, and remain ill for several days. So instead I guess I will just gnaw on some home made jerky and hope I can at least get a salad that hasn’t been contaminated with gluten.

    I KNOW everyone will look at me like I am some kind of freak or extremist, attention seeker, or who knows what else? And there are moments when I think I will just say, “Oh, what the heck,” and eat everything in sight at the wedding. But not only would I get sick from it, but since I was badly addicted to most of these foods, I would be taking a chance that I would want MORE of these foods the next day, and the NEXT day. And who knows when or if I could stop? After I gain back the 45 pounds plus another 30? After my blood sugar soars back up into the 200s again? 300’s? When? Why take that chance?

    I hope I have the good sense to do what is right for my body and not let social norms pressure me into making unhealthy choices for myself.

    It is ironic that I am sure these same people all talked about my obesity behind my back, and yet they will also be whispering about the “weird diet” I am now on. You can’t win!

  • Admin - Cynthia Perkins August 7, 2010, 2:14 pm

    Thanks, Cathy, glad my mind is appreciated. :)

    Congrats on all the wonderful improvements you’ve made in your health. You just have to ignore all the negative messages and follow your truth.

    The Paleolithic diet is the diet I follow and encourage others to follow as well.

    http://www.holistichelp.net/paleolithic-diet.html

    Cynthia

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