You are probably wondering what the heck is Orthorexia Nervosa, as like most people, you probably have never heard of it. According to Wikipedia, the definition is: a proposed distinct eating disorder characterized by extreme or excessive preoccupation with eating food believe to be healthy.
According to the Guardian: Orthorexics commonly have rigid rules around eating. Refusing to touch sugar, salt, caffeine, alcohol, wheat, gluten, yeast, soy, corn and dairy foods is just the start of their diet restrictions. Any foods that have come into contact with pesticides, herbicides or contain artificial additives are also out.
What are the “symptoms” of Orthorexia Nervosa?
Orthorexia nervosa is not an official diagnosis in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM). It is merely used by clinicians, but not officially sanctioned by the APA.
As per WebMD website, here are the questions one should ask themselves to see if they suffer from the disease.
- Are you spending more than three hours a day thinking about healthy food?
- Are you planning tomorrow’s menu today?
- Is the virtue you feel about what you eat more important than the pleasure you receive from eating it?
- Has the quality of your life decreased as the quality of your diet increased?
- Have you become stricter with yourself?
- Does your self-esteem get a boost from eating healthy?
- Do you skip foods you once enjoyed in order to eat the “right” foods?
- Does your diet make it difficult for you to eat anywhere but at home, distancing you from friends and family.
- Do you feel guilt or self-loathing when you stray from your diet?
- When you eat the way you’re supposed to, do you feel in total control?
So, What’s the Problem?
This is a bit of a touchy subject and my intent is not to point fingers or act like I have all of the answers, as I sure don’t. My intent is to really start a conversation. Where do we “decide” to draw the line on judging if a person who wants to put the right food in their body is too restrictive or obsessive? Do we judge or “label” someone whose food intake is mostly junk food and processed food?
Now don`t get me wrong if someone has some mental health issues of any sort, they should get some professional help as soon as possible.
One of my concerns with our fixation on labeling “abnormal” behavior is that we are creating a “disease” and as we know, there is a drug for every disease out there. So, will the solution be to medicate these Orthorexia Nervosa “sufferers”.
Why are we pointing the finger at people who have taken their health into their own hands and are making healthy choices? I don’t think anyone can argue that sugar, trans-fat, junk food, chemicals and genetically modified products are not good for us. This is also what makes me nervous about this diagnosis, clinical or official. Are we trying to make it ok to consume these foods so the food industry can keep marketing and selling them to us?
We’re pointing it out because it is an “obsession”, to which I would say if you’re going to have an obsession this is a good one to have. I don’t know to which extent or how many people are thinking about their foods for 3 hours a day and have had a decrease in their quality of life from wanting to eat the right foods.
It seems that we are making food choices taboo so people don`t feel judged. Is someone who is eating very well in better health then someone who is carrying around an extra 100 pounds? Think high blood pressure, heart diseases, diabetes and arthritis? I think we can safely say that better food choices lead to better health.
I know a young man who sought help because he was overweight at the age of 15 and unfortunately our local resources did not want to give him a meal plan or any recommendations to guide him because they were fearful he would develop anorexia. We have become so politically correct not to do the wrong thing that we have left common sense along the way. This young men is 15 years old and probably 60 or 80 pounds overweight, screaming for help, depressed, doesn’t have good self esteem and yet we do not have the resources to help him because we don’t want to lead him to anorexia. What about his health right now with the consequences of being overweight and eating mostly process foods?
We have this tendency to want to label things, and when people are a little bit out of the ordinary people tell them, “oh you’re too good, you exaggerate” or, “no one can sustain that kind of approach” or “it’s not a big deal if your kids eat Mcdonald’s sometimes” it becomes a choice as a person or as a family what you do.
The scary part is this may lead to a classification and a drug as opposed to embracing people who are trying to do the right thing. I always give the example of the 80-20 rules to people, some people are aiming to eat good 80% of the time and not as so good 20% of the time, and that is what is right for them at this time in their life. Some people are starting at a 50-50% and aiming to improve and that is ok it becomes a personal choice and it depends where you are in your health journey. Where would we draw the line in terms of deciding when it becomes obsessive behaviour compared to a normal way of life for some? We don’t have to make it a disease unless the person is putting their own health at risk.
On some level I think we are being judgmental and trying to put people into categories. We have a tendency as human beings to want to point-out people that are not like us or people that make us question our own choices. Let’s ask ourselves this question: “Who do we think will have a less usage of our sick care system, the person who is trying hard to make the right choices or the person who is not taking her/his health seriously and is living on process and junk foods and has high blood pressure, a heart condition and is diabetic?” I think we have gone overboard with our political correctness when it comes to being overweight/obese and somehow justifying our behaviours by deflecting to the people who are trying to do the right thing by maintaining a healthy weight and putting good, organic and non GMO foods in their bodies. Instead of pointing the finger, let`s help and encourage each other to do the best we can and not fall prey to the marketing of products and approaches that do not have our health as their #1 interest.