Apparently, there is a new name for people who want to eat healthy but who may take it a bit too far: Orthorexia Nervosa. The term has been coined by Dr Steven Bratman, who claims that "[..] in rare cases, this focus may turn into a fixation so extreme that it can lead to severe malnutrition or even death". Orthorexia derives from the Greek ortho ("right" or "correct"), and orexis ( "appetite"), which literally means "correct appetite" or "fixation on righteous eating".
According to the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA), obsession over good food could lead to unhealthy behavior. By answering yes to two or more of the questions below, NEDA advises that you seek a nutritionist or professional help.
- Do you wish that occasionally you could just eat and not worry about food quality?
- Do you ever wish you could spend less time on food and more time living and loving?
- Does it seem beyond your ability to eat a meal prepared with love by someone else – one single meal – and not try to control what is served?
- Are you constantly looking for ways foods are unhealthy for you?
- Does love, joy, play and creativity take a back seat to following the perfect diet?
- Do you feel guilt or self-loathing when you stray from your diet?
- Do you feel in control when you stick to the “correct” diet?
- Have you put yourself on a nutritional pedestal and wonder how others can possibly eat the foods they eat?
Finding myself answering yes a few too many times, I initially felt personally attacked for wanting to be healthy all the time. Here is why:
Some questions are really tricky if taken by themselves. For example, it gets tricky from question #1, when asked if I'd wish not to have to worry about the quality of food, my answer is a big YES. As one might have been established already, and also in light of all the scary revelations by the food activists such as The Food Babe, the quality of American food compared to our European counterparts is not up to par. As an Italian living abroad for so many years, I understand how easy it is to get obsessed, and I surely notice that when I sit down at the dinner table back home, I feel safe and let go of most of my food worries. While this might be attributed to irrational behavior, it has a lot to do with the ability to listen to your body and mind to select the best food out there. And if you don't believe in this primal ability us humans are already equipped with, there is plenty of scientific evidence out there to match my feelings.
This point leads to the second question- reading in between the lines- it is asking and encouraging me to worry less about what I eat, and more about love and life. Although I get this from a eating disorder point of view, I have to be honest: my relationship and ties with food are so deeply rooted into my culture and my friends, that fetching and gathering food is one of the main pivotal elements behind community building while celebrating life. I assume that is probably the key difference between individuals who obsess over food and isolate themselves, and people who don't?
Dining out can be an issue sometimes, especially if friends or coworkers decide to go eat in a conventional restaurant that doesn't procure fresh or healthy ingredients; overall, because I cook at home 90% of the time, I am less paranoid about what's in my food on those rare occasions. This leads me to another point: I constantly look for ways to identify foods that are produced with unhealthy methods or contain bad ingredients. Particularly, the meat production in USA farm factories have been at its lowest standards, and labeling on food products is full of loopholes that food companies use to deceive consumers. That is, if a company feels like replacing dough with yoga mat chemicals to mimic the fluffiness of bread, they can! The sad truth is that you will never know about it. (Unless we win over the DARK act, with your help). In general, sorry Dr.Bratman and NEDA, I do believe that everyone should be paranoid about what they put in their mouth. Why? Because at the end, You Are What You Eat.
While I don't feel like my level of joy suffers from my attention for food nor do I feel guilty for not following the perfect diet, I do feel good whenever I provide my body and mind the things it tells me to be perfect; I don't need scientific research to tell me that my stomach works like clockwork and that my skin is not breaking out. So, in a way, YES, when my diet is good, I'm good, and I feel in control, sort to speak, of my health. Anything wrong with that? I don't think so.
As everything else in life, eating food is a learning process, and one that changes and evolves over the years. Twisting the words a bit of what Yoda says: "You need to unlearn what you have learned," before you can learn again.
And let's be honest with ourselves here: the real issue with this new "healthy eating disorder" is probably not us stemming from us, but instead from the processed food and junk food industries who have studied which foods addict us to their foods and have done detailed studies involving taste testers and hundreds of samples to find out what our “bliss point” is to hook us to their products.
I'm proud to advocate to you, my readers, to Don't Stop Eating, keep exploring your health, by the way of listening to your body and your mind, and keep learning from the mistakes you make on the path.
So, where do you rank in terms of obsession levels? Are you Orthorexic? Send comments in!
ARE YOU FOOD SMART ?