In a world where meaning is malleable, you can twist the truth however you want. You can create a story to make worthwhile endeavors look bad. You can make harmful practices appear attractive.
The mental health system has recently taken a shot at making healthy food choices appear dangerous, if you can imagine, especially when those choices are your top priority.
Clinicians are actively diagnosing patients with orthorexia nervosa, the extreme desire to eat pure food.
If you have a strong desire to eat pure, uncontaminated food, then you could be suffering from a mental disorder per this new medical labeling trend.
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.
Doctors and mental health professionals are very concerned, of course, as orthorexia nervosa seems to be ‘on the rise.’
Ursula Philpot, chairperson of the British Dietetic Association mental health division, was quoted as follows:
I am definitely seeing significantly more orthorexics than just a few years ago. Other eating disorders focus on quantity of food but orthorexics can be overweight or look normal.
They are solely concerned with the quality of the food they put in their bodies, refining and restricting their diets according to their personal understanding of which foods are truly pure.
Philpot further asserts:
Those most susceptible are middle-class, well-educated people who read about food scares in the papers, research them on the internet, and have the time and money to source what they believe to be purer alternatives.
Are you with me? If you are well-educated, like to do your own research and eat only foods that you (all by yourself) determine to be healthy and pure, then it is safe to say that you are at risk for ‘catching’ orthorexia nervosa.
Yes, orthorexia, is something that you can catch like a disease, according to the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA). On the NEDA website, they ask the questions: Why does someone get orthorexia? This positions orthorexia as capable of latching onto you like a cold.
Other authorities position orthorexia as a brain disorder
A 2013 study associated orthorexia with impaired executive functioning (based on self-reporting). This means, according to researchers, that the better you do with cognitive tasks, including planning and decision-making, the less likely you are to have orthorexia.
So, if you’re high functioning and smart, you shouldn’t have problems eating chemically-laden food, at least once in a while.
If your brain is not functioning properly, then you’re very likely to begin insisting that everything in your diet consist of real food.
I don’t know if orthorexia nervosa is a grand conspiracy – another way to misle innocent people into eating junk. If it were a conspiracy, it would be a brilliant one. I can’t imagine a better message from the likes of big food and big pharma.
We could boil down this message as follows:
Hey, we’re busy profiteering by infecting the planet and the food supply with chemicals. If you insist on avoiding our noxious faire, then you’re a mental case. Your brain has gone haywire and you should seek professional help from one of our mental health representatives.
When you arrive, you will be diagnosed mentally ill, of course. But don’t worry, we have pills for that. We’ve got you covered! Soon, your brain will be corrected and you’ll have no problem eating our crap.
Do you have orthorexia nervosa?
WebMD can help get started down the path to diagnosis. Just ask yourself the following questions, per their website:
• 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?
Are any of these leading questions? You be the judge.
The ‘symtoms’ are common
There are people out there that experience anxiety about chemicals in their food. There may be people who are obsessive about eating only 100% pure food – and will go to any length to avoid food manufactured with impure ingredients.
This may mean avoiding food at social gatherings, refusing certain foods prepared by others and taking considerable time planning and preparing meals.
Are all natural health advocates candidates for this diagnosis?
Natural health lovers be warned. One nutritionist says that you are in danger if you eat only healthy food. To quote Jennifer Culbert (SAR’09), a registered dietician:
So if someone cuts out processed food, or things that are genetically modified, or not grown organically, the danger is that they can become malnourished or underweight.
Got it? You must eat processed food, GMO’s and plenty of non-organic ingredients in order to avoid malnourishment.
How much more ridiculous can we get here, folks? My brain is spinning as I pick myself up off the floor. Laughing your ass off is dangerous, too. You can fall out of your chair.
Let’s be fair, though
The originator of the term is one Steven Bratman, MD. Dr. Bratman has taken some heat for his new term. On his website, he explains very carefully that he never intended for his concept to applied to anyone who is merely pursuing health by eating well.
It was only intended for those who are suffering from an over-focus or “unhealthy obsession” with pure food.
I understand. I am sure there are those who take it too far. Not by eating only 100% real food 100% of the time, but by alienating others in their life who choose to eat a conventional diet.
After alienating those around them, the health obsessed individual could get pretty lonely. This could be a valid concern.
Additionally, I am sure it is possible to become so paranoid about your food the even the purest and healthiest food choices available become suspicious. At this point, you might begin to dangerously restrict your diet.
Another fair point: Orthorexia nervosa is not an official diagnosis in the Diagnostic and Statistics Manual (DSM). It is merely used by clinicians, but not officially sanctioned by the APA.
Fair enough. The problem, however, is that clinicians are using it as a practical diagnosis and some of them appear to quite sloppy about it, in my humble opinion.
For example, one registered dietitian, Julie Upton, reported to the Huffington Post:
“We have no specific criteria [for orthorexia], but we know it when we see it.”
And thus the problem with the mental health system in general and with mental “disorders.” The labels are there. If you get one, then you are officially mentally ill. You have a brain disorder.
Yet, there are rarely, if ever, tests to validate the so-called brain disorder prior to prescribing meds.
There are pills to chemically alter your brain, but no tests. Have you ever had your child diagnosed as ADHD and put on psychiatric drugs? What tests were done to determine the physiological necessity of the drug?
In the case of orthorexia nervosa, there apparently aren’t any criteria for diagnosis. Clinicians “just know.” How dumb do you doctors, dietitians and counselors think we are?
The other problem is this: There is absolutely nothing wrong with eating a 100% clean, healthy diet 100% of the time!
Hey! Are you an orthorexic?