Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Tom Venuto - Orthorexia and The New Rules of Clean Eating - Part 1

Orthorexia is a new-ish eating disorder. As far as I can tell, it's pretty much the same as anorexia except that the impetus is not body image as much as it is "purity" of foods - which leads me to see in the OCD spectrum (mental health professionals might likely disagree with this view).

Like anorexics, orthorexics tend to end up frail and malnourished, as you can see in the videos below. And like anorexics, orthorexics have a very limited list of "safe" foods.

Orthorexia and The New Rules of Clean Eating - Part 1

Tom Venuto

Clean eating has no official definition, but it’s usually described as avoiding processed foods, chemicals, preservatives and artificial ingredients. Instead, clean eaters choose natural foods, the way they came out of the ground or as close to their natural form as possible. Vegetables, fruits, legumes, 100% whole grains, egg whites, fish, and chicken breast are clean eating staples. Clean eating appears to be a desirable, sensible, even noble goal. Eating clean is what we should all strive to do to achieve optimum health and body composition isn’t it? Arguably the answer is mostly yes, but more and more people today are asking, “is it possible to take clean eating too far?”

clean food

Physician Steven Bratman thinks so. In 1997, Bratman was the first to put a name to an obsession with healthy eating, calling it orthorexia nervosa. In his book, Health Food Junkies, Bratman said that whether they are trying to lose weight or not, orthorexics are preoccupied with eating healthy food and avoiding anything artificial or “toxic.”

Orthorexics are not only fanatical about eating the purest, healthiest, most nutritious (aka “clean”) foods available, says Bratman, they often feel a sense of righteousness in doing so.

Whether orthorexia should be officially classified as an eating disorder is controversial. The term appears in pub med indexed scientific journals, but it’s not listed in the DSM-IV as are anorexia and bulimia. Opponents wonder, “Since when did choosing a lifestyle that eliminates junk food become a disease?”

Media coverage and internet discussions about orthorexia have increased in the past year. John Stossel did a segment on 20-20 (ABC) last year and websites such as the Mayo Clinic, the Huffington Post and the UK-based Guardian added their editorials into the mix in recent months, alongside dozens of individual bloggers.

In most cases, mainstream media discussions of orthorexia have focused on far extremes of health food practices such as raw foodism, detox dieting or 100% pure organic eating, where some folks would rather starve to death than eat a cooked or pesticide-exposed vegetable. In fact, some people do, as seen in the 20-20 video clip below.

But closer to my home, what about the bodybuilding, fitness, figure and physique crowd? Should we be included in this discussion?

Read the rest of Tom's article.

Here is an article by the man who first created this diagnostic disorder, Steven Bratman.

What is Orthorexia?

It’s great to eat healthy food, and most of us could benefit by paying a little more attention to what we eat. However, some people have the opposite problem: they take the concept of healthy eating to such an extreme that it becomes an obsession. I call this state of mind orthorexia nervosa: literally, "fixation on righteous eating."

Such people are sometimes affectionately called "healthfood junkies." However, in some cases, orthorexia goes beyond a mere lifestyle choice. Obsession with healthy food can progress to the point where it crowds out other activities and interests, impairs relationships, and even becomes physically dangerous. When this happens, orthorexia takes on the dimensions of a true eating disorder, like anorexia nervosa or bulimia.

Do you wish that occasionally you could just eat, and not think about whether it’s good for you? Has your diet made you socially isolated? Is it impossible to imagine going through a whole day without paying attention to your diet, and just living and loving? Does it sound beyond your ability to eat a meal prepared with love by your mother – one single meal – and not try to control what she serves you? Do you have trouble remembering that love, and joy, and play and creativity are more important than food? Have you gotten your weight so low that people think you may have anorexia?

If you recognize yourself in these questions, you might have orthorexia.

Are you concerned that you (or someone you care about) may need help recovering from orthorexia? If so, please see my book Health Food Junkies for practical advice on how to overcome health-food obsession. However, if your orthorexia is so severe that you can't even keep up a minimum healthy weight, you really should see an eating disorder specialist. See the comments and suggestions at the end of the story about Kate Finn, on the home page of this site.

— Steven Bratman, M.D.


Shawn Phillips | said...

Great subject William,

Nice find and great topic from Tom.

I was struck by the term in the video, "Righteous Eating." Don't think you could find a better term.

That's what it is and being in the field of fitness, nutrition, wellness... for so many years, I've seen all degrees of it.

The world is on a giant continuum... there's far right and far left on just about everything, eating included. I've used other names for these eaters but obsessed, righteous... it's an issue.

So often I see people want to make healthy eating about extremes, they want to know "how I do it." And then if they see me eat, they can't believe how damned normal it all is.

And yes, Tom is right, Bodybuilding it out of the bell-curve, at least the middle. It too is a good thing gone bad. A case of overshooting the target.

Muscle good. Only a giant muscle, on the brink of death = bad. Too bad...

I could go on... but 'nuff for now.

in Strength,

raw by default said...

"Is it impossible to imagine going through a whole day without paying attention to your diet, and just living and loving?"

I would say that that could be just as dangerous. Isn't completely ignoring what you put in your mouth how people end up at 400 pounds?

My problem with "orthorexia" is that there's no clear cut-off. If you don't want to eat junk food, then you're mentally ill? That seems a bit backwards to me. How come the people who shun vegetables and only eat food if it comes out of a box or a plastic package aren't considered mentally ill?

Is this what our society has come to?