orthorexia-nervosa-fact-or-fiction

Is ORTHOREXIA  NERVOSA a legitimate medical concern or a result of the over-inflated ego of Dr. Steven Bratman – you be the judge. First a little background: Orthorexia nervosa is a term coined in 1997 by Steven Bratman, a Colorado MD, to denote an eating disorder characterized by an excessive focus on eating healthy foods. In rare cases, this focus may turn into a fixation so extreme that it can lead to severe malnutrition or even death.

Here’s the scoop: With any action a human can undertake, there will always be someone who will obsess over that action or take it to an extreme. To create a disease out of feeling passionate about eating REAL food is a little extreme in itself. This should be more about finding the underlying cause behind the need, desire or impulse for ‘obsessing’ and fixing that, rather than make an excessive focus on food the issue.

The so called experts say, “Orthorexics commonly have rigid rules around eating, even going so far as to: refusing to touch processed sugar, table salt, caffeine, alcohol, wheat, gluten, yeast flavoring enhancers like MSG, soy, corn or dairy products.” Wait it gets better. “This 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.”

OMG! You mean these people are so crazy that they won’t eat any foods containing MSG; boxed or pre-packaged foods, with a 30 year shelf life. Get these people on Prozac, STAT!

Here’s Dr. Bratman again, and he puts it this way, “The defining feature of orthorexia is obsession with eating healthy food and avoiding unhealthy food.” Ouch, that’s harsh and sounds deadly. “The definition of healthy and unhealthy food varies widely depending on which dietary beliefs the patients have adopted. The usual immediate source of orthorexia is a health food theory, such as raw-foodism, macrobiotics, non-dairy vegetarianism (Ovo vegetarianism and Veganism), Ornish-style very-low-fat diet, or food allergies. Note that, in most cases, the underlying diet is itself reasonably healthy (if unreasonably specific). It’s in the obsessive approach to diet taken by an orthorexic that the disorder lies.”

Unreasonably specific and Obsessive? (Now read this out loud with a thick German accent) “Susan, I need to inform you that your vegan diet is unreasonably specific and an obsession, not based on science but true fantasy. In my professional opinion, eating healthy is not in your best interest. I feel a comprehensive neuro-psychiatric evaluation is in order, which may uncover the underlying psychosis causing these delusions.” “Okay doc. Oh, can I get out of here now?” (next scene – Susan running for the nearest exit).

Research suggests an equal numbers of men and women are affected by orthorexia nervosa, and that sufferers tend to be aged over 30, middle-class and well-educated.

That’s another interesting point. Those supposedly affected (suffering) are well-educated and middle-class. This is the group most interested in self-improvement and healthy living. I would have to say that at least 75% of my client base has some degree of this condition. It’s worse than I thought, 7/10 have it.

Deanne Jade, founder of the National Centre for Eating Disorders (UK), has some very important data to share, that  just may save you from death due to eating healthy.  Jade says, “There is a fine line between people who think they are taking care of themselves by manipulating their diet and those who have orthorexia. I see people around me who have no idea they have this disorder. I see it in my practice and I see it among my friends and colleagues.”

Why is she bitching? Jade should consider herself lucky for having so many clients and friends who are as passionate as I am, for eating real, unadulterated food and staying away from dead and devitalized food.

Jade also feels that orthorexia is on the rise because, “modern society has lost its way with food.” Jade also says, “It’s everywhere, from the people who think it’s normal if their friends stop eating entire food groups, to the trainers in the gym who [promote] certain foods to enhance performance, to the proliferation of nutritionists, dietitians and naturopaths [who believe in curing problems through entirely natural methods such as sunlight or massage]. And just look in the bookshops – all the diets that advise eating according to your blood type or metabolic rate. This is all grist for the mill to those looking for proof to confirm or encourage their anxieties around food.”

Please, Mrs. Jade, is it really WRONG if someone wants to stop eating meat, or dairy, or processed foods? Is it also wrong for a personal trainer to recommend whey protein powder to help with gaining muscle mass? I don’t think so. Also, the diet books Jade mentions are just theories and are just one piece of a larger pie – yum. Yes, some may get fixated by the new philosophy just learned, but that’s what we do. As humans we move from one idea to the next until we find one that fits just right. The ones that obsess, well, they’ll just keep on obsessing.

Final thought: My family and I have been suffering from Orthorexia Nervosa for years. I have to admit that, “I as a holistic practitioner, advocate and promote orthorexia nervosa to my clients and friends.” Please keep a sharp eye out. People suffering from this obsession may display the following signs: Planning tomorrow’s menu today; skipping foods they once enjoyed (unhealthy foods) in order to eat the “right” (healthy) foods; feeling in “total” control when they eat the correct diet. As you can see, this condition may lead to severe antisocial behavior or worse – living longer and healthier.

Marcus Ettinger

Medical Detective & Digestion Coach at Advanced Healing Center of Orange
If you would like a personalised solution for your health challenge, either in-office or as a distance patient, please call us at 714-639-4360 for more information.