Orthorexia Nervosa: Diagnosis or Ploy?

Healthy Lifestyle, The Balance


Have you heard of the eating disorder making headlines again?  Psychiatrists now recognize Orthorexia Nervosa as an eating disorder characterized by “disordered eating fueled by a desire for “clean” or “healthy” foods. Those diagnosed with the condition are overly pre-occupied with the nutritional makeup of what they eat.”  It is not yet on the DSM (the bible of psychiatric diagnoses) but it is being diagnosed and treated, no doubt with psychotropic medication.

If you are putting effort into healthy eating and have symptoms like: rigidly avoiding any food you deem to be “unhealthy,” spending three or more hours per day reading about, acquiring or preparing certain kinds of food you believe to be “pure,” or spending an excessive portion of your income on pure foods; then you may have this disorder according to this CNN article.

As your doctor, if you are experiencing the above noted symptoms, here is what I would recommend you do: raise one hand in the air, reach behind your neck, placing that hand just below the base of your neck.  Now go ahead and give yourself a big pat on the back because you, my friend, are taking steps to ensure a longer, healthier life.

Eating healthy food is not a disorder and spending more to get higher quality food is just necessary.  Quality always costs a little extra…but in the end it is way cheaper than being sick.  This kind of poor journalism is what leads to natural health organizations responding with articles like this (though I have to admit I kind of loved this author’s sarcastic tone and call to wake up and recognize the propaganda), which results in everyone on Facebook arguing back and forth, citing these two articles as gospel.  If you want to know more about Orthorexia Nervosa, I would recommend skipping the CNN article, which is poorly written propaganda, and turing instead to the website for the National Eating Disorder Association.

NEDA takes a more balanced and appropriate approach to explaining why this has been classified as a disorder and what it really means: “Following a healthy diet does not mean you are orthorexic, and nothing is wrong with eating healthfully.  Unless, however, 1) it is taking up an inordinate amount of time and attention in your life; 2) deviating from that diet is met with guilt and self-loathing; and 3) it is used to avoid life issues and leaves you separate and alone.”

In a nutshell, does your commitment to healthy eating make you a pain in the neck, a nervous wreck (because really, too much anxiety is just as unhealthy as eating McDonald’s), and lonely because no one can stand to spend time with you anymore?  If this is your life, then yes you have taken healthy eating too far.  I don’t mean that healthy eating is the problem.  The problem is that food has become your idol.  Material idols are always dangerous.  Tread carefully in this life and keep balance.  This is why we call our email newsletter The Balance.  There are several pillars that must be in place to lay a foundation of health: eating well, moving well and thinking well.  Without any one of these, your foundation for health is unbalanced and you are no longer able to successfully adapt to your environment and maintain outstanding health.

Make no mistake that eating food free of chemical pesticides and herbicides, free of antibiotics and synthetic hormones, and avoiding genetically engineered ingredients is in your best interest.  Make no mistake that sticking to an anti-inflammatory diet is outrageously healthy and lends to better overall health and the reduction of many diseases.  Know that investing in healthy eating now can help you avoid myriad illnesses.  But also know that food should never become your idol.  Eat as healthy as you can without driving yourself, and those around you, insane.  Live a balanced life, leaving peace and love in your wake.

In Health,

Dr. Collins



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