The other day, my friend sent me this article on a recently proposed eating disorder called ‘orthorexia nervosa’. I had loosely heard the term in the past, but it was interesting to read about it properly. We are timelessly told that a proper diet is crucial for good health and to keep our waistlines in check but at the same time is there such thing as being “too” healthy?
To put it simply, orthorexia nervosa “condition” refers to a heavy fixation on healthy eating. It stems from innocent attempts to improve one’s well-being through solely eating foods which promote good health. Unlike anorexics, orthorexics don’t strive to be thin, but instead are driven by desire to eat pure and healthy foods. Rather than focusing on the quantity of food consumed, there is heavy regard placed on the quality.
After reading the article and discussing it with said friend, it left me with plenty of food for thought. On one hand, I do think that orthorexia is a condition which truly does exist with plenty of people, and is quite scary. Although it’s not an official diagnostic term, it’s important to regard. It’s one thing to eat healthy but the means to do so has to also be taken into account: If an individual likes to always eat healthy, is it helping or hurting him/her? For example ‘orthorexics’ may obsess about eating the right foods to the point of social isolation, pathological obsession and even starvation. While such individuals try to control the foods they eat, the opposite ends up happening: the food controls them.
On the other hand, I think orthorexia is blowing healthy eating way out of proportion. We absolutely should take care of the virtue of our food. It’s no surprise that foods lacking in nutritional value and pumped with chemicals contributes to physical and mental deterioration. It’s difficult to not fall in this mindset, especially given the amount of conflicting information we are being bombarded with on a daily basis. Whether it’s from magazines, celebrities, books, the Internet, doctors there’s always something more which we can be doing. What each individual decides to follow and believe comes down to individual preference in terms of what fits into his/her lifestyle.
While we are undoubtedly putting more of an emphasis on food than our ancestors did, who still turned out fine, the difference in quality of food then and now needs to be discussed. They didn’t have processed or toxic foods at their disposal, at least not to the extent as we do today. Whereas anorexic nervosa is one thing, it is preposterous to suggest that people who eat a healthier diet are abnormal or emotionally unhealthy. While analyzing food labels for hours on end can have dangerous implications, so can the willingness to eat toxic foods without thinking about it or even questioning the rationale behind it.
Am I orthorexic? If the term describes individuals who feel very committed to healthy living, then I fit the bill. Yes, I am committed to eating healthy as much as I can. Yes, I do make a conscious effort to eat clean where possible. If it’s in my hands, I won’t eat foods with artificial coloring, trans-fat, or overly processed. I will rarely eat a sandwich on white bread. However if being an orthorexic also means that the quality of my life is compromised, then I can’t say I am an orthorexic. I do not wash my fruit. The fact that organic meat and dairy is not available in Mumbai does not stop me from eating either. Yes, I do enjoy Haribo jelly sweets, trans-fat or not. Yes, I do regularly look forward to eating out at restaurants.
To put it simply, if the outcome of healthy eating is starvation or someone’s day being consumed by meal planning and ensuring the ‘perfect’ meal is created, then yes healthy eating is dangerous. But if healthy eating promotes balance and leaves room for foods which aren’t typically described as ‘healthy’, then I’m all for it! But for what it’s worth, I wouldn’t be surprised if this ‘orthorexia nervosa’ was proposed by representatives of fast food giants.
What is your take on ‘orthorexia nervosa’? Do you think it truly exists or is blowing healthy eating out of proportion?