Are Americans Clean Eating Their Way To New Eating Disorders?
With ‘clean eating’ on the rise, you may have begun to see announcements that a new eating disorder is also on the rise – ‘orthorexia’ a condition characterised by an obsession about the perceived ‘virtue’ of foods.
Health is about achieving a reasonable balance. In nutritional terms, good health is achieved by avoiding both deficiencies AND toxicities – finding the balance. Too much of anything can be harmful (even a ‘healthy food’)! It is important to remember that our bodies are equipped with the most amazing innate mechanisms which constantly work to achieve balance (homeostasis). Our job is to try to lesson the burden for our body by eating foods that help, not hinder.
Sure being aware and informed about what you eat, the quality of your food and how it impacts on your body is sensible for achieving good physical health – that’s about developing mindfulness and consciousness.
But taken too far and you start to jeopardise the healthy balance of the mind and the spirit. Food is to be enjoyed. Developing a healthy relationship with food is about fostering a desire to want to nourish and take care of the body that you inhabit. A healthy body is synergistic with a healthy mind.
The following article written by Mary Elizabeth Williams for Salon makes some good points about this emerging ‘diagnosis’. (And we agree with her – we love Jamie Oliver’s approach too!).
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Because overdoing it is the American way, we’ve now managed to warp even healthy habits into a new form of eating disorders. Welcome to the era of orthorexia.
As Heather Hansman notes this week in Fast Company, orthorexia differs from other forms of disorders in that the obsessive focus is not on how much or how little one consumes, but the perceived virtue of the food itself. As she reports, “Nutritionists and psychologists say that they’re seeing it more often, especially in the face of restrictive food trends, like gluten-free, and growing information about where food comes from, and how it’s grown and processed.” Though the term has been in use since Dr. Steven Bratman coined it in 1997, the uptick in cases is leading to a new push to formally include it in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders – aka the DSM 5.
Reading some of the “clean” living writing out there, including bestselling books by authors with cult-like followings, you can find dubious claims about “detoxing” – which is not a real thing unless maybe you don’t have a liver. Enthusiastic endorsements of extreme juice cleanses and fasting – sometimes with a side of colonics. Blanket and inaccurate statements about grains, dairy, animal products, even seemingly innocuous foods like spinach or fruit. But what’s always the tipoff for me that something is a little off is when writing about food and health veers into near obsessive mathematical precision – detailed tips on exactly how much to eat, when to eat, what to combine it with. (For what it’s worth, in contrast, I find the work of Mark Bittman and Jamie Oliver reliably sane and inspiring.)
Food sensitivities and intolerances are real, and there’s zero denying that the Standard American Diet is flat-out deadly. It’s making us fatter and sicker than we’ve ever been at any point in our history, and it’s hurting our children worst of all. But for those who are vulnerable, a quest to eat right can lead to a seriously dysfunctional relationship with food. And we need to have better understanding of eating disorders and support for those who are struggling, because being healthy of body means being healthy of mind too.