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A couple of months ago, I wrote about orthorexia, a word cited by Michael Pollan in In Defense of Food, coined pretty recently to mean "an obsession with healthy eating."

Well, I guess orthorexia is the latest thing. Biscuit, a co-blogger at Politicook, posted a great article on the subject, provocatively titled "Orthorexia: Real or Justification for an Unhealthy Society?".

In the article, Biscuit points out that what may in rare cases be a genuine and health-endangering eating disorder (where a person becomes so obsessed with right eating that s/he ends up malnourished, underweight, and ill) is being expanded to include anyone who cares more than the average American about healthful eating.

Orthorexia, Biscuit suggests, is becoming the means by which people who feel guilty about their wrong eating attempt to pathologize those who choose to eat better.

Here are some "diagnostic questions" used to determine if you're orthorexic. A "yes" answer to as few as two of these questions may indicate a "mild case of orthorexia." I've bolded the ones that I would honestly answer yes:

  • Are you spending more than three hours a day thinking about healthy food?
  • Are you planning tomorrow’s menu today?
  • Is the virtue you feel about what you eat more important than the pleasure you receive from eating it?
  • Has the quality of your life decreased as the quality of your diet increased?
  • Have you become stricter with yourself?
  • Does your self-esteem get a boost from eating healthy? Do you look down on others who don’t eat this way?
  • Do you skip foods you once enjoyed in order to eat the “right” foods?
  • Does your diet make it difficult for you to eat anywhere but at home, distancing you from friends and family?
  • Do you feel guilt or self-loathing when you stray from your diet?
  • When you eat the way you’re supposed to, do you feel in total control?

Well, my grandmother would have answered “yes” to several of those questions simply because she was a homemaker and it was her job to plan menus and think ahead about food preparation. Marketing those fundamental human activities as disease symptoms strikes me as little short of criminal, and a great way to devalue them just as they’re taking hold again in a society gone otherwise quite mad.

And perhaps more importantly: there’s a false premise underlying many of these "diagnostic" questions: that there's no real difference between what I will eat and what I won’t eat--that my food choices have no validity except in my own beliefs.

In reality, what I will eat is food, and what I won’t eat is cooked freight, the semi-toxic food facsimiles generally available in supermarkets and restaurants.

If that makes me orthorexic, then yay orthorexia.

Poll #1197864 So, how orthorexic are you?

How many yes answers would you honestly give to the diagnostic questions?

None or One (I'm normal, dammit)
Two or three (eek! I'm disordered)
Four or five (I can barely be lived with)
Six or seven (call the thought police!)
Eight or nine (and I feel fine)


( 11 comments — Leave a comment )
(Deleted comment)
Jun. 2nd, 2008 06:08 pm (UTC)
If they were to say what we "should" be doing--for health and wellbeing--they would speaking against their overlords, the corporations, who would like us to eat the crap they manufacture.

I find that the more I apply the supposed "strictures" of my supposed "orthorexia," the more I enjoy eating, and, by extension, life.
(Deleted comment)
Jun. 2nd, 2008 06:31 pm (UTC)
The virtuous feeling of white-knuckling my way through a diet is one I know well, and what I'm feeling these days is distinct from that, at least. (I'll admit to a sense of "fitting in with the cool kids" when I check out at the grocery store with all my unusual vegetables, and seaweed, and stuff, instead of with my potato chips and cookies.)

The changes I've lately brought to my eating actually cause me to feel more physically alive in a variety of ways. The fact that I'm not constantly swinging between white-knuckle resistance and miserable defeated submission to cravings alone has freed up enough energy to construct a new human being out of.
Jun. 2nd, 2008 01:46 pm (UTC)
I think it's part of a broader trend toward patholozing everything, to the extent that everyone is diagnosed with at least eight disorders, which a drug company is happy to sell you something expensive to cure, and everybody is placed somewhere on the X Spectrum, where X is genuinely disabling but everyone who has anything similar is also deemed pathological.

I once took a quiz that diagnosed me as a problem drinker because I answered Yes to two questions--"Do you drink alone?" and "Do you drink in the morning?" because sometimes as many as two of the ten drinks I have a year are at brunch, and if there's an extra bottle of cider in the fridge and I'm bored I may drink it while I'm watching TV.
Jun. 2nd, 2008 05:03 pm (UTC)

Antidepressants are being prescribed for orthorexia. I guess Merck wasn't satisfied that half the US population is on SSRI drugs.

It's all very Orwellian. Or Huxley-ish. Or something.

And can I say that "Honi soit qui Mal's Tight Pants" is hilarious?
Jun. 2nd, 2008 05:57 pm (UTC)
Pharmacos...don't get me started!

I have to acknowledge that the categories of Snobs and Bores have been swollen by Healthy Food Bores, but I think that the real question is whether in an individual case, something is healthy and productive or limiting and pathological. In your case, it sounds like your pleasure in life has increased signficantly and you feel much better than before, so you're the one who should be bottling and selling it, not Merck.

And thx, re Captain's (very small) small-clothes.
Jun. 2nd, 2008 06:13 pm (UTC)
Could it be said, do you suppose, that Healthy Food Snobs and Bores have, as it were, Eschewed the Kool-Aid?
Jun. 2nd, 2008 02:29 pm (UTC)
How sad is it that Biscuit has to assume that if you eat at home you are less likely to eat/spend time with friends and family. I guess that's reality for some people. "Conviviality" anyone?
And of course Biscuit uses "diet" which is a word that has taken on a horrible meaning and sense.
I'm equating the "stricter" question with the "skip foods" question, so I lumped it into one.
Biscuit is also seems to be trying to tease out the "Food Nazis" and putting them on the same level as people who just want to eat consciously. That bothers me. :-(
I am deeply and happily "orthorexic".
Jun. 2nd, 2008 05:00 pm (UTC)
Me too, and I agree with all your points.

To clarify a little, Biscuit's article was firmly on the side of right where food is concerned, and I hope I didn't give the impression that she's one of the bad guys on this issue. Far from it. Her post points to other articles about orthorexia and the political ramifications of calling normal human behavior a "disease."

Just wanted to clear that up. Biscuit's a convivial kind of gal!
Jun. 2nd, 2008 03:45 pm (UTC)
Well, my mother didn't drive so her menu was planned out for at least a full week at a time, often a full month was planned. I'm certain she was not disordered around food. Of course, that was before freight food was the ordinary and before everyone ate out multiple times a week. Families ate together every day and friends often were included. So, different times... I'm happy to see myself moving back to those times in a lot of ways. So, call me what you will, I'm happy to be there too!
Jun. 2nd, 2008 04:54 pm (UTC)
Yup. I couldn't help noticing, the last time we got together in person, that all our usual meeting-place options were out because we're both so "orthorexic" that we avoid restaurants. And yet, amazingly, we managed to sit down together in a public place, enjoy a cup of coffee (cheaper and less caloric than the corn-filled sweet stuff Starbucks purveys) and have our usual excellent conversation.

In short, a lot of the things people fear when making a big change like this really amount to nothing at all.
Jun. 2nd, 2008 06:35 pm (UTC)
Also, meant to say: not driving is going to "drive" a lot of careful food planning going forward, so your mother's long-ago example doesn't seem so "quaint" anymore!
( 11 comments — Leave a comment )



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