Thursday, August 25, 2011

Orthorexia as reported on NBC's TODAY Show

This morning NBC's TODAY Show had a segment for Today's Health on called Obsessing on good nutrition - Orthorexia. Madelyn Fernstrom (their diet and nutrition editor) and Dr Robbie Ludwig, a psycho therapist (please fire the person who did her make up) talked about this newly coined eating disorder. 

The disorder (as stated by Fernstrom):  
Eating Healthy in an obsessive way. Trying to be a perfect eater. Nothing to do with weight loss. All about the health aspect of it. Restricting eating of foods, possibly causing nutritional deficiencies. Different from Anorexia and Bulimia in that an Orthorexic concentrates and the quality of the food, not the calories and the amounts. Spending 3-4 hours a day reading labels. Not eating any fats. Not eating anything that could possibly contain pesticides. Not eating everything in moderation. It is all about how they feel as a virtuous person, thinking they are a better person because of how they eat. Cutting back on salts and lecturing others that they should not be eating these foods. She says the problem is that it can be horrible for your quality of life.

(As stated by Dr Ludwig): this is similar to an obsessive compulsive disorder only the focus is on food. Usually there is anxiety, efforts of perfectionism. They often have low self esteem and they are socially isolated. 

So let's look at this: I read labels maybe 5 minutes a day. I often do not wash my fruit. I do not buy many organic foods. I am not socially isolated. I love my life (363 or out 365 days a year), and I do not feel I am better than anyone else for how I eat or how I act. I do feel better than I ever have personally because of what my food plan has given my body, but that is healthy. 

My opinion: 
Someone can obsess about anything. Some obsessions are fine and some are hurtful. Help is available for any obsession if you seek it. What I got out of this is the suspicion that this disorder was manufactured (and possibly will be exploited) by the industrial food giants who do no want the voices in favor of healthy eating and eating behaviors to be seen as rational. I think that if this gains a foothold in our vernacular the time will come when those of us who stress the dangers of processed foods and unhealthy moderation will be labeled as suffering from a 'disorder.' 

"Just ignore that lady behind the curtain! - I am the great and powerful food manufacturer."

Or do you think I am being paranoid? 



Kari said...

I think that you are right on! People often tell me that I am "obsessed" with exercise. I workout 6 days a week, but not for more than an hour a day. I am committed to exercise, but not obsessed. Everyone likes to lable things that they don't understand or believe is the correct choice to make.

Carbzilla said...

I think it's real - I've seen it in action and there are a LOT of popular blogs that do nothing but showcase it. How unhealthy it is ... That's debatable but it's definitely real.

Princess Dieter aka Mir said...

I think that we really are too quick to slap labels. In general, not just about food. :)

I also think that unless a behavior is an impediment/crippling to a person's ability to function properly or live in a sane manner, then it's not a disorder. In fact, it may be a good habit/perspective.

If a person gets all bent and stressed cause they ingested sometihng in their meal that's not an actual allergen/poison, it may be "orthorexia". I mean, I try to stay away from glutens and most grains, including corn. But if I see some small niblets of corn snuck into my take-away salad, I don't stress. If I were allergic to corn, I would. Just like I can't have shrimp or tuna on my salad, and if it were there, I'd have to take it back and get a refund or new salad. I'd be in the ER.

There are folks who get bent if a crouton touches their lettuce or a black bean floats in their soup or a pat of butter is on their plate that's not from a grass-fed cow.

I think 100% diet perfection is not possible unless on IS obsessive-compulsive or completely grows/cooks own food. Something will always slip in if you eat out or have a limited budget.

I try to eat really well, but don't stress if the deviations are small or not "killing". And I do think warning about pesticides and modified foods and bad foods is a good long as we don't turn Nazi on everyone. hah

Anonymous said...

Hmmm. We must be on similar wavelengths. I am writing about something similar tomorrow.

I think there are too many people getting on TV calling people victims. That there is too much navel gazing and too many people too concentrated on stuff that probably does not matter.

Obsess, don't obsess, get help for it if it bugs you. Oh I so don;t care. And I could punt Robbie Ludwig and Dr. Drew in the butt for that matter. I am on the side of minding your own darn business.

Maybe they can prescribe a drug for it.

Lisa said...

My opinion is that people are trying to create a disorder for no reason. I've been reading these news articles about this lately and I'm baffled as to why it's an issue--unless it's turning into anorexia or bulimia?

Pepper Culpepper said...

I agree with your suspicion. I was actually YELLING at the TV this morning because it was making me so mad. This is definitely a manufactured "disease."

Julie said...

I think this is indicative of a couple of things. There seem to be a push that we all have labels - a disorder of some sort. If you can market this idea effectively then how much more easy is it to market a `cure' for that disorder whether the `cure' be a drug, food, book, dvd etc. I get that could sound paranoid - oh, maybe THAT is MY disorder? Pretty sure there is a treatment for that somewhere, haha! Additionally those of us getting off our butts and taking responsibility for our health by eating thoughtfully (whether by quality, quantity or both) and exercising make those doing nothing feel uncomfortable. Much easier to point at us and say disordered, obsessed, abnormal than lever themselves out of their loungers and away from the tv and snacks.

Diane Fit to the Finish said...

It seems to me like "much ado about nothing much" and I wonder if the people featured have anything to gain? Anything we focus on can become an obsession to be sure. People who know me IRL would find me "obsessed" about a lot of different things! Interesting topic.

Vickie said...

thank you for writing this - had no idea - and find it very interesing.

my opinion - from reading your post and the attached comments - is that it absolutely could mushroom for a very few people into being a true disorder.

I liken this to handwashing. Handwashing is a good habit, unless one can't live their life because they are in the bathroom washing their hands all day, every day.

For the general public, like handwashing, true attention to what they are eating (quantity and composition) would be a very good thing.

I also absolutely would buy into the notion that this is being 'pushed' by artifical/non-food manufacturers.

you wrote:
"So let's look at this: I read labels maybe 5 minutes a day. I often do not wash my fruit. I do not buy many organic foods. I am not socially isolated. I love my life (363 or out 365 days a year), and I do not feel I am better than anyone else for how I eat or how I act. I do feel better than I ever have personally because of what my food plan has given my body, but that is healthy."

for myself - I spend less than 5 minutes a day reading labels because I am lazy and stick to whole foods so I don't have to track/calculate anything.

I also do not buy many organic foods.

I also will eat fruit chopped at grocery (so I don't have any idea how clean it or the knife actually was) or right out of the bag (on occassion).

yet, I would think a lot of people would hear about this 'disorder' and think it applied to me because I am extremely mindful of what I eat. I am mindful so I have no secondary conditions flare and so I am not fat.

very good post.

I live in a very full/active house - a little isolation sounds like a good thing some days.

Anonymous said...

Your suspicion that this disorder was manufactured reminds me of what I'm reading in Marion Nestle's What to Eat (which I picked up after seeing you recommend it to someone else). What a page-turner! It is so eye-opening to read about how the food industry is in cahootss with govt. agencies that are supposed to be regulating them or providing nutritional guidelines. I am looking at the grocery store with whole new eyes now (and I'm only half-way through the book)!


Jane Cartelli said...

Kari - I work out six hours a week, too. Okay, sometimes five . . . It is only obsessive when I put my exercise time in front of something like getting to work on time or attending a funereal - then I could need an intervention.

Carbzilla & Princess Dieter- I appreciate your opinions. They are both something to think about. Thank you.

Munchie - Oh no, no more prescribing drugs! (unless it is for the doctors who create these new disorders.


Jane Cartelli said...

Lisa & Heather - Agreed

Julie - Have you seen the Movie Wall-E? If not you need to see the parts that take place with the human characters in space.

Diane - Obsession is sometimes in the mind of the other person. :-) Or at least I hope so.

Vicki - Hand-washing is a great analogy. I wanted to add the idea that surgeons need to wash their hands more than other people. It is necessary for continued health in their daily lives but unless we understand that they are surgeons we might think they were obsessed. . . . so why not have other behaviors that are perfectly rational when we include the whole experience of the person involved.

Sarah - I am so glad you are finding the book such a page turner. I have blog post coming up this next week about the book. It is scheduled for Friday.