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the x in orthorexic
a foodie declares war on a health food junkie's disease
by alex b (@Lexistential)
4.16.08
general


When a food-related disorder has an X in its spelling, the letter seems to make the condition just a little more dire. In orthorexia, X specifically marks a paranoid spot in a health-food junkie's worst nightmare.

Wait a second, you say. Orthorexia? What?

An obsessive condition not yet listed as a malady in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, orthorexia nervosa is an affliction with numerous followers nonetheless. Unlike anorexics who pursue perfection by depriving themselves of any food, orthorexics are driven to eat nothing but the purest, healthiest bites, and pursue each organic morsel with an obsessive-compulsive energy that eclipses the zeal of a hajj-traveling pilgrim. Some get to the point of planning their food choices well over three hours, while the most fanatical devotees do so days in advance. But, for an orthorexic, food is a psycho-spiritual commodity; they regard umeboshi sprouts with nirvanic reverence, while products with preservatives occupy a level of Hell far more reprehensible than imitation Miley Ray Cyrus singles.

In short: bacon bad.

But, to an orthorexic, my little pork product jab is much more frightening than their own diet fascism. In fact, locked within the walls of kale juice, soy products, and self-satisfied macrobiotic ass-patting, an orthorexic is likely to be horrified by my eating habits, an equal-opportunity smorgasbord that includes French toast, tacos, and hot dogs with rice. Mind you, my eating habits aren't entirely lowbrow -- I love a good New York strip steak, routinely enjoy fresh sea scallops, and adore crispy Berkshire pork belly. However, whether sprinkled with Michelin stars or laden with vegetable oil, an orthorexic can still dismiss some of the most fabulous foods I've ever tried on edible grounds that don't seem to be rooted in any common sense.

Which, to my proudly unorthorexic and foodie senses, is pure rubbish and hardly comprehensible.

Perhaps I shouldn't bash orthorexia, or perversely enjoy the thought of subjecting one of its devotees to Southern-style barbecued ribs and ooey, gooey mac and cheese. After all, our super-sized nation is littered with more burger franchises, fat camps, and overweight children than the entire planet knows what to do with. I can't help thinking that orthorexia seems like an inevitable reaction to clogged arteries, deep fryers, and inexpensively packaged kiddie meals with movie tie-ins, a fast-food culture that can reproduce itself incredibly fast with assembly-line speed and big money backing. But as much as I think going to a greenmarket is for fresh arugula and apple cider is a beautiful thing, scheduling my life around wheatgrass shots isn't going to happen. Nor can I treat edamame beans as a possible incarnation of a Chosen One.

I genuinely feel sad to see that orthorexia is now part of the cultural landscape of eating disorders, for it's tragic to know its followers can't have the simple ritual of a meal without fear being present. But, as I break bread with friends or eat my daily supper, I can only hope that orthorexics can scale back on their OCD enough to actually appreciate and enjoy their food.

Especially 'cause bacon good.


ABOUT ALEX B

An expert in coloring outside the lines while reading between them, Alex B has a head for business, bod for sin, and weakness for ice cream during all seasons. Apart from watching Bravo marathons and enjoying haute bites here and there, she writes about TV, pop culture, and coloring outside even more lines. She sneaks Tweets via @lexistential.

more about alex b

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COMMENTS

adam kraemer
4.16.08 @ 9:49a

All I have to say is that the 1970s jogging guru, Jim Fix, had a heart attack and died while jogging. The universe is too ironic to worry 100% about beating the odds. The orthorexics out there will still probably die in their 70s or 80s, but won't have enjoyed the years nearly as much.

russ carr
4.16.08 @ 10:43a

Bacon VERY good.

And apparently that was too short a sentence, so...

There's certainly nothing wrong with eating healthily. There's even nothing wrong with wanting to eat healthily all the time, and more power to you, because that's more corn dogs for me. But I think there is something wrong when the approach to eating takes on such chronically obsessed levels. Call it the corollary to your mom's classic, "Clean your plate; there are kids starving in Africa!"

Unless you have a specific allergy, and therefore must avoid certain foods or food groups or risk serious illness or death, FOOD WILL NOT KILL YOU. People all over the world are eating things that many of the rest of us wouldn't dream of putting in our mouths, let alone swallowing, and they do it day in and day out. Crickets, and many members of the beetle family, are apparently high in protein; could an orthorexic stomach snapping bugs from under tree roots for a fast snack? They're unprocessed and organic, after all.

[edited]

lucy lediaev
4.16.08 @ 11:27a

Someone in my extended family selects and prepares his food with obsessive vigor. In his 60s, he has developed osteoporosis--likely because of his restrictive diet. Over the years, we have all listened to his lectures on the value of this food, the horror of that food, and the negative effects on mentation of some other foods. Nonetheless, the rest of us, who are truly omniverous, are healthy and do not have any serious, nutritionally-based health conditions.

Moderation, moderation, moderation! That's something the orthorexic does not have.

adam kraemer
4.16.08 @ 1:01p

My step-grandfather ate ultra-healthy all the time. A few years ago, his doctor told him that he was actually consuming too much roughage. He's calmed down a bit.

alex b
4.16.08 @ 2:36p

Health-food orthorexics scare me. I absolutely love getting fresh veggie juice and organic products, but the way they go about their diets is not constructive. I'm pretty sure there's a decent health goal somewhere in the hard-core headzone they occupy, but I don't believe in self-flagellation over a few cookies- especially the kind I make from scratch with butter and sugar.

And Russ, that link was sexy. Bacon mucho good. I agree FOOD WILL NOT KILL YOU, SO DON'T KILL YOURSELF. But, the thing is, people do (especially out here in New York, where many health freaks abound).

PS- In case anyone's wondering, the pork belly picture is from "Top Chef" season 1 winner Harold Dieterle's restaurant, Perilla. Sooo, soo good.

tracey kelley
4.17.08 @ 8:10a

I like a good vat of sour cream and chips now and again, but I do try to eat more healthful foods now than before. One, because I have to for various health reasons, and two, some foods aren't really "food."

I think there is valid reason to be concerned about some of the corporate farming practices, especially where animal products are concerned. It's also freakish to look at a "nutritional" label that has more than five ingredients, many of them chemicals.

I've read Fast Food Nation, In Defense of Food, and am now into Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. America simply processes food differently than other developed nations, and frankly, it's frightening.

Bacon produced in France is not the way most bacon is produced in the U.S. :D

While there's still a lot of b.s. surrounding organic, free range, all natural, etc, and the labeling is a joke, some of the extremists that started paying attention to how we can make food better have spurred a greater awareness to how real food should be produced, how animals should be treated, and why we need to be more diligent with sustainable production practices. So, freakish or not, there's something to be said for their cry on the bullhorn.

Kingsolver references in her book that her family simply tries to grow and cook food at home and get local products within the community, instead of relying on conglomerates shipping foodstuffs to the supermarket.

So, as Pollen says in his book In Defense of Food, eat -real- food, in small quantities.

juanita merritt
4.17.08 @ 11:33a

I can't imagine life without bacon, McD's White Castle...you get the pic.
http://www.junkfoodmecca.com/

Check it out.

Love you Lex!

pixie diamond
4.17.08 @ 12:56p

I read Fast Food Nation, and thought it was a good book, though I thought it focused too much on McDonalds, I did like that it opens up your eyes on how Corporate America treats and handles the livestock and even some veggies we eat.

Did it stop me from consuming large quantities of fast food? HELL NO! I'm definitely a fast food junkie, but I don't super size, and I eat until I'm full. The problem we Americans have (imho) is our PORTIONS, not what we eat or how we live out life styles.....

I'd like to live like the French do, smoking my cigarettes, drinking wine, and eating cheese and croissants!!!

That's LIFE!

YUM!



lucy lediaev
4.17.08 @ 1:48p

I think there is a big difference between a person who makes healthy food choices and one who spends a good part of the day shopping for and preparing meals to meet self-imposed constraints.

Most people I know are making better food choices. I, for one, am off of cholesterol reducing drugs due to regular consumption of oatmeal.

The person I cited above has so many self-imposed food restrictions that dinner out means a call ahead to a restaurant to see if they can accommodate him.

tracey kelley
4.17.08 @ 6:08p

I know who that is!! :D We actually found a place for him when eating out in Des Moines.

And that's a hard life. Here. Have an apple. Watch me eat something else.

I didn't mean to get off track of Alex's column, which is an excellent observation. I think we're at such a loss as a society with a healthy relationship with food that there's no where left to go but to the extreme.

alex b
4.17.08 @ 6:31p

The point I had in writing this column was to take note of folk who get so wrapped up in eating healthy that it becomes a separate form of OCD- people who quite literally have panic attacks at the thought of eating something "normal" if an organic item isn't available. That shouldn't happen.

Tracey, thanks for mentioning the relationship aspect we have with food. At heart, food is something we all have a relationship with, and the relationship should be healthy. I can't say mine is entirely healthy (I just ordered a medium-rare cheeseburger with fries, and can cook some ridiculously yummy garlic fried rice), but mine is devoid of fear. I'm not scared of carbs. I'm not afraid of what sugar might pack on my ass, because one dessert won't kill me, and I'm not pouring an entire boxful in my mouth.

And Lucy, hanging out with someone who has to call a restaurant ahead to see if they can accomodate a listful of self-imposed restrictions is a pain in the ass.

[edited]

lucy lediaev
4.17.08 @ 6:42p

And Lucy, hanging out with someone who has to call a restaurant ahead to see if they can accomodate a listful of self-imposed restrictions is a pain in the ass.

As Tracey could tell you, I don't have to hang out with him any more, but other family members do. Actually, it's quite a relief that I don't have to do so. It gets quite tiresome and extends to lectures on what the rest of us should be eating.

And, there does appear to be real fear about deviating from his self-imposed special diet!


alex b
4.17.08 @ 7:57p

Wow. I'm glad you don't have to hang out with this person anymore. I don't know him, but he sounds like an orthorexic handful.

And, this is my opinion, but I think part of the reason an orthorexic becomes one is out of fear and loathing of the obese effects of lazy indulgence in our culture. It's kind of like being so phobic of turning into a Stay-Puft Marshmallow Figure that an orthorexic embraces healthiness to a paranoid degree, which seems imbalanced too. (To which I say, "A cookie can only hurt you if you eat sixty of them in one sitting.")



beth clement
4.17.08 @ 10:36p

What's really sad about anorexia nervosa and other eating disorders is that, unlike other addictions to say, alcohol, drugs and gambling you do not need to partake of these things on a daily basis to survive. Whereas with food adictions you must face them on a daily basis as a matter of survival, and are sometimes literally surounded by conflicting messages about them (which food is bad/ good for you this week?)

sandra thompson
4.19.08 @ 7:09p

A Southerner without salt pork is a pitiful sight.

I am a pitiful sight!

Cholesterol makes a lot of us give up things we absolutely LOVE. Strangely enough, I cook my pole beans now with no grease at all, and they're actually quite delicious. Sight! About every six months or so I get a craving for a big, thick t-bone. So I go buy one and eat it with great relish and a certain amount of judicious lip smacking.

Lucy, I'm eating oatmeal every morning. It's great. It's easy. It means I'm actually eating the "most important meal of the day."

steve owen
5.4.08 @ 11:54p

Yes but Lexi, you're Filipina, genetically pre-disposed to petite cuteness.

For us Caucs, we seem programmed such that as we get older, everything on our bodies gets hairier, softer, and closer to the ground.

There ain't no justice, I tell ya.

But, it is true that quality of life trumps all, so I'll think of you next time I enjoy a bacon sandwich and a cerveza.

[edited]



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