Monday, January 17, 2011

Orthorexia

(cross-posted on both blogs)

* Do you spend more than 3 hours a day thinking about your diet?
* Do you plan your meals several days ahead?
* Is the nutritional value of your meal more important than the pleasure of eating it?
* Has the quality of your life decreased as the quality of your diet has increased?
* Have you become stricter with yourself lately?
* Does your self-esteem get a boost from eating healthily?
* Have you given up foods you used to enjoy in order to eat the 'right' foods?
* Does your diet make it difficult for you to eat out, distancing you from family and friends?
* Do you feel guilty when you stray from your diet?
* Do you feel at peace with yourself and in total control when you eat healthily?

(from: Lisa's Life Lessons)

There are a lot of questions about this list that come to mind, chiefly who made it? There are a lot of corporations out there that would benefit from converting a solid concern with eating healthy into a disorder.

There are two questions that define a disorder (According to Dr. Winter, my Psy 101 prof - the only man ever who has managed to get me up, alert, and interested on a consistent basis at 8 a.m.). These questions listed above don't facilitate getting good answers to the two key questions.

First of all -- is the behavior abnormal? And by abnormal, it means, does it deviate from the norm. In our culture, I'd say "normal" is pretty wide, because there are certainly subcultures that would support and uplift this thinking and behavior. While in the overall culture, eating organic and going out of the way to seek healthy foods and avoid harmful ones is abnormal, one cannot overlook the cultural system that the person is in.

This leads to the second question -- is the behavior deviant? That is, does it keep the person from functioning in a healthy manner? The question about socializing with family and friends probably comes closest to assessing that. But again, if the person does have social support, eating healthily helps the person feel good about himself, and it is feeding the person's body with nutritious substances, then it probably does not fall under deviant, even if more than four questions can be answered "yes." The one about feeling guilty is another one that looks like it could assess for deviancy, however, it doesn't measure degree of guilt (from "dang, shouldn't have eaten that" to utter despair), and how that guilt effects the person's overall functionality. It's misleading.

A person can be so obsessed with how they eat that it does get in the way of their functioning, but I have seen this already used across the board to describe people who care about eating real food, who go against the mainstream diet, yet manage to hold jobs, raise their families, and enjoy life -- and make enjoying that food a significant part of it.

For most of the history of humankind -- devoting a good deal of our energy toward what we will eat has been central to existence. Being able to open a few packages and have something whipped up in twenty minutes, or to pull into a drive thru is NOT normal, anthropologically speaking. Being able to do this together, and to enjoy these things together is a core part of what community has been about through most of the history of people. And when we look at how food is raised now (See Michael Pollan's book, The Omnivore's Dilemma), what it is doing to our environment, and what it is doing to our own bodies and health...if you asked a cultural anthropologist, it would be pretty clear which is deviant.

Some of the questions describe healthy behavior. Any organizational expert, chef, etc. will tell you that making a menu before you shop for groceries is healthy. It also saves you money.

And what about self-esteem for eating well? Watch food commercials, read magazine articles in women's magazines -- We are conditioned to feel good about making good food decisions. We're supposed to want to feel good about eating right. And listen to all the talk about obesity and overeating-- there certainly is conditioning in our culture for obsessing about what we eat and feeling bad about it.

Another important question is "why?" For instance, as of two months ago, I could answer yes to several of these questions. I have celiac disease. I've really had a hard time adjusting to the idea of it, and I certainly can say my that my quality of life has gone down. I don't eat at restaurants I used to love, I don't cook the foods I used to love to cook, and I get to lie to people about how good the cookies were that they gave us for Christmas.

But which would truly be the disorder -- to keep eating in a way that was destroying me and was severely hindering my function, or to be able to eat at McDonalds whenever I wanted?

What they also fail to evaluate in this is when a person CHANGES, it takes all their energy to focus on that change until new habits develop. And sometimes, the way we focus on things that matter to us does separate us from those we love.

It doesn't seem to be anything new to me -- as someone who chose staying at home instead of working, driving one car (to save money), family bed, extended breastfeeding, homeschooling, and even marrying a pastor -- my life is full of decisions that have separated me from my friends and family for something that I felt was more important.

One thing to note here -- trying to eat healthy in a counter-cultural way has been around for a long time, and despite the "disorder" language used here, orthorexia is not included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual IVTR, (DSMIV-TR), nor are they planning on including it in the DSM V. If the person's obsession with food is truly inhibiting their function, it often will fit under a diagnosis of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder or one of the existent eating disorders. This has all the marks of a propaganda movement on the part of the food industries, because in the end, you're not an obsessive foodie if you eat low fat Dannon yogurt and Special K cereal all the time. You're an obsessive foodie if you decide you want something other than what is in the grocery store.

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