Tuesday, March 18, 2008


I finally realized how much of a difference not eating sweets makes when I stepped on the scale this morning. I haven't weighed myself in ages, but I've decided to go all out and get under 135 again. However, the reading today was 134.5. Yah! Soo...now I'll try 130? We all need goals after all. I'd like to get back to my pre-law school lithe self.

I did have a giggle today when a friend tried to pointedly send me this article. Ok, I totally obsess about what I eat - but I do it because it makes me feel healthy, energetic, and happy to just not let certain things go into my body. And I try not to judge people when they eat candy bars or drink diet soda. Or at least disguise my judgment. Unlike me, people probably have better things to do than read 20 nutrition books in a year.

I would also like to point out that I haven't always been like this, and my body didn't quite like it -- so in effect, instead of searching for the fountain of youth, I am actually making up for lost time. Or maybe just all those nutella and blue cheese sandwiches I've always been fond of.

Yeah, I admit that "eating normally" is kind of gross and so would most people if they read ingredient labels. So sue me for eating an apple. Just get ready to shoot your kids up with some insulin. I used to be all about public health insurance until I realized all the free-riding involved. Now I've decided they need health insurance for orthorexics like me. :)

Orthorexia Nervosa

Many of the most unbalanced people I have ever met are those who have devoted themselves to healthy eating. In fact, I believe some of them have actually contracted a novel eating disorder for which I have coined the name "orthorexia nervosa." The term uses "ortho," meaning straight, correct, and true, to modify "anorexia nervosa." Orthorexia nervosa refers to a pathological fixation on eating proper food.

Orthorexia begins, innocently enough, as a desire to overcome chronic illness or to improve general health. But because it requires considerable willpower to adopt a diet that differs radically from the food habits of childhood and the surrounding culture, few accomplish the change gracefully. Most must resort to an iron self-discipline bolstered by a hefty dose of superiority over those who eat junk food. Over time, what to eat, how much, and the consequences of dietary indiscretion come to occupy a greater and greater proportion of the orthorexic's day.

The act of eating pure food begins to carry pseudospiritual connotations. As orthorexia progresses, a day filled with sprouts, umeboshi plums, and amaranth biscuits comes to feel as holy as one spent serving the poor and homeless. When an orthorexic slips up (which may involve anything from devouring a single raisin to consuming a gallon of Haagen Dazs ice cream and a large pizza), he experiences a fall from grace and must perform numerous acts of penitence. These usually involve ever-stricter diets and fasts.

This "kitchen spirituality" eventually reaches a point where the sufferer spends most of his time planning, purchasing, and eating meals. The orthorexic's inner life becomes dominated by efforts to resist temptation, self-condemnation for lapses, self-praise for success at complying with the chosen regime, and feelings of superiority over others less pure in their dietary habits.

This transference of all of life's value into the act of eating makes orthorexia a true disorder. In this essential characteristic, orthorexia bears many similarities to the two well-known eating disorders anorexia and bulimia. Where the bulimic and anorexic focus on the quantity of food, the orthorexic fixates on its quality. All three give food an excessive place in the scheme of life.
As often happens, my sensitivity to the problem of orthorexia comes through personal experience. I myself passed through a phase of extreme dietary purity.

When I wasn't cooking at the commune, I managed the organic farm. This gave me constant access to fresh, high-quality produce. I became such a snob that I disdained any vegetable that had been plucked from the ground for more than 15 minutes. I was a total vegetarian, chewed each mouthful of food 50 times, always ate in a quiet place (which meant alone), and left my stomach partially empty at the end of each meal.

After a year or so of this self-imposed regime, I felt clear-headed, strong, and self-righteous. I regarded the wretched, debauched souls about me downing their chocolate chip cookies and french fries as mere animals reduced to satisfying gustatory lusts. But I wasn't complacent in my virtue. Feeling an obligation to enlighten my weaker brethren, I continually lectured friends and family on the evils of refined, processed food and the dangers of pesticides and artificial fertilizers.

I pursued wellness through healthy eating for years, but gradually I began to sense that something was going wrong. The poetry of my life was disappearing. My ability to carry on normal conversations was hindered by intrusive thoughts of food. The need to obtain meals free of meat, fat, and artificial chemicals had put nearly all social forms of eating beyond my reach. I was lonely and obsessed.

Even when I became aware that my scrabbling in the dirt after raw vegetables and wild plants had become an obsession, I found it terribly difficult to free myself. I had been seduced by righteous eating.

The problem of my life's meaning had been transferred inexorably to food, and I could not reclaim it.


Kell said...

publish this in the new yorker, atlantic monthly, or whatever NOW!

i know more than a few people with this (have bordered on it myself) and your definition is spot on.

(congrats on the weight loss by the way--my weight always seems to fluctuate as a direct cause of my glucose intake)

i'll probably be pointing my readers your way.

Startickler said...

If only I had written it... (did the "when I cooked at a commune" line not tip you off it wasn't me ;) ), but it IS spot on. Still, I don't think I'd go back to the constant blood sugar crashes and lethargy (not to mention easy irritability) I had when I would do things like eat 5 muffins a day.

Besides, after a while the orin discipline becomes less an obsession and more of a habit and you stop worrying about it and rationalizing it all the time.

And your friends actually want to hang around you because you stop making them feel bad about eating their chocolate cake while yours sits untouched.

Ok, maybe I'm not at that place since that just happened today -- but I swear I had nothing to do with it! Besides, there's nothing wrong with defiantly eating dessert. I'm looking forward to being able to do that once Easter hits. :)