When virtuous eating is taken to the extreme

Travel | Barbara Quinn 16 Jul 2019

When does one's concern for proper nutrition turn into a pathological condition? When the desire to eat a healthful diet turns into an unhealthy obsession.

Experts call it "orthorexia nervosa" which literally means "proper appetite, carried to the extreme."

Orthorexia is rigid eating on steroids. Not to be confused with anorexia or bulimia which focus on the quantity of food eaten, those with orthorexia focus on the quality of food eaten. Eating becomes a ritual.

And any food believed to be unhealthy or impure is rigidly avoided. In this desire to achieve a perfect diet, many end up with nutritional deficiencies, medical complications and not much fun in their lives. That's why some have described orthorexia as "a disease disguised as a virtue."

Many experts recognize orthorexia as an obsessive-compulsive-type of eating disorder although the American Psychiatric Association has not yet made it an official diagnosis.

Nevertheless, in 1997, Steven Bratman coined the term "orthorexia" and devised these questions that indicate a tendency toward this condition:

Do you care more about the virtue of what you eat than the pleasure you receive from eating it?

Do you spend more than three hours a day thinking about healthy foods?

Do you look down on other people who do not eat like you?

Has the quality of your life decreased as the quality of your diet increased?

Do you feel very guilty if you stray from your diet?

If these are indicators of disordered eating, let's turn them around to look at what most experts would consider normal eating:

You're more preoccupied with living life than you are with food. You take time to plan balanced meals, shop for and prepare healthful food but it doesn't take over your entire day.

You enjoy a variety of healthful foods and you make a point to include fresh ingredients in your meals. But you don't necessarily look down on others who may not share the same joy in your dietary choices.

You don't preach to others that certain foods are made by the devil. Instead, you set a good example by choosing healthful foods most of the time. And you recognize that movie popcorn is not going to kill you.

You make reasonable decisions about food, such as saying no to fried Oreos but sharing an ice cream cone with your kids without feeling bad about it.

You don't avoid social gatherings simply because some of the food may not be up to your standards.

You realize that perfect meals are not always a reality. You forgive yourself and go on.

The Monterey County Herald (TNS)

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