Twenty years ago I was a wholehearted, impassioned advocate of healing through food. In those days I was a cook and organic farmer at a large commune in upstate New York. Today, as a physician who practices alternative medicine, I still almost always recommend dietary improvement to my patients. How could I not? A low-fat, semivegetarian diet helps prevent nearly all major illnesses, and more focused dietary interventions can dramatically improve specific health problems. But I'm no longer the true believer in nutritional medicine I used to be.
Where once I was enthusiastically evangelical, I've grown cautious. I can no longer console myself with the hope that one day a universal theory of eating will be discovered that can match people with the diets right for them. And I no longer have faith that dietary therapy is a uniformly wholesome intervention. I have come to regard it as I do drug therapy: as a useful treatment with serious potential side-effects.
My disillusionment began in the old days at the commune. As staff cook I was required to prepare several separate meals at once to satisfy the insistent and conflicting demands of our members. All communes attract idealists; ours attracted food idealists. On a daily basis I encountered the chaos of contradictory nutritional theories.
Our main entree was always vegetarian, but a vocal subgroup insisted we serve meat. Since many vegetarians would not eat from pots and pans contaminated by fleshly vibrations, the meat had to be cooked in a separate kitchen.
We cooks also had to satisfy the vegans, who eschewed all milk and egg products. The rights of the Hindu-influenced crowd couldn't be neglected either. They insisted we omit the onion-family foods which, they believed, provoked sexual desire.
For the raw-foodists we always laid out trays of sliced raw vegetables, but the macrobiotic adherents looked at these offerings with disgust. They would only eat cooked vegetables. Furthermore, they believed that only local, in-season vegetables should be eaten, which led to frequent and violent arguments about whether the commune should spend its money on lettuce in January.
After watching these food wars for a while, I began to fantasize about writing a cookbook for eating theorists. Each food would come complete with a citation from one system or authority claiming it to be the most divine edible ever created; a second reference, from an opposing view, would damn it as the worst pestilence one human being ever fed to another.
Finding examples wouldn't be difficult. I could pit the rules of various food theories against each other: Spicy food is bad; cayenne peppers are health-promoting. Fasting on oranges is healthy; citrus fruits are too acidic. Milk is good only for young cows (and pasteurized milk is even worse); boiled milk is the food of the gods. Fermented foods, such as sauerkraut, are essentially rotten; fermented foods aid digestion. Sweets are bad; honey is nature's most perfect food. Fruits are the ideal food; fruit causes candida. Vinegar is a poison; apple cider vinegar cures most illnesses. Proteins should not be combined with starches; aduki beans and brown rice should always be cooked together.
Dietary methods of healing are often offered in the name of holism, one of the strongest ideals of alternative medicine. No doubt alternative health practitioners are compensating for the historical failure of modern medicine to take dietary treatment seriously enough. But by focusing single-mindedly on diet, such practitioners end up advocating a form of medicine as lacking in holistic perspective as the more traditional approaches they attempt to correct. It would be far more holistic to try to understand other elements in the patient's life before making dietary recommendations, and occasionally to temper those recommendations with that understanding.
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.
Tacos, Pizza, and a Milkshake
I was eventually saved from the doom of eternal health-food addiction through two fortuitous events. The first occurred when my guru in eating--a vegan headed toward fruitarianism--suddenly abandoned his quest. "A revelation came to me last night in a dream," he said. "Rather than eat my sprouts alone, it would be better for me to share a pizza with some friends."
His plaintive statement stirred me, but I could do nothing to change my way of life until a Benedictine monk named Brother David Steindl-Rast kindly applied some unorthodox techniques.
I had met Brother David at a seminar he gave on the subject of gratitude. I offered to drive him home, and on the way back to the monastery, I bragged a bit about my oral self-discipline. Brother David's approach over the subsequent days was a marvelous case of teaching by example.
The drive was long. In the late afternoon, we stopped for lunch at an unpromising Chinese restaurant in a small town. To our surprise, the food was authentic, the sauces were fragrant and tasty, the vegetables fresh, and the eggrolls crisp and free from MSG. We were both delighted.
After I had eaten the small portion which sufficed to fill my stomach halfway, Brother David casually mentioned his belief that it was an offense against God to leave food uneaten on the table. Brother David was a slim man, so I found it hardly credible that he followed this precept generally. But he continued to eat so much that I felt good manners, if not actual spiritual guidance, required me to imitate his example. I filled my belly for the first time in a year.
Then he upped the ante. "I always think that ice cream goes well with Chinese food, don't you?" he asked. Ignoring my incoherent reply, Brother David directed us to an ice cream parlor and purchased me a triple-scoop cone. As we ate our ice cream, Brother David led me on a two-mile walk. To keep my mind from dwelling on my offense against the health-food gods, he edified me with an unending stream of spiritual stories. Later that evening, he ate an immense dinner in the monastery dining room, all the while urging me to take more of one dish or another.
I understood his point. But what mattered more to me was the fact that a spiritual authority, a man for whom I had the greatest respect, was giving me permission to break my health-food vows. It proved a liberating stroke.
Yet more than a month passed before I finally decided to make a definitive break. I was filled with feverish anticipation. Hordes of long-suppressed gluttonous desires, their legitimacy restored, clamored to receive their due. On the drive into town, I planned and replanned my junk-food menu. Within 10 minutes of arriving, I had eaten three tacos, a medium pizza, and a large milkshake. Too stuffed to violate my former vows further, I brought the ice cream sandwich and banana split home. My stomach felt stretched to my knees.
The next morning I felt guilty and defiled. Only the memory of Brother David kept me from embarking on a five-day fast. (I fasted only two days.) It took me at least two more years to attain a middle way and eat easily, without rigid calculation or wild swings.
Anyone who has ever suffered from anorexia or bulimia will recognize classic patterns in this story: the cyclic extremes, the obsession, the separation from others. These are all symptoms of an eating disorder. Having experienced them so vividly in myself 20 years ago, I cannot overlook their presence in others.
But my enthusiasm will remain tempered. Like all medical interventions--like all solutions to difficult problems--dietary medicine dwells in a grey zone of unclarity and imperfection. It's neither a simple, ideal treatment, as some of its proponents believe, nor the complete waste of time conventional medicine has too long presumed it to be. Diet is an ambiguous and powerful tool, too complex and emotionally charged to be prescribed lightly, yet too powerful to be ignored.
When I first read this I really saw a lot of myself in the author's story. Rigid dogmatic thinking about food has long been a source of pain and unhappiness in my life.
So thanks for the post Joz.
gigi: are you able to identify why? Because some writers claim that FOOD should be such a pleasurable experience ! Joz
I saw so much of myself in this article also: not aware that I had some FOOD ISSUES ! LOL So first it shocked me. Then I read it again; and realized that it includes everyone; even RAW Foodists !
so I'm joining the """"""""""" Orthorexia""""""""" Club ! I'm going to read the article again tomorrow and take it apart line by line and find "ME''' FOOD problems/issues ! Got to identify and deal with them ! I need to find why I ''hate''' any time in the kitchen now! To the point that I drove by KFC !!!!!! Why? Hmmm? Might check out the book, he wrote ! http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg...lance&n=507846 the Reviews are interesting !
Editorial Reviews Health Food Junkies: Orthorexia Nervosa: Overcoming the Obsession with Healthful Eating
The first book to identify the eating disorder orthorexia nervosa–an obsession with eating healthfully–and offer expert advice on how to treat it.
As Americans become better informed about health, more and more people have turned to diet as a way to lose weight and keep themselves in peak condition. Anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa–disorders in which the sufferer focuses on the quantity of food eaten–have been highly documented over the past decade. But as Dr. Steven Bratman asserts in this breakthrough book, for many people, eating “correctly” has become an equally harmful obsession, one that causes them to adopt progressively more rigid diets that not only eliminate crucial nutrients and food groups, but ultimately cost them their overall health, personal relationships, and emotional well-being.
Health Food Junkies is the first book to identify this new eating disorder, orthorexia nervosa, and to offer detailed, practical advice on how to cope with and overcome it. Orthorexia nervosa occurs when the victim becomes obsessed, not with the quantity of food eaten, but the quality of the food. What starts as a devotion to healthy eating can evolve into a pattern of incredibly strict diets; victims become so focused on eating a “pure” diet (usually raw vegetables and grains) that the planning and preparation of food come to play the dominant role in their lives.
Health Food Junkies provides an expert analysis of some of today’s most popular diets–from The Zone to macrobiotics, raw-foodism to food allergy elimination–and shows not only how they can lead to orthorexia, but how they are often built on faulty logic rather than sound (medical?) Joz? advice. Offering expert insight gleaned from his work with orthorexia patients, Dr. Bratman outlines the symptoms of orthorexia, describes its progression, and shows readers how to diagnose the condition. Finally, Dr. Bratman offers practical suggestions for intervention and treatment, giving readers the tools they need to conquer this painful disorder, rediscover the joys of eating, and reclaim their lives.
From the Inside Flap
The first book to identify the eating disorder orthorexia nervosa–an obsession with eating healthfully–and offer expert advice on how to treat it.
As Americans become better informed about health, more and more people have turned to diet as a way to lose weight and keep themselves in peak condition. Anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa–disorders in which the sufferer focuses on the quantity of food eaten–have been highly documented over the past decade. But as Dr. Steven Bratman asserts in this breakthrough book, for many people, eating "correctly" has become an equally harmful obsession, one that causes them to adopt progressively more rigid diets that not only eliminate crucial nutrients and food groups, but ultimately cost them their overall health, personal relationships, and emotional well-being.
Health Food Junkies is the first book to identify this new eating disorder, orthorexia nervosa, and to offer detailed, practical advice on how to cope with and overcome it. Orthorexia nervosa occurs when the victim becomes obsessed, not with the quantity of food eaten, but the quality of the food. What starts as a devotion to healthy eating can evolve into a pattern of incredibly strict diets; victims become so focused on eating a "pure" diet (usually raw vegetables and grains) that the planning and preparation of food come to play the dominant role in their lives.
THIS SOUNDS INTERESTING; I'M GETTING THE BOOK ! Joz
I think my issues stem from life-long problems with food and digestion which likely were started when I was fed soy-based formula as an infant (during the gloriously enlightened era of the mid-1960s). Then, as a teenager, I suffered from anorexia. In high school I read "Silent Spring" and became worried about environmental toxins that concentrate high in the food chain. When I was 19 (over two decades ago) I became a vegetarian. Someone also gave me a copy of "Survival Into the 21st Century" around that time, which I read obsessively. I experimented with raw diets long before the current fad hit. I became very enamored of the idea that if I could find the perfect diet I would heal all my health problems. I am sure I have driven all my friends and family crazy with my weird diets and strange food requirements. All this focus on food can really make your life strange and narrow and unhealthy. Recognizing the problem is the first step to overcoming it.
This is not to say that I don't believe there is a connection between health and diet. I definitely do! And I continue to quest for healthy foods and a healthy lifestyle. That is why I joined this board: to get ideas about healthy foods. But I think that sometimes I get too obsessed with all of it and it leads to a lot of stress and unhappiness. Health is really about balance and moderation.
gigi; Since you'v been through this process; you definitely are ready for: and I don't know your history; what your problems are; what your diet is; etc. bu you definitely are ready for Quantum Eating by Tonya Zavasta ! It just came out a month ago ! check out http://www.beautifulonraw.com/Quantu..._of_Youth.html
If this book does not help you I'll buy it back from you ! Swear !
****this titles should be ORTHOREXIA not OTHOREXIA ! hmm:
here are two links provided for 20/20 show on Orthorexia! this is not Raw Diet as it should be !!!!! Orthorexia vs Anorexia a disorder!
From: - The Daily Raw Inspiration from Jinjee at TheGardenDiet.com
Sent: Tuesday, September 09, 2008 5:22 AM
Subject: The Daily Raw Inspiration - 9/9/08 Orthorexia Examined
20/20 show on TV that showed some orthorexic people who looked anorexic or emaciated. One of them was eating a raw vegan diet. Here are the links to the two parts of the show: ****REALLY THIS WAS ON ORTHOREXIA NOT RAW DIET !!! Joz
Healthy Food, Unhealthy Obsession: Pt. 1 http://abcnews.go.com/Video/playerIndex?id=5739648
A: I saw that show too. It was quite an obvious attack on the raw diet, but it accidentally showed many healthy looking rawists. There were three emaciated people featured, and two of them were or had been raw vegan. For each person on the raw vegan diet who looks bad, I can show you a hundred examples of people who look very healthy on raw foods. There is a new DVD out, called "Reversing The Irreversible" that features 35 people giving testimonials of healing on raw foods, and they all look great! Many people who are sick try to heal themselves with raw foods and some of them do continue to get worse, perhaps because their issues were more psychological or spiritual. If your spirit has decided to die, whether to get back at someone who you perceive has hurt you, or because you feel unloved, or depressed, or in constant psychic pain, then no diet or medicine alone is going to help that in the long term. Spiritual or psychological healing is needed first. Many people are in the process of commiting slow suicide through food abuse, whether it be through eating junk food, or abusing health foods. A lot of times, these eating disorders and addictions are a form of self-centeredness. If we can just stop thinking so much about ourselves, our health, our diets, our addictions, our living, our dying, our bodies, our minds, our spirits, our trip, our relationships, our finances, our problems, - then we can find greater balance in life. You can start by focusing on God, The Universe, your family, or someone in the world who could use your help. "As long as you are loving, you are not dying", as one 110-year old woman put it.
Q: On the 20/20 orthorexia report, the interviewer claimed that he was only 8 years younger than raw vegan guru Viktoras Kulvinskas, and that Kulvinskas looked much older than his years. Why does he look so old?
A: Viktoras is actually 70 years old, and looks pretty good for 70. ****Joz HERE; NO HE DOES NOT !!!!NOT NOT NOT !!!!
He has incredible strength and flexibility. If you look at pictures from when he was younger, you'll see he looks much better now. I doubt the interviewer was really just 8 years younger than Kulvinskas. If he indeed the interviewer was 62, which I doubt (he looked about 55 tops), then I think he must have had plastic surgery. This seems quite likely, as he looked a bit like a Ken doll, with plastic-ish skin, perfect false teeth, and a toupé or hair implant. His sed car salesman moustache completed his cheesy Hollywood game show host look. MAKE UP FOR TV!!!! I prefer the rugged natural look of Kulvinskas any day. I thought Kulvinskas handled the insults hurled at him with grace and honesty. He was very courageous under fire.
Q: Is it true someone died following Kulvinskas' raw food diet advise? ****** ONE WOMAN ???? THAT'S NOT EPIDEMIC AND NOT EVEN CLOSE FOR ANY TYPE OF STATISTICS !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Joz
A: The woman in question followed many different diet gurus. Millions of people have read the raw food books and ebooks written by Viktoras Kulvinskas, Storm and Jinjee Talifero, David Wolfe, Paul Nison, Nomi Shannon, Juliano Brotman, Matt Amsden, Tony Robbins, Roe Gallo, Ani Phyo, Sonja Watt, Sarma Melngailis, Alissa Cohen, Karen Ranzi, Carol Alt, Douglas Graham, Cherie Soria, Rhio, Victoria Boutenko, Jay the Juiceman, Marilyn and Harvey Diamond, Matthew Kenney, Ann Wigmore, Bernard Jensen, Dr. Shulze, Dr. Gabriel Cousens, Dr. Hygiea Halfmoon, Natalia Rose, Renee Loux Underkoffler, actor Woody Harrelson, Morgan Spurlock, Reverend Michael Beckwith, Angela Stokes, Matt Monarch, Sheryl and Piers Duruz, Jack LaLanne, Sunflower Lord, Kristin Whitcoe, Erica Palmcrantz, Dr. Norman Walker, the Kloss family, and other raw food enthusiasts and advocates, sometimes dubbed "raw food gurus" by the media and the public. Out of the thousands of people who have found relief from disease, pain, and illness through the raw vegan diet, not to mention the hundreds of thousands who have lost weight and become happier through this lifestyle, 20/20 chose to focus on two tragedies in which one person became emaciated and one died. Compare this to the approximately one thousand deaths per day in the united states caused by malpractice, according to the United States Census Beaureu. Another approximately one thousand deaths a day are caused by obesity and lifestyle related diseases. And what about the fact that according to the CDC (Centers For Disease Control) over half of all Americans are overweight? Is it really responsible to tell Americans, as ABC's 20/20 news did, that eating healthy can lead to death? How many deaths will be caused by this twisted statement alone?!!!
Q: Is my desire to eat organic foods a psychological disorder?
A: Of course not. It is common sense. Why would you want to eat a food that is sprayed with chemicals that kill bugs? Many of these chemicals are designed to damage the bugs' reproductive systems. There has not been enough testing done to determine the long term effects of these chemicals on humans. However more and more couples are having trouble conceiving children. The raw vegan diet, on the other hand, has often been called a fertility diet. Connect the dots!
I am trying to follow the Reversing Diet, explained by Dr. Dean Ornish, M.D., in his book, "Reversing Heart Disease." The Reversing Diet is much like the recommendations of Dr. Gabriel Cousens, M.D., in his book, "Conscious Eating."
The problem is that attempting to follow these stringent guidelines has caused me to experience chronic failure, leading to "cyclic extremes, obsession, separation from others," as described by Dr. Bratman.
I feel that it is better to suffer orthorexia than to continue eating the SAD diet, which leads inevitably to cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and some 20-30 chronic, degenerative diseases related to obesity! These are all FATAL diseases. Orthorexia is not fatal!!!
What comes out of my mouth can hurt me as much as what goes into my mouth!
I just found this thread and agree it is far too easy to become obsessed with "tunnel vision" food ideals. I too have suffered from such. But these chords run deeper. Such "obsessiveness" I think is usually a personality trait and emotional baggage rather than a "disease" don't you think? I mean, I find myself to be that "Type A" personality. driven, need for control, perfection, "thinkers", INTELLIGENT!!!etc.... These traits, channeled properly, are what drives people to success in other aspects of their lives; not just failure. Some names come to mind of people who "went against the grain" and became successful/famous in the eyes of skepticism......Christopher Columbus, Thomas Edison, Benjamin Franklin, Rosa Parks! I believe the issue here is balance. What else was going on in the lives of those who were interviewed in the ABC episode? I can't say but only imagine that obsessing over food was not the only thing. ????
At any rate, I do agree obsessing can become a problem with any aspect of life.....been there myself....... so I can recognize this as an issue and even see myself in it. What to do?
Continue on a quest for optimal health I believe. Is that any different than the person who "doctor shops" for a pill to "fix" their problem.....What "disease" will we call that? pillarexia?
I just think John Stossel could have lost the sarcastic and condescending tone in his interviw as if VK was on trial and be a little more objective. And if he's in his 70's and looks that well, apparently the interviewer has not taken a look at the "average person" at that age or younger...... generally overweight, on some type of Rx and not too healthy.....sorry, just bothers me when the media is one-sided.....just causes more people to grab a snack at the commercial break and laugh about "those hippies".....
p.s. Must be because he eats so well that he was able to handle that interview so graciously....can't say I would have been able to
As I reread what I wrote I don't want it to "sound" like I don't agree that such a problem does not exist (think I see myself in this to some degree) It was the interview that I watched that gor me fired up. If you didn't see it you should watch it.....Why didn't they show the person obsessed with the Atkins/South Beach/Macrobiotic Diet? Those can have the same types of results.....That's my only "beef" (haha lol funny-BEEF) with some of tghe interview.....