Laurie and Debbie say:
Our friend Lizzy lent us Health Food Junkies: Orthorexia Nervosa|Overcoming the Obsession with Healthful Eating by Steven Bratman, M.D. with David Knight. We’ve been aware of the concept of orthorexia (which means “eating by rules,” just as “anorexia” means “not eating) for some time, but neither of us knew that the term was coined by Dr. Bratman.
This is the contrarian premise of this book: Obsession with healthy diet is an illness, an eating disorder.
Bratman is an engaging and extremely thoughtful writer. One thing that sets his book apart from many comparable books is that he himself has been an orthorexic, and he has a lot of both understanding and sympathy for people whose dietary controls have overtaken other priorities in their lives.
“The life preserver that finally drew me out [of orthorexia] was tossed by a Benedictine monk named Brother David Stendl-Rast. I had met him at a seminar he gave on the subject of graititude. Afterward, I volunteered to drive him home, for the purpose of getting to know him better. …
The drive was long. In the late afternoon we stopped for lunch at one of those out-of-place Chinese restaurants. … the food was unexpectedly good. The sauces were fragrant and tasty, the vegetables fresh, and the egg rolls crisp.
After I had eaten the small portion that 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. This was particularly the case when such a great restaurant had so clearly been placed in our path as a special grace. … He continued to eat so much that I felt that 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?”
Bratman is in favor of what we currently call “healthy eating.” And he (and we) are very aware that food allergies are real, and need to be taken seriously. His concern kicks in when what someone eats becomes the focus of their lives. At the time he wrote the book (2000), he was mostly vegetarian, taking a few supplements in pill form. At the same time, he has seen both professionally and personally how people can harm both their both physical health and quality of life by focusing obsessively on food intake and food choices.
In an exhaustive review of a variety of healthy diets, Bratman focuses on the contradictions between one health theory and another, and tells story after story about the dangers of each one, although he is careful to point out that just about any eating regimen (including the “beer and pizza” diet to which he devotes a chapter) can have enormous health benefits for a few individuals. In the end, he draws the reader to the conclusion that just about any healthy diet, carried into obsession, is very likely to become a danger to health itself.
Bratman lists seven “hidden causes” of orthorexia:
–the illusion of total safety
–the desire for complete ocntrol
–searching for spirituality in the kitchen
–creating an identity
–fear of other people
He goes into each one in some detail, explaining what it is and how it makes orthorexia attractive.
The other major characteristic that sets this book apart from most self-help tomes, is that Bratman creates both a social context and a value system for his recommendations.
Life is meant for joy, love, passion, and accomplishment. Absorption with righteous food seldom produces any of these things, and if you find yourself regularly joyous about zucchini, in love with raw-grain pizza, passionate about amaranth, or proud of your ability to eat nothing but brown rice, your priorities are out of place. Remember, life is too short to be spent thinking about how healthy or unhealthy your diet is.
Which do you think really matters more: spending two hours with your child or devoting that two hours to cooking a macrobiotic meal? Listening to your friend or thoughtfully savoring the taste of an orange? Volunteering in your community, or fasting every Friday?