Monthly Archives: January 2008

Health Food Junkies

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
–covert confirmity
–searching for spirituality in the kitchen
–food puritanism
–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?

orthorexia, health food, health, healthy eating, Steven Bratman, body image, diet, eating disorders, food, Body Impolitic

Lots O’ Links

Debbie says:

Laurie is much better and she and I will be blogging again by the end of the week. Meanwhile, I am deluged with superb links from stringers and others, so I hereby deluge you with the same.

The New York Times has discovered the fat-positive blogs. I think they should have mentioned Body Impolitic, but otherwise an excellent article (and great to see our favorites getting well-deserved attention).

Fat acceptance bloggers contend that the war on obesity has given people an excuse to wage war on fat people and that health concerns – coupled with the belief that fat people have only themselves to blame for being fat – are being used to justify discrimination that would not be tolerated toward just about any other group of people.

I’m not surprised there are so many of these blogs now, Rachel Richardson, of The F-Word] said. Anti-obesity hysteria has reached a boiling point. Blogging is a way for people to fight back.

And it’s about time the news media noticed fat-positive thinking, given some of the rest of the crap that’s going on. Let’s start with the worst:

Rapists, horrifyingly enough, come in all sizes and shapes, but only one size gets blamed for the behavior. From the news story at the link:

His whole life he’s been a big guy… When you’re his size, you do your best to fit in,” [defendant’s lawyer Tim] Rensch said. “He really hasn’t been able to develop normally when we’re talking about sexual relationships or sexual desires.

I note that the rapist is also a former state legislator: I think you might be able to make a better case that being a politician was a contributing factor in his criminal behavior than being fat was.

In Great Britain, they’ve uncovered an out-and-out criminal fraud posing as an “obesity charity.”

An obesity charity that took tens of thousands of pounds of taxpayers’ money in government grants and gained access to key politicians was actually a front for a highly profitable diet company.

LighterLife [the diet company] denies seeking any commercial advantage through its support for Toast [the charity “The Obesity Awareness and Solutions Trust”]. “There is no conflict of interest and to imply such is gross misrepresentation,” a spokeswoman said. But the Government said last night that it would no longer fund Toast precisely because of “the conflict of interest”. Toast received two government grants, worth £80,000, between 2001 and 2003.

LighterLife has donated £444,000 with no restriction on how it is spent. Toast’s website in turn promotes LighterLife’s “diet packs”. The company denies this is at its request, but its largesse makes a mockery of Toast’s “independence and impartiality” statement in which it claims to “derive its income from individual donations and membership fees”.

And our most regular guest blogger, Lynne Murray, was ahead of the curve almost two years ago. Now the San Francisco Chronicle’s pet writer, Christie Keith, is promoting weight loss for cats and dogs.

The condition of obesity itself causes hormonal imbalances which result in blood sugar disturbances, fatigue, and interrupted sleep. Not getting enough exercise and sleep further disrupt hormonal function, setting up a self-perpetuating cycle that can be hard to break.

And it’s not up to your dog to break that cycle. It’s up to you. (emphasis in the original)

…you might have to convince your veterinarian that you’re serious about weight loss for your cat in order to get her enthusiastic support and participation. But even if your veterinarian starts out with nothing more useful than a recommendation to buy a bag of diet cat food, don’t let it get you down. Be persistent. Tell her you want her professional expertise and monitoring so you can have the healthiest possible feline family member. Use your own enthusiasm to spark hers.

P.S. I don’t believe that dieting actually works better for dogs and cats than it does for the rest of us.

Leaving the fat realm but staying with body image: Implants, they’re not just for women any more.

“People buy cars, right?” said the massage therapist. “People buy property. I thought, ‘I’ll buy a set of pecs!’ Like shopping at Crate & Barrel. ‘I’ll take that one.’ ” The implants come in two shapes and five sizes, and are made from silicone – not the soft liquid gel in breast implants, but a semi-solid substance. They’re slightly more firm than the consistency of a Gummy Bear.

“My close friends asked me, ‘Weren’t you frightened going in for that kind of surgery?’ I said, ‘Oh, my God, I could walk out on Powell and get hit by one of those crazy cabs.’ Never postpone joy is, like, my big mantra.”

Oh, that crazy beauty industry, just not satisfied with encouraging women to believe that spending lots of money on engineered perfection is the same thing as personal satisfaction.

Disability blogger Dave Hingsburger has lobbied for the rights of people with learning impairments for many years. Now a wheelchair user, he reflects on what he hadn’t learned–yet–from the work he’s been doing. Not well suited for excerpting, so read the whole thing.

Angry voters in Kenya have found a horrifying outlet for their election woes:

Cases of sexual assault against women have risen dramatically in Nairobi since the disputed Dec. 27 presidential election broke into violence, hospital officials said yesterday.

Women aren’t alone in being at risk in this madness; “forceful circumcision” of men is also being reported.

And that takes us directly to the final link in this particular chain. My long-term fave Katha Pollitt is taking on the media, and she wants your help:

As feminists, we call on journalists and opinion writers to report the true position of our movement. We believe that women’s rights are human rights, and stand in solidarity with our sisters who are fighting for equal political, economic, social and reproductive rights around the globe. Specifically, contrary to the accusations of pundits, we support their struggle against female genital mutilation, “honor” murder, forced marriage, child marriage, compulsory Islamic dress codes, the criminalization of sex outside marriage, brutal punishments like lashing and stoning, family laws that favor men and that place adult women under the legal power of fathers, brothers, and husbands, and laws that discount legal testimony made by women. We strongly oppose the denial of education, health care and equal political and economic rights to women.

We reject the use of women’s rights language to justify invading foreign countries. Instead, we call on the United States government to live up to its expressed commitment to women’s rights through peaceful means. Specifically, we call upon it to:

* offer asylum to women and girls fleeing gender-based persecution, including female genital mutilation, domestic violence, and forced marriage;

* promote women’s rights and well-being in all their foreign policy and foreign aid decisions;

* use its diplomatic powers to pressure its allies – especially Saudi Arabia, one of the most oppressive countries in the world for women – to embrace women’s rights;

* drop the Mexico City policy – aka the ‘gag rule’ – which bars funds for AIDS- related and contraception-related health services abroad if they provide abortions, abortion information, or advocate for legalizing abortion;

* generously support the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), which supports women’s reproductive health including safe maternity around the globe, and whose funding is vetoed every year by President Bush;

* become a signatory to The Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), the basic UN women’s human rights document, now signed by 185 nations. The US is one of a handful of holdouts, along with Iran, Sudan, and Somalia.

Finally, we call upon the United States, and all the industrialized nations of the West, to share their unprecedented wealth, often gained at the expense of the developing world, with those who need it in such a way that women benefit

Pollitt is collecting signatures for her petition. You can email her at kpollitt at thenation dot com. Give the name you’d like to use, and tell her what you do.

Stringer links came from Lynn Kendall (fat and rape), Alan Bostick (cats, dogs, chest implants, and charity fraud), Jesse the K and D. (who was first with the NY Times story). I found the Kenya story through okoshun, and the Katha Pollitt petition through morchades.

media, size acceptance, women, fat, body image, feminism, Kenya, cats, dogs, rape, blogs, implants, men, disability, Body Impolitic