Rich's Corner

Orthorexia... Should It Be Considered A Disease?

There's a term I've heard for a few years now, that being orthorexia nervosa. The term is not actually recognized by the American Psychiatric Association and I don't think it should be. I think the term is misleading and causing undue tension for someone who just may be following instructions of a diet they follow.

I think a lot of vegans and whole food plant based eaters are unfairly targeted with the orthorexia label. I noticed in some plant based groups on Facebook, a few people have concerns because their family mentioned they might have the "disease".

Orthorexia nervosa is a term invented by Ursula Philpot, chair of the British Dietetic Association and senior lecturer at Leeds Metropolitan University in  2009, to describe people that are obsessed with eating clean food.

This is unfair because the very nature of a whole food plant based diet is to not have any oil. Is the person obsessive, just because they are checking the ingredients to make sure there's no oil in the food? Is the person orthorexic simply because they do not want to consume a food because it has ingredients they don't typically eat?

I think there needs to be a defined illness for food obsessions in general. There are people who have obsessions whether they eat healthy or unhealthy. Someone could obsessively eat or avoid one food because of a phobia, for example. This would be more along the guidelines of being obsessive... doing everything you can to avoid the food, not because of allergies but because of a mental disorder.

But vegans, who are purposefully trying to not eat any animal products should not fall into this category. If someone is vegan, who can blame them for not wanting to eat animal products as they check the ingredients. The word vegan means not having animal products of any kind, not just for food but for clothing, household items, etc. You can see why a vegan would be upset if there were animal products in something they ordered, so how can it be considered orthorexia?

I wrote previously about when I was in New York last week and ordered a salad for lunch at Times Square. The woman used the same utensil for the other veggies that was touching the chicken. Was it really obsessive that I wanted her to use a different utensil for the veggies? I don't think it was. What if I had an allergy, it wouldn't have been OK for her to use that same utensil because I could have gotten sick from the allergy. Some might think I was a little too obsessive to have them make another salad, but I don't think it was. I haven't had any animal products for over a year; it's only logical I wouldn't want veggies that were touched by the same utensil that had chicken residue on it.

I think a term like orthorexia nervosa should not be thrown around like it is. There are food obsessions everywhere. Yes, if someone has obsessions that interfere with his or her life, or they are starving themselves or binging because of some disorder they have, then yes, it's an illness. But orthorexia should not just describe obsessive clean eating, but rather obsessive eating in all areas. 

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