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Kate Fridkis

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Orthorexia Nervosa: Can Eating Healthy Be A Disorder?

Posted: 09/09/11 12:17 PM ET

Orthorexia is the word that Dr. Steven Bratman uses to describe someone who is obsessed with eating healthy foods -- often to the point of self-harm. It's not a medically recognized term, but Wikipedia is all over it, of course.

Is Orthorexia a real thing? Should anyone care about it? Or is it just another annoying attempt to medicalize and pathologize everything in the world?

I don't know anyone who can't recite at least one Greek-based term for something that's wrong with them. I have scoliosis and anemia, myself. Wait, neither of those is from the Latin, right? I probably also have several things relating to my tendency to nod enthusiastically when other people speak, my abnormally acute interest in little summer dresses and my inability to stop cutting my hair.

Naming things often gives them meaning. But some things have meaning even before someone tags a fancy title on them.

And, here in New York City, I have definitely noticed an uptick in the number of people around me who have become extremely concerned with healthy eating. I haven't seen anyone die of it yet. No one's been hauled off to a clinic. But people have lost a lot of weight. So much, sometimes, that they don't look healthy at all. So much, sometimes, that their tendons begin to stand out, and their veins pop along the surface of their skin, and they looked stretched and anxious. They are eating, they are just eating healthy, they insist. They have discovered the perfect diet. Not diet as in dieting, diet as in way of life.

Do we really need a different name for this? Isn't this just another form of staving yourself? Maybe people who feel desperately compelled to be incredibly thin will often find a socially sanctioned way to get there. What could be wrong with only eating organic produce? That's not a disorder, that's just living in Park Slope. How convenient, to be able to explain to your friends that you've mastered nutrition. It's really, really important, after all, to pay attention to what you put in your body.

So I can't say that I always agree with giving everything a scary-sounding new name. But I can definitely say that some of the things that orthorexia is about are things I have seen. And that is something worth paying attention to.

Read more from this writer at Eat the Damn Cake!

 

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