Sunday, February 6, 2011

Are You Orthorexic?

I came across this mental health issue I did not know before: it's called orthorexia nervosa, which refers to an excessive worry about eating and living healthy. You can find all the info here and the original paper here.

The definition of orthorexia made me and many other people (see Hatemail) kind of angry at first, but after reading his answers to the posts I agree that orthorexia could be a problem. However, the first test used to diagnose orthorexia nervosa suggested a potential problem if you answer yes to at least 2 of the following questions. This means that reading food labels and feeling good about eating healthy, defines you as an orthorexic.

Here's the original test:
  • Do you spend more than three hours a day thinking about healthy food? (For four hours, give yourself two points.)
  • Do you plan tomorrow's food today?
  • Do you care more about the virtue of what you eat than the pleasure you receive from eating it?
  • Have you found that as the quality of your diet has increased, the quality of your life has correspondingly diminished?
  • Do you keep getting stricter with yourself?
  • Do you sacrifice experiences you once enjoyed to eat the food you believe is right?
  • Do you feel an increased sense of self-esteem when you are eating healthy food and look down on others who don't?
  • Do you feel guilt or self-loathing when you stray from your diet?
  • Does your diet socially isolate you?
  • When you are eating the way you believe you are supposed to, do you feel a peaceful sense of control?
Now, the only test you can find in dr. Steven Bratman's website is the ORTO-15 (Donini et al., 2005), which is much less conservative and provides a much better tool to assess orthorexia nervosa. The test give a score between 1 and 4 for each question, and defines a threshold above which the person is defined orthorexic. You can find the original reference here.

Vegan/vegetarians are probably more likely than others to "cross the line" between healthy and pathological eating habits; or maybe, people become vegan/vegetarians because of a natural tendency to food related issues. I remember myself at some point developing an obsession for organic  foods, which made me worry kind of compulsively of getting sick, if I  did not have healthy foods. I've never linked that little obsession neither to my being vegetarian, nor to my habit of reading labels.

That said, paying some attention to what we eat should never be considered unhealthy. Especially considering that much food that we eat today is made out of cheap and very unhealthy ingredients, such as high fructose corn syrup. I do read labels to discard foods that contain animal products, and to
avoid foods with high fructose corn syrup and other crappy ingredients! And yes, if I am paying 20 dollars for a dish at the restaurant, I get slightly upset if they serve something full of fat (easy to make something tasty adding oil and cheese) or sugar. The old questionnaire for orthorexia defined anybody with an acceptable level of attention toward food as "sick". I am just trying to have a slightly higher food standard, because the one that the food industry has to offer is remarkably low.

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