This post was written as a response to a post from I Fucking Love Science, “Orthorexia Nervosa: When Righteous Eating Becomes An Obsession” that you can read here.
Today, I stumbled upon an article from IFLS (I Fucking Love Science) that describes a person’s preoccupation with healthy eating as a “mental disorder” and “obsession” similar to other eating disorders and OCD. This disorder, dubbed Orthorexia Nervosa, is NOT a clinically recognized disorder, yet many mainstream websites have been talking up the fact that it has become “prevalent.”
Some examples of Orthorexia Nervosa presented in the IFLS article are raw eating, clean eating, and paleo. Now, since I am not a raw or clean eater, I really cannot comment on the way IFLS described these diets, however I can very much comment on the misinformation being spread about paleo.
IFLS has an issue with healthy eating, because (and I quote), “many modern dietary fads … promise superior health by restricting whole food groups without a medical reason or even a valid scientific explanation.”
I don’t know about other dietary “fads,” but paleo most certainly does not exclude whole food groups without a medical reason or a valid scientific explanation. IFLS’s ignorance of the paleo diet is not an excuse to make such claims. Here is another quote from that article that demonstrates how little research was done before the article was written: “with paleo, there is no gluten – or any grains for that matter – and no dairy or other such “toxins” are allowed.”
If you think dairy is not allowed because it is presumed to be a “toxin” – you do not understand paleo. I’m not even going to get started on the gluten, or the use of the word “toxin” – specifically designed to be condescending. Since the author behind IFLS is actually well-educated, my guess is she didn’t even try to look at any literature behind paleo. If she had, she would know that:
a) Dairy is not nutritionally necessary for people. It contains no nutrients that we cannot obtain from other foods, however it does come with some health risks.
b) On paleo, dairy is actually allowed for anyone who doesn’t have dairy intolerance. There are plenty of people enjoying the benefits of paleo who still choose to drink milk. They may be drinking organic, natural, and hormone-free milk, but if you knew anything about our current dairy industry, you would be too.
c) On paleo, dairy is not recommended to anyone who is sensitive to it. You don’t need to be lactose-intolerant to be sensitive to dairy. Many people are sensitive to dairy. It causes inflammation in their intestinal lining, and can lead to heart disease and autoimmune disorders. This is the main reason it is not recommended on paleo in the first place, and it makes perfect sense. Why the hell would you consume something that causes inflammation in your body? This is both scientific and medical, and has absolutely nothing to do with “toxins”. Good try though.
The IFLS article ironically admits that most questionnaires indicating high “prevalence” of Orthorexia Nervosa were conducted among healthcare professionals. It seems unlikely that healthcare professionals would “obsess” over their diet without having a single scientific or medical reason for it. If anything, maybe they understand a little more about nutrition than the majority of the population, and that’s why they demonstrate more “symptoms” of this pseudo-disorder.
Perhaps we should be asking ourselves, why do doctors choose to eat healthy, and what can we learn from them?
Perhaps we should aim to learn more about food and it’s effect on our health before we write this off as a mental disorder that plagues medical professionals.
You might be wondering, what qualifies as Orthorexia Nervosa?
Well, the questionnaires used to determine who has the disorder included questions such as, “Does the thought about food worry you for more than three hours a day?” and “Do you feel guilty when transgressing your healthy eating rules?”
As a paleo blogger, I probably think about food every single day for over 3 hours. Maybe not every day, but I certainly do my daily reading, researching, learning, writing. I also have to do a good deal of planning because I want to make sure I have healthy dinners and lunches for the week ahead. I plan my meals, put together a shopping list, make sure it’s within budget – these things take time. Sometimes when I am at the store, I take a moment to read the labels on packaged products to make sure they don’t contain ingredients I am not comfortable with.
Unfortunately, it is almost necessary to spend this much time on meal planning if you want to be remotely healthy. Maybe if we had different laws in this country, certain ingredients would be banned, GMOs would be labeled, and HFCS would be a problem of the past. Instead we have foods pumped with synthetic ingredients that have not been confirmed safe, and you have to go out of your way to avoid them.
Look around the next time you’re in public, and tell me what percentage of people look like they eat healthy? Go to a middle school and take a look at the children, and tell me – how many could benefit from a slightly healthier lifestyle?
The problem is, if you’re not putting extra effort into your eating habits – whether you want to call that an obsession, a disorder, or simply informed consumerism, – you are entrusting your health in the hands of… who? Oh that’s right, no one. Because no one is looking out for your health. If they were, 90% of the foods in our supermarkets would have to be changed, reformulated, or removed all together.
As a scientific blog, IFLS should not ignore the obesity pandemic, or the prevalence of heart disease and immune disorders. Transparent, fair science is extremely important when we talk about public health. With this article, IFLS ignored many of these issues, and brushed off healthier trends that might actually help solve these problems. Writing off healthy lifestyles as “quackery” (which is basically what they did when they called it a mental disorder) is counter-productive to the public perception of eating, which is already heavily flawed. We live in a society that thinks buckets of soda won’t do any damage and eating a whole pizza is acceptable for dinner. If anything, that’s a fucking disorder.