Extreme concern over what, where, when, why, and how much we eat does not necessarily lead to good health. Eating is a choice and people tend to eat foods that they enjoy and are used to. In many ways, the daily diet is learned. Children learn to eat what is put on their plate. Adults eat foods they know and have come to love. Obesity, diabetes, cancer, and heart diseases are of great concern. Over-eating and not making the healthiest food choices are usually to blame.
Steven Bratman, MD, describes how orthorexia, a term coined by him, may lead to the elimination of many healthy foods and to looking down on those who do not share the obsession or who dare eat those same foods. Bratman notes that extreme health foodies may experience self-loathing when straying from their diet, only eat at home, give up foods they enjoy and replace them with perceived healthy foods, experience more pleasure from eating the right foods than from the foods themselves, feel in total control when eating the way they think they are supposed to, and think about food a lot.
According to Bratman, anyone can become malnourished. He points out that orthorexics, who tend to see themselves as virtuous, are obsessed with eating to improve their health and that choosing not to eat a variety of foods, including sugar, salt, dairy, gluten, wheat, yeast, corn, caffeine, alcohol, and soy may result in social isolation, stress, difficult personal relationships, and malnutrition.
There are skeptics but many professionals agree that orthorexics, although convinced that their food choices are the best, may be malnourished. Media, marketers, websites, schools, and medical professionals, whatever their motivation, are sending a clear message and consumers are reacting.
Variety, balance, and moderation are important. Choosing to eat in a way that allows enjoyment of food is as important. Not eating dairy or drinking cow’s milk is a preference; so is eating and drinking them. Not eating red meat is a preference; so is eating it. Following the raw food diet is a preference; so is not following it.
Enjoying foods, in moderation, that promote healthy skin, bones, teeth, blood sugar, cholesterol and blood pressure levels, and provide valuable energy is an achievable goal. Perhaps that is all we ought ask of ourselves.
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Bratman is author of Health Food Junkies: Orthorexia: Overcoming the Obsession with Healthful Eating