Leave People Alone

Right off the bat, it seems orthorexia is a cop-out for diagnosing someone with anorexia. Anorexia shares many symptoms with this eating disorder, but there is a key element for someone to be diagnosed with anorexia: the person’s body mass index (BMI) is highly suggested to be at least 15% below a normal BMI for someone their age and height to be diagnosed with anorexia. Orthorexia doesn’t have to have a BMI measurement at all. Orthorexia seems to be an incredibly specific type of anorexia, and aimed at a specific group that gets their identity from what they eat. Both disorders seem to stem from self-image and confidence issues. That should be what the focus on, not how “obsessed” someone is with eating healthy. If it makes them happy, let them be. If it doesn’t make them happy so to speak, causes physical harm, and fuels their body issue problems and self-identity crises, then there is a problem that needs to be addressed. If the problem is there, it should be diagnosed as anorexia since it meets the criteria.

The orthorexia essay written by Dr. Bratman seems to be more of a cautionary tale than a mental disorder. He became obsessed with how organic, pure, and clean his food was and eventually overcame this and it affected him physically. The physical aspect, the self-identity crisis, and the obsessive control over what he wanted to eat are grounds for an eating disorder. It can be diagnosed as anorexia though, especially if the BMI measurement is lifted from the diagnosis criteria. When eating healthily results in negative symptoms in a person, mentally and physically, there should be concern, but if the person enjoys eating like that, and is not displaying poor physical health, then there is no need to necessarily be concerned.

Reading Dr. Bratman “What is Orthorexia?“, he claims there are differences between anorexia and orthorexia. Orthorexia, he says, is much more apart of a person’s identity, and the controlling aspect of each disorder. Orthorexia focuses on where the food came from, how was it prepared, etc. while anorexia is just about losing weight. On the contrary, it doesn’t matter how the food is controlled; the part that should be concerning is to what degree the food is being controlled. There should not be controlling classifications for eating disorders, especially two that are very much alike. With the identity argument, frankly, if I was someone with anorexia, I would be deeply insulted by his comment on identity. Anorexia is a terrible, consuming disorder with high mortality rates, and it takes years to overcome if someone can actually do it. Anorexia and bulimia  become intricate parts of someone’s identity that constantly must be battled on different levels of complexity. Bratman sounds a little entitled in finding a new eating disorder to describe his. Honestly, this orthorexia disorder is actually starting to reek of a little bit of sexism. Teenage girls are the main demographic of anorexia, and a new name on the same disorder can open the door for more men to be diagnosed with an eating disorder. This isn’t the first time the psychology community has done this (see Borderline Personality Disorder versus Narcissistic Personality Disorder). 

Not surprisingly, the vegan and vegetarian community has scoffed at this disorder, and offered most of the backlash against this possible eating disorder. Freelee the Banana Girl, a prolific vegan Youtuber with very colorful language who people say is orthorexic, makes sure her viewers know she is absolutely against this disorder. While I don’t exactly agree with every video she posts or even everything she says in this video, she does state she’s only obsessed with healthy eating because it makes her feel good, and she is making a conscious effort to put good things in her body. She posts pictures and suggests different kinds of “junk” food to eat while you are eating vegan/vegetarian. She claims people just “want to give a fuck about what they eat”, and to a certain level, I agree with that, but there are people out there who become distressed and suffer physically from consuming too much of a vegan diet or exercising too much without eating enough calories in their preferred diet. I’m pretty sure she doesn’t have a doctorate or anything like that, but she offers interesting insight to the more passionate side of the vegan community, and she brings up a great point about the access of junk food in the vegan world.

On YouTube, there’s also videos saying orthorexia is a real disorder, one such video coming from a Youtuber called The Balanced Blonde. She says she suffered from orthorexia, and she lists several symptoms of the disorder. Note she gives special thanks to Dr. Bartman in the video description. While I support her getting help for her eating disorder, there are too many overlapping symptoms with anorexia. I don’t know if it would have been better for her to be diagnosed with anorexia since I don’t know her personally, but she’s making a difficult case for orthorexia to stand on its own. I do agree with the video’s message of one diet doesn’t fit everyone, however.

I think it’s going to be incredibly difficult for the overall public to back up this disorder, and for this disorder not to clash with anorexia. Overall, I don’t believe this is a valid way to define a boundary between an eating disorder and healthy eating.

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Leave People Alone

3 thoughts on “Leave People Alone

  1. If you have institutional access to publications, check out this article: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26724459

    The proposed diagnostic criteria are distinct from those of anorexia, and perhaps half of eating disorder specialists seem to feel it is a distinct disorder. Personally, I am not so sure. When I invented the term in the 1990s, it was clearly a distinct condition. However, today, while there are still some people with “pure” orthorexia, it seems to me now that there has been a tendency for the two to merge. For a discussion of this evolution, see http://www.orthorexia.com/orthorexia-an-update/

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  2. I’m vegan, for the animals, and I don’t feel restricted at all. Actually I feel liberated. Probably because I don’t think of meat, dairy or eggs as food. I’m allergic to dairy so I can’t eat that anyways. Also I love fruit so I eat that. A lot. I find the foods that I love to eat and I eat that. Those foods just happen to be vegan.

    I know of plenty of people who could and can use veganism as a way to orthorexia. But there also are plenty of vegans, myself included, who eats things like candy, frozen waffles, mac and cheeese, cookies and cupcakes. Just the vegan ones.

    Not all vegans are orthorexic just like not everyone who are orthorexic are vegan. Yes there should be talk about this issues, it is an issue. But there should also be a distinction between that and veganism because they don’t automatically mean the same thing.

    I used to have a horrible issue with body image and did, briefly, go vegetarian in high school. That didn’t last because I did it for the wrong reasons. I do think that if you want to go vegan you should do the research and figure out why you want to do it. And if its for the wrong reasons you shouldn’t do it. At least at that moment.

    Sorry this is a long post but wanted to make sure people know the distinction. I know some people in my family think this. Just because I’m vegan and happen to be naturally skinny and not able to gain weight very well.

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  3. You bring up a number of good arguments, and while Dr. Bratman has adjusted the terminology a bit in his follow-up essay he linked in the above comment, I still disagree with the fundamental premise that orthorexia is an eating disorder. While I acknowledge the pattern of eating described is dangerous and incompatible with health (when defined in the comment Dr. Bratman linked above), to me the mechanisms by which this proposed diagnosis operates is far more consistent with obsessive-compulsive disorder. The obsession with “purity” leads to behaviors (i.e., diet) designed to reduce anxiety associated with being contaminated. I would be much more convinced this was a distinct disorder if it were compared with OCD, rather than anorexia, similarly to how hoarding disorder was distinguished with neuroimaging studies.

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