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.