I Can’t Swallow That

Slashfood ran an intriguing post yesterday about the newish eating-disorder designation “orthorexia,” defined as a fixation on healthy eating that takes over one’s life. Linking to an article in UK newspaper The Guardian, blogger Nicole Weston explains that many orthorexics “are raw foodists, vegans, fruitarians or have habits so unusual, there is not yet an official name” (she cites the case of a person who will eat only yellow foods). Weston also mentions a 2004 University of Rome study that estimates up to 6 percent of people have the condition in some form.

My one problem with longish, well-written summaries like Weston’s is that they make it less likely that people will actually click through to the referenced article, since great blog summaries give readers the sense that they have a handle on the issue. That’s fine for the average wire story or straight-news article, but I feel like it’s a shame when it causes people not to read a truly fascinating piece like The Guardian’s, which is full of great details. For example, as reporter Kira Cochrane writes, “We are living in a uniquely orthorexic moment” where food-safety scares, conflicting health advice, and the prevalence of organic food trigger mass anxiety about food choices:

And, in this atmosphere, too, a marked quirkiness around food has become a source of fascination, even admiration. Where ‘that quirkiness used to reduce your status,’ says Deanne Jade, a psychologist and founder of the National Centre for Eating Disorders, ‘the attachment to strange eating systems and theories is now supported by a thriving industry and actually gives people a sense of status. So, for instance, when you go to a dinner party now, it’s quite usual for people to say, “Oh, I don’t eat protein and carbs together, or I don’t eat anything with the letter R in it, or on Tuesdays I can only eat red things.” And people are tolerant of that. The quirkiness has got a seal of approval.’

The article explains that orthorexics often wear their food choices as a badge of honor, flaunting them in dining situations and online. Here Cochrane gets a quote from psychotherapist Mary Wood that’s one of the best I’ve read in food media recently:

‘If you just eat watermelon and bananas,’ sighs Wood, ‘everyone will find you fascinating.’

Of course, a recent story about grown men and women with childlike food phobias would seem to contradict Wood’s point: These chronically finicky folks often feel so embarrassed admitting their pickiness to others that they’ll eat only in secret or with a spouse. And if you think that kind of behavior is kooky and sad, wait’ll you get a load of pica and geophagia.

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