Published on: February 12, 2010Time has an interesting story about a new kind of eating disorder - orthorexia, which is defined as “a controversial diagnosis characterized by an obsession with avoiding foods perceived to be unhealthy.”
Here is how the diagnosis is described: “As the list of foods to steer clear of (bye-bye, trans fats and high-fructose corn syrup) continues to grow, eating-disorder experts are increasingly confronted with patients ... who speak of nervously shunning foods with artificial flavors, colors or preservatives and rigidly following a particular diet, such as vegan or raw foods. Women may be more prone to this kind of restrictive consumption than men, keeping running tabs of verboten foods and micromanaging food prep. Many opt to go hungry rather than eat anything less than wholesome.”
The reason that the Washington-based Eating Disorders Coalition is pushing for orthorexia to become an “official” diagnosis as a psychiatric condition is that this would allow treatment to be covered by insurance. However, Time writes that “most doctors think a separate diagnosis is unwarranted. Orthorexia might be connected to an anxiety disorder or it might be a precursor to a more commonly diagnosed condition, says Cynthia Bulik, director of the eating-disorders program at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.”
- KC's View:
- This is way above my pay grade. You’d think that treatment for any sort of obsessive-compulsive behavior would be covered by insurance with a special diagnosis, but as we all know, insurance companies specialize in trying to deny coverage, not providing it.
It seems to me that one of the real problems here is that there is so little balance in how our culture approaches food - it’s no wonder that people’s attitudes range from confused to obsessive. A healthy attitude toward food allows one to enjoy good wine and great desserts in moderation; an unhealthy attitude toward food can be focused on only eating fast food, or only eating broccoli (as in the case of one patient described by Time).
Then again, maybe this is just a reflection of our culture in general - it is one that seems to reward polarization with attention, and dismisses context and nuance and balance as irrelevant. It affects what we put into our heads, so it is no wonder that it also affects what we put into our stomachs.