Friday, July 16, 2010

On 'Stigmatizing Health' and Orthorexia Nervosa

The Huffington Post is great at stirring up controversy with its opinion pieces. That's partly why I love it. It's a good (and fairly benign) forum for people to engage with different thoughts and think critically. What I don't love, though, is when people write things that are not accurate or informed. Case in point- the other day, someone wrote an article on orthorexia nervosa that was very misinformed. It's okay if people have differing opinions (based on empirical evidence) regarding how to effectively treat an eating disorder, or if people disagree on how we can improve and increase accessibility of treatment. What is tough though is when someone in a public forum, who has no psychological training, refutes the validity of a mental illness.

The article is HERE if you are interested in checking it out. Or, I can save you the four minutes and give you a brief synopsis. In all honesty, you might want to read it just to get a sense of her perspective, but Christina Pirello argues that orthorexia nervosa has been made up by psychologists and health professionals in order that the status quo is maintained, which essentially fuels an industry (pharmaceutical) created to profit from our unhealthy eating. She believes that healthy eaters should not be marginalized for choosing to eat healthily and that healthy eating does not equate with being mentally unstable. While I agree with her on that last part, I think the problem with her argument is that she really doesn't get that eating disorders are not a lifestyle choice, like healthy eating is. Eating disorders are a mental illness. Someone who suffers from an orthorexia is no more choosing to eat healthy than someone who suffers from bipolar disorder chooses to have a mood disorder.

Orthorexia nervosa is not just the desire to eat healthy. Orthorexia interferes with one's ability to live a normal, high functioning life due to the pursuit of eating only pure and healthy foods. This may mean avoiding work, family and social commitments or events to avoid having to eat anything that is not pure, raw or healthy. Orthorexia is also pathological in nature. This means that the disorder goes beyond someone's desire to adhere to healthy eating; there are negative consequences that result from the behavior. If someone is just eating healthily, that is not pathological! It is pathological though when this pursuit of healthy eating interferes with one's ability to lead a normal life. The preoccupation with healthy eating can become an interference in everyday activities, relationships and life. It also becomes pathological when one's health is compromised. Often, one who is orthorexic may avoid eating anything but fruits and veggies- the way that this can affect one's body can be detrimental. Your brain needs carbs to function properly (maybe Pirello needs some carbs!) and your body needs other essential nutrients that cannot be utilized from a handful of foods. While I can appreciate a perspective that is different than my own, my fear is that Pirello's perspective serves to further perpetuate myths about eating disorders. For more information on orthorexia nervosa, follow this link.

1 comment:

  1. The UK Channel Four Programme Supersize Vs. Superskinny are currently looking for people to take part in Series 4. Across the series we are hoping to follow a group of people who suffer from an eating disorder as they take part in an eight week treatment programme.

    If you want help tackling your eating disorder then please get in touch. We are looking for people who are affected by anorexia, bulimia, laxative abuse, orthorexia, binge eating and obsessive compulsive disorder related to their eating habits. Participants will be supported by a fully qualified psychotherapist and nutritionist, both specialising in eating disorders, before, during and after their individually devised programmes.

    If you would like to find out more please get in touch by email: