Healthy-Eating – Is it a Mental Disorder?

by L Matthews on May 25, 2011

fruit fight

Having just engaged with the Food Empowerment Project, following an incredibly motivating and insightful talk at the Vancouver Public Library last weekend, I just read their latest blog entry about ‘orthorexia nervosa’. Quite rightly Lauren exposes the ridiculous nature of the invention of a disorder with characteristics that simply read as sensible advice about healthy eating. The orthorexia nervosa idea’s been around for a while though and I’ve often felt that it is quite an effective tool for making people who make healthy choices feel even more isolated from most of their peers who pay little attention to their consumption patterns.

Whilst I agree that an unfortunate few take so-called ‘healthy eating’ to a dangerous point where it becomes an unhealthy diet that happens to include some healthy foods, it is counter-intuitive to create a medical condition out of a practice that is actually beneficial to health by its very nature.


I particular like how the article F.E.P. linked to suggests that cognitive behavioural therapy might be helpful for us ‘health nuts/freaks [insert pejorative term here]’. Perhaps if more people had cognitive behavioural therapy they may make the association between healthy lifestyle practices and feeling a bit better about themselves in terms of both mind and body. Surely ‘conscious eating’, or whatever the current terminology is, would be the ideal outcome of CBT?!

The discussion of ‘correct-eating’ and orthorexia nervosa is missing an opportunity I think as it focuses on subsets such as vegans and raw-foodies. I think, and this is something of a half-baked (pun intended) theory, that some women (and some men, of course) fall into a pattern of destructive eating habits tied to a conviction that it is all for their health when it is subconsciously connected to the body ideals, moral imperatives, and ‘lady-like’ behaviours reminiscent of previous oppressive strategies. The focus on ‘clean’, ‘pure’, and ‘natural’ foods is eerily familiar – looking at messages centred on women’s hygiene, body size/shape, and sexuality, subtly connected to religion/morality in recent decades.

<em>A clean colon = a clean soul?</em>

A clean colon = a clean soul?

Being a child of the eighties I think I’ve grown up more with this ‘super-healthy’ ideal of womanhood than simple skinny, virginal role models but it requires you to take a step back from it to see how manipulation may be behind a lot of advertising and product development rather than true health idealism. Fat-free, guilt-free, pure scientifically-tested and guaranteed to purge you of your daemons-frozen rice yoghurt! Yum!

Food justice, to my mind, includes this aspect of health, with both women and men able to access good information and good food to make the best decisions for themselves, the planet, animals, and all the other humans across the globe. It is certainly an injustice to label healthy behaviour as a mental disorder and to create psychological stress as a motivator for consumption of ‘health’.

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