Sunday, May 1, 2011

Compulsive Diagnosing Disorder

Yesterday my wife brought to my attention what I thought was a hilarious article she found on Yahoo! Health, which identified two new eating disorders. One is an acute form of what are called "adult picky eaters" (a genuine form of suffering in my book). The other is what JAMA and Psychology Today refer to as "orthorexia," (an obsession with healthy eating). What struck me most was the description given of what "sufferers" of orthorexia limit their diet to:

  • Orthorexics: Those affected may start by eliminating processed foods, anything with artificial colorings or flavorings as well as foods that have come into contact with pesticides. Beyond that, orthorexics may also shun caffeine, alcohol, sugar, salt, wheat and dairy foods. Some limit themselves to raw foods.

Now I'm sure these signs of a potentially serious "eating disorder" may be alarming to the vast majority of "normal" Americans, who are more than willing to daily consume Velveeta cheese, Pop Tarts, Big Macs, Cool Ranch Chips, Twinkies, Red Vines, and every other foodlike mass product. After all, refusing to eat these and the many other convenience face-stuffings can only mean one of two things: Either there is something terribly wrong with the "foods" being rejected, or there is something wrong with the person rejecting them.

Let's examine this dichotomy. In a nation of eaters, two-thirds of whom are overweight, many of whom are unhealthy and some of whom are barely mobile, someone making consistently healthy food choices might indeed seem rather an oddity. At the same time, every bit of both existing and emerging evidence supports shunning those products noted as the first to be eliminated by "orthorexics"--and shunned completely, not moderately--for health reasons.

Next time you spot a motorized shopping cart being driven by someone far too large to comfortably walk and push a normal cart, take note of the contents. I don't say this as a cruel jab at obese people; I'm merely pointing out a simple cause-and-effect study that can be done while waiting in line. If you want to know why so many Americans are unhealthy, just look at what they're eating, and in what quantities. This isn't only about weight issues, either. It's about many other health problems, also--resulting from a diet of non-food chemical additives, hyper-refined carbohydrates, massive amounts of fat, salt and sugar, and unprecedented quantities of animal products.

I think it's only fair to insert here that I've had it comparatively easy. I've always been thin, with a roaring metabolism that enabled me to eat whatever I wanted without gaining weight. Overweight people I've seen most likely did not eat much more than I did, but whereas I got away Scot-free, they paid dearly. What's more, many do not realize that the food produced today is packed with unhealthful (in some cases toxic, or carcinogenic) as well as fat-generating ingredients, especially refined carbohydrates. Worse, producers make their processed foods difficult to refuse, and virtually impossible to eat moderately. Understanding these facts is what has given rise to the relatively new, seemingly compulsive habit of  label reading.

Being overweight, and especially obese, is only one obvious sign that something is wrong. Other health problems develop unseen and even unfelt--until they are so far along that they need drastic medical intervention. Some, like diabetes, cardiovascular disease, fatty liver, and colon cancer, are the direct result of consistently unhealthful dietary choices. The diseases that are not directly caused by poor diet are at the very least exacerbated by it. And certainly, a  person's chances of surviving any disease are much better if they were healthy and fit to begin with.

So, the question that comes to mind for me is: Who has a dangerous eating disorder, the people indiscriminately scarfing down foods known to fatten, sicken and kill them, or the people watching what they eat, and consciously selecting the foods most likely to support health and well-being?

It's interesting what passes for "normal," and what stands out as abnormal. I'm old enough to remember cigarette advertisements boasting that "more doctors" preferred the brand being promoted over other, presumably inferior brands. What's even more interesting is the eagerness of the medical profession to diagnose (and develop a treatment for) new and exotic illnesses--many if not most of which begin with a profound lack of understanding about the direct relationship between what we eat and our health.


  1. I agree with you Alan. Thank you, Bev

  2. Alan, we need more brilliant writers like you - yes, I agree - what on earth is wrong with not wanting to poison yourself?!! Also, I hate the word "normal" - yes, I am consciously choosing foods that are most likely to support my health...Jesus Mary of God! OF COURSE I AM!! If that makes me abnormal that is ok with me. I am only a danger to the manufacturers of those motorized shopping carts, because I won't ever need one!

  3. Thank you Alan we always appreciate the ones who clearly point out the obvious.

  4. Alan: I love the way you write!! Can I take lessons from you? You have articulated with profoundly simple insight what needs to be said. Say more; and more; and more;
    Love your approach.
    You're the best!!!