Obsession with Health

 

I am keenly aware of the continual onslaught of medical studies that are written, supposedly to improve our health: studies that talk about eating disorders, obesity, helpful drugs, dangerous drugs, unhealthy foods, fiber-rich foods. And I stopped paying attention to them a while ago. No one is going to stop me from drinking my glass of zinfandel at dinner, my full-test coffee at breakfast, and my chocolate chip cookie after dinner. But I’m concerned about my fellow Americans, especially regarding their growing concerns about health. So I decided to do some research. I learned more than I wanted to know: we are obsessed with our health. I also came to the conclusion that these obsessions may say less about our health and more about our search for control, perfection and meaning.

Now I’ve been aware of this pre-occupation in our culture for many years. It’s important for me to state that I am not describing people who have serious, debilitating and painful health concerns; a number of Ricochettis bravely struggle with these kinds of issues. Instead I am speaking about the overload of information that we continually receive about what people should put into their bodies and how they respond to it. And we aren’t alone in this country; many articles I read were published in British newspapers. What does this obsession look like, and what is it telling us about ourselves?

Most of us know about the various eating disorders: anorexia nervosa, bulimia, and other conditions. Ironically we live in a time where obesity has become epidemic. Yet there are those who go in the opposite direction, focusing on everything they eat:

But there are signs that the modern wheat-free, dairy-free, gluten-free obsessiveness is taking a toll on people’s mental health, with the rise of the little-known condition called “orthorexia nervosa,” a fixation on eating healthily. The term was coined almost 20 years ago by an American doctor, Stephen Bratman, following his own obsessive illness. What starts as a healthy flirtation with kale juice can quickly spiral into something life-sappingly perfectionist.

Here is one medical opinion on this condition:

Orthorexia isn’t yet classified as an ‘official’ eating disorder but mental health professionals have seen a dramatic rise. Dr Bijal Chheda-Varma, a psychologist at the Nightingale Hospital in London describes a clear increase in patients who get anxious “if they eat anything ‘toxic’ like sugar”. Social media may have a big part to play. “My younger clients spend a lot of time on Instagram, looking at plates of ‘perfect’ lifestyles and their ‘perfect’ healthy food,” says Dr Chheda-Varma.

Some of the personal stories are difficult to fathom:

In a vegan cafe in New York City, Nisha Moodley pushes a glass crusted with the remnants of a berry-acai-almond milk smoothie across the table and begins listing the foods she excised from her diet six years ago.

‘Factory-farmed meats; hormone-laden dairy; conventional nonorganic fruits and vegetables; anything hydrogenated; anything microwaved,’ the slender 32-year-old health coach says. ‘I would not eat irradiated food; charred or blackened foods; artificial coloring, flavoring, or sweetener; MSG; white rice; sugar; table salt; or anything canned.’

It is worthwhile pointing out that some people may have an adverse reaction to a number of products and must avoid them in their diets. But it is the combination of arbitrary multiple restrictions that makes this lifestyle so insidious.

So how do you know if you, or someone in your life, is caught up in this behavior? One article suggested steps for recognizing that one’s obsession may have moved in a potentially life-threatening direction:

  1. When you do something “unhealthy,” you may get angry, have an anxiety attack or feel guilt or depression.
  2. Health is seen in moral terms. If you eat a piece of chocolate cake, you may see yourself as a bad person, questioning your sense of self-worth.
  3. You restrict your life to fit your health requirements. Your day centers around eating, exercise, and vacations or time away may threaten your need to control your activities.
  4. You’re missing your menstrual period. When you deprive your body of enough nutrients, your estrogen drops and you are at a higher risk of osteoporosis.
  5. You become paranoid about foods, fearing that certain foods are “poisonous.”
  6. You exercise even when you are injured or ill. This behavior can exacerbate injuries and delay recovery.
  7. You become defensive if someone tells you that you are going too far in “maintaining good health.”

If you or someone you care for is indulging in this behavior, it may be a time for self-reflection. You might also check out this piece by a nutritionist about this condition.

So why is this particular obsession manifesting at an increasing rate? Some medical authorities point to general anxiety and fear. People are terrified and feel their lives are threatened by outside forces that they cannot control. Even though these fears have always been around, we also now have to cope with super bugs, terrorism, unemployment, sexual confusion, and other cultural issues. So people are focusing on their bodies, those organisms over which they have some control with exercise and diet.

But I believe a key issue that is driving these obsessions is man’s lack of meaning in life, particularly the dominance of secularism in our society. When people believed they could rely on G-d for spiritual strength and sustenance, they may have been better prepared for facing life and its threats and challenges. As long as secularism continues to grow, however, people will become more isolated, more fearful, more self-destructive, and angrier, and their obsessions will grow in their desperate attempt to save themselves. This downward spiral will only deepen their sense of helplessness and desperation.

Orthoexic is just another step toward human self-destruction. And I see no way to counter it. What do you think of this assessment? If you think it has merit, do you see a healing path forward?

Published in Culture
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  1. Profile photo of Percival Thatcher

    Doctors need to start telling their patients “There’s not enough road-kill in your diet.”

    That’ll fix them right up.

    • #1
    • June 18, 2017 at 2:41 pm
    • Like13 likes
  2. Profile photo of Doug Watt Member

    It’s fear of death. Like your going to live forever if you just eat right. It’s the same with climate change, nothing must change from what I remember. The clock is ticking regardless of what you try to do stop it. Everything in moderation. Why do some people that shop exclusively in the health food section of the supermarket look like they have just been released from a Soviet labor camp?

    • #2
    • June 18, 2017 at 2:51 pm
    • Like12 likes
  3. Profile photo of Arahant Member

    Susan Quinn:

    1. When you do something “unhealthy,” you may get angry, have an anxiety attack or feel guilt or depression.
    2. Health is seen in moral terms. If you eat a piece of chocolate cake, you may see yourself as a bad person, questioning your sense of self-worth.
    3. You restrict your life to fit your health requirements. Your day centers around eating, exercise, and vacations or time away may threaten your need to control your activities.
    4. You’re missing your menstrual period. When you deprive your body of enough nutrients, your estrogen drops and you are at a higher risk of osteoporosis.
    5. You become paranoid about foods, fearing that certain foods are “poisonous.”
    6. You exercise even when you are injured or ill. This behavior can exacerbate injuries and delay recovery.
    7. You become defensive if someone tells you that you are going too far in “maintaining good health.”
    1. Just had mint M&Ms. Nope. Not angry, guilty or depressed.
    2. Nah, I’m a great person no matter what I eat.
    3. Well, not overly so. I am one of the people who cannot eat certain things without reactions, and that is a pain. I only do it because I have to. Luckily, food doesn’t have to be at certain times. etc.
    4. Uh, I don’t have that problem. Well, osteoporosis can be a side effect if I just ate what I really wanted, like brownies and cookies and crackers and waffles and pancakes and…
    5. Sort of paranoid. Have enough things like CD and allergies, one needs to be a bit paranoid. Have to really read labels.
    6. Exercise?
    7. Haven’t been told anything like that yet.

    So, what’s that? 1-1/2 out of 7? Looks like I’m still okay here.

    • #3
    • June 18, 2017 at 2:55 pm
    • Like6 likes
  4. Profile photo of Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn Post author

    Percival (View Comment):
    Doctors need to start telling their patients “There’s not enough road-kill in your diet.”

    That’ll fix them right up.

    Uh, sure glad I just finished my dinner . . . I think . . . 😉

    • #4
    • June 18, 2017 at 3:02 pm
    • Like2 likes
  5. Profile photo of Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn Post author

    Doug Watt (View Comment):
    It’s fear of death. Like your going to live forever if you just eat right. It’s the same with climate change, nothing must change from what I remember. The clock is ticking regardless of what you try to do stop it. Everything in moderation. Why do some people that shop exclusively in the health food section of the supermarket look like they have just been released from a Soviet labor camp?

    I agree, Doug. I think it is fear of death, so they starve themselves to fight it off, right? I like food too much, so I’m not at risk, but I have friends who make me wonder if they are . . .

    • #5
    • June 18, 2017 at 3:03 pm
    • Like1 like
  6. Profile photo of Doug Watt Member

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):

    Percival (View Comment):
    Doctors need to start telling their patients “There’s not enough road-kill in your diet.”

    That’ll fix them right up.

    Uh, sure glad I just finished my dinner . . . I think . . . 😉

    Yum, slab of Lab.

    • #6
    • June 18, 2017 at 3:03 pm
    • Like5 likes
  7. Profile photo of Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn Post author

    Arahant (View Comment):

    Susan Quinn:

    1. When you do something “unhealthy,” you may get angry, have an anxiety attack or feel guilt or depression.
    2. Health is seen in moral terms. If you eat a piece of chocolate cake, you may see yourself as a bad person, questioning your sense of self-worth.
    3. You restrict your life to fit your health requirements. Your day centers around eating, exercise, and vacations or time away may threaten your need to control your activities.
    4. You’re missing your menstrual period. When you deprive your body of enough nutrients, your estrogen drops and you are at a higher risk of osteoporosis.
    5. You become paranoid about foods, fearing that certain foods are “poisonous.”
    6. You exercise even when you are injured or ill. This behavior can exacerbate injuries and delay recovery.
    7. You become defensive if someone tells you that you are going too far in “maintaining good health.”
    1. Just had mint M&Ms. Nope. Not angry, guilty or depressed.
    2. Nah, I’m a great person no matter what I eat.
    3. Well, not overly so. I am one of the people who cannot eat certain things without reactions, and that is a pain. I only do it because I have to. Luckily, food doesn’t have to be at certain times. etc.
    4. Uh, I don’t have that problem. Well, osteoporosis can be a side effect if I just ate what I really wanted, like brownies and cookies and crackers and waffles and pancakes and…
    5. Sort of paranoid. Have enough things like CD and allergies, one needs to be a bit paranoid. Have to really read labels.
    6. Exercise?
    7. Haven’t been told anything like that yet.

    So, what’s that? 1-1/2 out of 7? Looks like I’m still okay here.

    I wouldn’t sweat it, Arahant. You’re hopeless.

    • #7
    • June 18, 2017 at 3:04 pm
    • Like3 likes
  8. Profile photo of Arahant Member

    Doug Watt (View Comment):

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):

    Percival (View Comment):
    Doctors need to start telling their patients “There’s not enough road-kill in your diet.”

    That’ll fix them right up.

    Uh, sure glad I just finished my dinner . . . I think . . . 😉

    Yum, slab of Lab.

    It’s the road vulture diet. Very healthy. Lots of lean, free-range meat.

    • #8
    • June 18, 2017 at 3:04 pm
    • Like3 likes
  9. Profile photo of LC Member
    LC

    Susan Quinn:

    Some of the personal stories are difficult to fathom:

    In a vegan cafe in New York City, Nisha Moodley pushes a glass crusted with the remnants of a berry-acai-almond milk smoothie across the table and begins listing the foods she excised from her diet six years ago.

    ‘Factory-farmed meats; hormone-laden dairy; conventional nonorganic fruits and vegetables; anything hydrogenated; anything microwaved,’ the slender 32-year-old health coach says. ‘I would not eat irradiated food; charred or blackened foods; artificial coloring, flavoring, or sweetener; MSG; white rice; sugar; table salt; or anything canned.’

    That sounds so dreadful and sad.

    • #9
    • June 18, 2017 at 3:09 pm
    • Like3 likes
  10. Profile photo of Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn Post author

    Now guys, you aren’t exactly inviting people to comment who may have these issues, or who have family members or friends they suspect might have them. I don’t think this is the new “disease of the month.”

    • #10
    • June 18, 2017 at 3:09 pm
    • LikeLike
  11. Profile photo of Arahant Member

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):
    I don’t think this is the new “disease of the month.”

    It has been around for several years.

    • #11
    • June 18, 2017 at 3:12 pm
    • Like2 likes
  12. Profile photo of Percival Thatcher

    Doug Watt (View Comment):

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):

    Percival (View Comment):
    Doctors need to start telling their patients “There’s not enough road-kill in your diet.”

    That’ll fix them right up.

    Uh, sure glad I just finished my dinner . . . I think . . . 😉

    Yum, slab of Lab.

    One of my aunts bagged a 12-point buck with a ’71 Nova.

    • #12
    • June 18, 2017 at 3:13 pm
    • Like7 likes
  13. Profile photo of Doug Watt Member

    LC (View Comment):

    Susan Quinn:

    Some of the personal stories are difficult to fathom:

    In a vegan cafe in New York City, Nisha Moodley pushes a glass crusted with the remnants of a berry-acai-almond milk smoothie across the table and begins listing the foods she excised from her diet six years ago.

    ‘Factory-farmed meats; hormone-laden dairy; conventional nonorganic fruits and vegetables; anything hydrogenated; anything microwaved,’ the slender 32-year-old health coach says. ‘I would not eat irradiated food; charred or blackened foods; artificial coloring, flavoring, or sweetener; MSG; white rice; sugar; table salt; or anything canned.’

    That sounds so dreadful and sad.

    Oh my I’m in tears, there’s is only one thing to do, In An Out Burger, double cheese burger, fries, and a chocolate shake.

    • #13
    • June 18, 2017 at 3:18 pm
    • Like6 likes
  14. Profile photo of Arahant Member

    Doug Watt (View Comment):
    Oh my I’m in tears, there’s is only one thing to do, In An Out Burger, double cheese burger, fries, and a chocolate shake.

    Sounds like a fair solution. Personally, I’m having a form of meatloaf with lots of cheese and vegetables, like pepper, onion, and slices of tomato cooked into it. Having that with caffeinated tea followed by more chocolate.

    • #14
    • June 18, 2017 at 3:21 pm
    • Like3 likes
  15. Profile photo of Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn Post author

    Arahant (View Comment):

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):
    I don’t think this is the new “disease of the month.”

    It has been around for several years.

    Yes, and I became interested in the topic because I have friends who seem to be growing more extreme about what they’ll eat and what they won’t eat. It’s making me nervous, and I don’t know that they are obsessed yet, but they are moving in that direction.

    • #15
    • June 18, 2017 at 3:21 pm
    • LikeLike
  16. Profile photo of Nanda Panjandrum Thatcher

    Thanks, SQ! Moderation in all things except enjoyment. Have noticed this as a resurgence of the 1970s – only more so…My reaction? Watch, listen, and laugh:

    • #16
    • June 18, 2017 at 3:21 pm
    • Like5 likes
  17. Profile photo of Arahant Member

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):
    Yes, and I became interested in the topic because I have friends who seem to be growing more extreme about what they’ll eat and what they won’t eat. It’s making me nervous, and I don’t know that they are obsessed yet, but they are moving in that direction.

    Yes, it can be interesting watching our friends go in various directions. Some drink; some go ortho on exercise, food, or both; some get religion. Everyone sees the end coming eventually and wants to push off the day.

    • #17
    • June 18, 2017 at 3:23 pm
    • Like3 likes
  18. Profile photo of Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn Post author

    Arahant (View Comment):

    they are moving in that direction.

    Yes, it can be interesting watching our friends go in various directions. Some drink; some go ortho on exercise, food, or both; some get religion. Everyone sees the end coming eventually and wants to push off the day.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jn4ECv-mSl0

    This guy is great! If we could only embrace life, take the good with the bad and celebrate we’re here, it would be wonderful. Everyone should click on this link.

    • #18
    • June 18, 2017 at 3:29 pm
    • Like2 likes
  19. Profile photo of Arahant Member

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):
    This guy is great!

    Song is actually written by Lou and Peter Berryman, who are Wisconsin singer-songwriters. They do many humorous songs. They are well worth catching.

    • #19
    • June 18, 2017 at 3:31 pm
    • Like4 likes
  20. Profile photo of MarciN Member

    Part of it goes with the ever-quickening pace of our advance toward socialism.

    You are a bad person if you take more than your share of the fixed sum we’ve collected from everyone. And if you don’t take care of yourself, you’re not entitled to care or sympathy because you’re taking more than your share.

    Furthermore, everyone wants to be a good person.

    And it’s a perverse teacher-good student relationship.

    And there’s tremendous social pressure coming from all directions to live in a “healthy” way.

    So there are a lot of wind currents converging to make this perfect storm.

    A great post.

    • #20
    • June 18, 2017 at 3:37 pm
    • Like4 likes
  21. Profile photo of Charles Mark Member

    I think people should be let alone to eat or drink what they want and exercise or put their feet up however they want- as long as they take the consequences and don’t blame anyone else.

    • #21
    • June 18, 2017 at 3:39 pm
    • Like9 likes
  22. Profile photo of Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn Post author

    MarciN (View Comment):
    It’s a perverse teacher-good student relationship.

    There is definitely a perfectionistic issue. I wonder if people, in the absence of spirit, think they have to be perfect, since nothing else must be? Anyway, Marci, I think you are correct. And it saddens me. Life is so much, much more than what we eat.

    • #22
    • June 18, 2017 at 3:44 pm
    • Like4 likes
  23. Profile photo of Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn Post author

    Charles Mark (View Comment):
    I think people should be let alone to eat or drink what they want and exercise or put their feet up however they want- as long as they take the consequences and don’t blame anyone else.

    I don’t disagree, Charles. I’m just saddened when people take steps that are self-destructive, and I completely agree that they can choose to destroy themselves. The problem, of course, is that they often do blame others: their families, the government, their bosses, their jobs . . .

    • #23
    • June 18, 2017 at 3:46 pm
    • Like3 likes
  24. Profile photo of Nanda Panjandrum Thatcher

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):
    their families, the government, their bosses, their jobs . . .

    Not to say that these aren’t factors for some…

    • #24
    • June 18, 2017 at 3:51 pm
    • Like4 likes
  25. Profile photo of MLH Member
    MLH

    Some people just have too much time on their hands and nothing real to worry about. (OK, back to read the comments.)

    • #25
    • June 18, 2017 at 3:56 pm
    • Like8 likes
  26. Profile photo of Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn Post author

    Nanda Panjandrum (View Comment):
    Not to say that these aren’t factors for some…

    Well, I’m a big believer in people taking responsibility for their lives, Nanda. So at some point, we have a choice of getting stuck in our grievances or choosing to use our own power and move forward.

    • #26
    • June 18, 2017 at 4:02 pm
    • Like3 likes
  27. Profile photo of Jules PA Member

    Charles Mark (View Comment):
    I think people should be let alone to eat or drink what they want and exercise or put their feet up however they want- as long as they take the consequences and don’t blame anyone else.

    That’s why government controlled health care is such a nightmare. If the government (translated: your neighbors) is contributing to communal care and medicine, all of a sudden it’s no longer a private matter what you choose, because someone else is paying for the consequences.

    I think l’ll have a brownie now. 🤣

    • #27
    • June 18, 2017 at 4:11 pm
    • Like9 likes
  28. Profile photo of Nanda Panjandrum Thatcher

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):

    Nanda Panjandrum (View Comment):
    Not to say that these aren’t factors for some…

    Well, I’m a big believer in people taking responsibility for their lives, Nanda. So at some point, we have a choice of getting stuck in our grievances or choosing to use our own power and move forward.

    Agree re: buying into grievance mode, SQ.Truly, what can’t be cured must be endured…As my Devil Dog sibs would say: “Embrace the [Y]uck” (Angel-Pup version.)

    • #28
    • June 18, 2017 at 4:22 pm
    • Like3 likes
  29. Profile photo of Doug Watt Member

    There are obviously people that due to allergies, or a medical condition cannot eat certain foods. I can empathize with them. There are others that use diet as virtue signaling, or affectation. I don’t have much empathy for that, but I’m a nice guy and just nod, and express interest for those in the latter category. I have to because my wife is on alert for the danger signs that indicate subtle sarcasm is about to be exercised.

    • #29
    • June 18, 2017 at 4:22 pm
    • Like7 likes
  30. Profile photo of Matt Balzer Member

    Susan Quinn:

    In a vegan cafe in New York City, Nisha Moodley pushes a glass crusted with the remnants of a berry-acai-almond milk smoothie across the table and begins listing the foods she excised from her diet six years ago.

    ‘Factory-farmed meats; hormone-laden dairy; conventional nonorganic fruits and vegetables; anything hydrogenated; anything microwaved,’ the slender 32-year-old health coach says. ‘I would not eat irradiated food; charred or blackened foods; artificial coloring, flavoring, or sweetener; MSG; white rice; sugar; table salt; or anything canned.’

    To paraphrase myself from earlier posts, I would be wary about restricting my diet like this. Being used to only eating a limited diet might have bad consequences if you’re suddenly unable to follow that diet for some reason.

    Besides, charring and blackening is where the most flavor is, and MSG is an acronym for Makes Stuff Good.

    • #30
    • June 18, 2017 at 4:26 pm
    • Like6 likes
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