These days, it seems that everyone has that one friend who brings their own organic, gluten free, vegan health food alternatives to the family barbeque. However, psychiatrists have started diagnosing those who eat an abundance of health foods as mentally ill.
It is no secret that Americans are obsessed with food and nutrition, but as more people find new ways to incorporate health foods into their diet, some are forming an unhealthy obsession with health food dieting fads. Some are even developing anxiety over which foods are considered “safe” to eat.
Much like OCD, the obsession with raw, natural, non-GMO food can become a compulsion that deprives people of mental stability and nutrients.
Three years ago, 28 year-old Ashley Bailey began a health food diet after suffering from chronic abdominal pain, digestive problems, and other health related issues. When Bailey’s health began to improve, she got even more extreme in her eating habits. After a year, she had eliminated gluten, grains, dairy, meat, starches, and most fruits from her diet.
“I had extreme anxiety about everything I ate and became acutely aware of how every ingredient made my body feel…I broke down crying once because I could taste so many different flavors, and I didn’t know what they all were or where the ingredients were sourced.”
Bailey had developed a complex focused on health food diets which she took to dangerous extremes, depleting her body of much needed proteins and calories. She said in an interview with CNN that “I called my sister and said, ‘I think I have an eating disorder.'”
This particular eating disorder is called “Orthorexia nervosa” by psychiatrists, and is associated with a pathological obsession with health foods to the point where such a diet is disruptive to a so-called “normal” lifestyle. Some may even develop a fear of food, such as vegan food blogger Jordan Younger, who became sick, stopped having her period, and suffered from panic attacks while in the grocery store.
“I had known in the back of my mind for a while that I had developed many fears surrounding food, and it was clear to me that I was becoming more and more limited in what I was comfortable eating,”
Although the term Orthorexia has been around since 1997, it has garnered more attention lately as the new eating disorder is on the rise, due to rising health concerns and food awareness.
Doctors encourage eating health foods, but warn against developing an unhealthy obsession with food organically grown in specific locations or extreme diets that exclude vital nutrients.
As of now, the orthorexia is not yet classified in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or DSM, long considered the bible of psychiatric disorders.
Dr. Tim Walsh, who was part of the DSM-5 Work Group, says that it was partly due to timing, as there was not enough published works on the disorder, and partly because many of the symptoms can be classified under the criteria listed for avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder.
“The thinking about orthorexia has merit, but whether we need a new diagnostic label, I don’t know,”
Other objections to adding Orthorexia to the DSM include the vilifying of health foods by the food industry as a way of maintaining the relevancy of the “profits first, people second” profit motive.
Jeffery Jaxen, Heath and Wellness blogger for Sott, scoffs at the practice of psychiatry saying that it is in bed with the same pharmaceutical industry producing the drugs used to treat the disorder in a conflict of interests, saying that by “stepping back and looking at the ones pushing this label on us shows highly questionable motives.”
“In short, if you turn your back on low quality, corporate food containing known cancer causing toxic additives and a rich history of dishonesty rooted in a continuous ‘profits over people’ modus operandi, then you may suffer from a mental illness. The cherry on top is that if you have the pseudo-science labeled disorder of orthorexia nervosa, you will be prescribed known toxic, pharmaceutical drugs from some of the same conglomerate corporations that you are trying to avoid by eating healthy in the first place.”
Jaxen says that as consumers buy more health foods and walk away from processed food, the food industry retaliates. Jaxen maintains that food industry bankrolls the pharmaceutical industry, who can pressure psychiatrists to diagnose with orthorexia. This allows them to continually prescribe expensive and harmful drugs for treatment in a continuous cycle.