I saw an article online recently about the environmental effects (specifically related to water) of the boom in almond milk consumption. This particular article suggested that the fad of almond milk was based in its perception as a healthier option than dairy milk. If you know how I feel about cow’s milk, you’ll know that I don’t think choosing alternatives to it should be a fad—same with soy milk.
What kind of milk you drink isn’t the thing I wanted to talk about here, though. The article reminded me of orthorexia, an eating disorder characterized by people’s obsession with food quality and cleanliness inhibiting their ability to eat anything.
NationalEatingDisorders.org says: “Those who have an ‘unhealthy obsession’ with otherwise healthy eating may be suffering from ‘orthorexia nervosa,’ a term which literally means ‘fixation on righteous eating.’ Orthorexia starts out as an innocent attempt to eat more healthfully, but orthorexics become fixated on food quality and purity. They become consumed with what and how much to eat, and how to deal with ‘slip-ups.’ An iron-clad will is needed to maintain this rigid eating style. Every day is a chance to eat right, be ‘good,’ rise above others in dietary prowess, and self-punish if temptation wins (usually through stricter eating, fasts and exercise). Self-esteem becomes wrapped up in the purity of orthorexics’ diet and they sometimes feel superior to others, especially in regard to food intake.”
I think orthorexia might be the next big thing in eating disorders, as the internet makes it so easy to learn (literally) how the sausage gets made. It’s so hard to know how to “eat righteously” when you start thinking about every element of our food. How was it grown, transported, prepared and served? Were the laborers involved at every step being compensated fairly? Was the production non-GMO, sustainable, organic? Was it grown and produced within 100 miles of where it was consumed? Is it seasonal? Has it been cooked too long to retain nutrients? Not long enough to unlock them? Were the same standards applied to every ingredient, or just the main ones?
Where I live, in San Francisco, we have the luxury of an abundance of responsibly sourced foods that are cared for properly at every step from farm to table…. And they’re usually kind of expensive. Where a lot of people live, the options are more limited. And for many of us, me included, our living situations and lifestyles don’t allow us to raise our own food. So what are our options if we don’t have abundant money, time and land? We have to do our best.
If you’re starting to feel like your culinary horizons are contracting because you’re so worried about what you’re eating, what’s in it, how it was produced and how it affects the world, you need to take a breath and do your best. Find a farmer’s market where you can get fresh, local veggies. Read labels. Cook at home. But don’t beat yourself up if your best still doesn’t feel good enough.
If you need help sorting out how to do better within your lines, call for help. Call me! I can help.
If you think I’m saying too little too late, and that you might have orthorexia in earnest, contact a mental health professional, and seek help.
We can all work towards a system that makes high-quality, healthy food a priority and universally available. We can also help our neighbors and communities in whatever ways we’re able. But let’s help ourselves first by accepting credit where it’s due for the effort we make, and making sure we’re not losing perspective in our efforts to eat well.