With 20 million women and 10 million men in the United States suffering from an eating disorder at some point in their lives, it is pretty clear that our culture has an unhealthy relationship with food—even healthy food. Claudia McNeilly published an article in Broadly. on Tuesday, which caused orthorexia to go viral.
Compared to clinically recognized anorexia and bulimia, orthorexia, with its almost 20 year history (after being coined by Dr. Steven Bratman in a 1997 essay), is the new kid on the block when it comes to eating disorders. The term means, “correct appetite disorder,” and is basically an harmful relationship with healthy food. Bratman told Broadly. the likelihood of the disorder gaining clinical recognition by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders anytime soon is slim.
Eating disorders already are given little attention when it comes to funding and research. The National Eating Disorders Association reports that only 93 cents is spent by the National Institutes of Health on research for every individual person affected by an eating disorder.
With the largest professional medical institutions refusing to give attention to the millions suffering from eating disorders, it appears that the Internet is the only way to actually bolster attention for disorders like orthorexia. Ironically, the Internet is what also perpetuates the desire to #eatclean that can eventually lead to the unhealthy obsession with food.
When you search #EatClean on Instagram, upward of 25.5 million photos appear; #CleanEating ranks in at more than 17.1 million snaps and the simple #Juice has 3.9 million photos. That’s just one social network.
Clean eating photos are not just of food either. Images of ripped guys, and extremely fit women pop up, preserving the idea that in order to develop the picture perfect body that will finally “make your life better,” eating healthy foods, and living a healthy life is the answer. What is supposed to be a positive lifestyle filled with nutritious food turns into a darkness where the impurities of certain foods holds a person hostage.
These images coupled with the non-stop barrage of seeing Insta-perfect models posing with donuts, cupcakes and ice cream displays a culture that uses food as shame. If unhealthy food is shameful, obviously the answer to living a great life is eating only healthy food—a mindset that can lead to diseases like orthorexia.
Orthorexia garnered a lot of attention when Jordan Younger, a vegan blogger, stepped away from veganism recognizing her relationship with raw foods had gone to an extreme. Now she has a book called Breaking Vegan, where she tells her story.
Like McNeilly wrote in her Broadly. article about her own experience, oftentimes the beginning of orthorexia is a lifestyle change, like starting a Paleo diet.
Paleo, veganism, juice cleansing: These lifestyles or food choices are not the problem, as Bratman writes on his website, but the development of an obsession with turning to health food in order to feel in control—desires to only eat what is pure.
We need to change our culture’s relationship with food. Food is sold to us in a way that makes it either the enemy or the answer. It is sexualized and demonized and glorified. Our skinny-obsessed culture preaches that being slim is the answer to all of life’s problems.
It's this kind of "fitspo" messaging that is continuing a culture of control associated with food.
As someone who learned from more than 12 years of an unhealthy relationship with food, I can say that when you are trapped, it is hard to climb your way out of the patterns of shame and control that become the answer. The answer to self-doubt, to anxiety, to worth, to the reason why X, Y or Z happened. Disordered eating habits like orthorexia are an unfortunate side effect in a world that demands perfection.
Food is supposed to be fuel for our bodies, but the way our media, and now social media portrays it creates mental health problems for millions of people—problems that the medical world ignores.
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