Michael Pollan suggests in his book In Defense of Food that our reliance on processed foods and obsession with fad diets is a kind of disordered eating – that we have become so far removed from the natural processes of creating food that we have lost touch with the need to consume whole, unaltered foods. His discussion of nutritionism posits that our exclusive focus on the nutrients of particular foods combined with our incomplete understanding of how the human body processes those nutrients, has led to huge cultural fluctuations in our acceptance of what is “bad” or “good” food – fats, cholesterol, carbohydrates, and so on.
Pollan’s remedy is to re-focus our eating on the consumption of whole foods that people from the turn of the century would recognize rather than “food-like” substitutes, but his prescription is nearly as dogmatic as the nutritionism he dismisses. A new diet movement, described as clean eating, has grown from Pollan’s ideas. It has gained traction as a healthier alternative to fad diets, but with the addition of providing a moral high ground for its disciples, who see it as the anti-fad diet. While there are certainly many health benefits to clean eating, fanatical adherence to any kind of diet can have its drawbacks.
Orthorexia is an emerging eating disorder which causes individuals to display symptoms of obsessive behavior in pursuit of a healthy diet. People who suffer from orthorexia fixate on food quality and purity, and their self-worth can become entangled in achieving their health goals. Individuals in recovery from other eating disorders like anorexia or bulimia can be particularly susceptible to orthorexia, as clean eating offers a way to exercise extreme control over diet and consumption while still remaining within the realm of social acceptance.
Strict adherence to any diet with no room for flexibility can lead to a disordered relationship with food. If dependence on highly processed food is cultivating poor health and a strained relationship with the production and consumption of food, is it possible that becoming fixated on yet another uncompromising dietary rulebook may not be entirely helpful in creating better health outcomes?
Kratina , Karin. “Orthorexia Nervosa.” National Eating Disorders Association, www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/orthorexia-nervosa.
Pollan, Michael. In Defense of Food: an Eater’s Manifesto. Penguin Books, 2009