“Orthorexia is an unhealthy obsession with eating healthy food, or with the idea of eating healthy food.”
That’s what Dr Steven Bratman told me, when I got in touch with him via Skype to talk about my project. Dr Bratman coined the term “Orthorexia Nervosa” in 1997, to describe instances of pathological healthy eating behaviour. In his recently published paper, On orthorexia nervosa: A review of the literature and proposed diagnostic criteria, co-authored with Dr Thomas Dunn (2015), Bratman explains that the eating disorder, whilst not formally recognised by the American Psychiatric Association, has garnered significant media attention in the past few years. This can largely be poinpointed to the summer of 2014, when author of the blog “The Blonde Vegan”, Jordan Younger, told her followers that she had been suffering from the condition, dramatically increasing public awareness.
When I spoke to Chloe Miles from the British Dietetics Association, she agreed that whilst it is not clinically diagnosed in the UK either, it is still a considerable cause for concern.
“There’s nothing wrong with healthy eating, but it’s when it does impact on your social life and when you do become really addicted to it, and again the feelings of guilt come into play – then that isn’t healthy, and is a form of disordered eating.”
So where does fruitarianism come into this? Well, as he outlined in a previous article, Dr Bratman says that fruitarianism is Orthorexic almost by definition. I asked him to explain what he meant by this, which you can listen to here:
And Dr Bratman himself understands Orthorexia Nervosa from a personal standpoint, having experimented with different theories of healthy eating himself as a young man in the 7os, including fruitarianism.
“Being a vegetarian felt like an accomplishment, and being a vegan felt like an accomplishment, and being a fruitarian was even more of an accomplishment.”
In his original 1997 essay, he explains how he eventually relinquished his own disordered eating habits, with the subtle encouragement of a Benedictine Monk. He talks about a scenario following an earlier lunch that they had enjoyed together.
“Later that evening, Brother David ate an immense dinner in the monastery dining room, all the while urging me to have more of one dish or another. I understood the point. But what mattered more was the fact that this man, for whom I had the greatest respect, was giving me permission to break my Health Food vows. It proved a liberating stroke.”