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Body ImageSelf-esteem

A New Kind of Eating Disorder

By March 3, 2009One Comment

OrthorexiaAs a minister to women, I frequently work with young ladies who suffer from eating disorders. Though I personally have never struggled with this particular issue, it clearly plagues a large percentage or our present female culture. It is almost indiscriminating when it comes to age group–women from the age of 11 to 50 are fighting their bodies as they listen to the voices of an unforgiving society.

That said, I was not at all surprised to learn that doctors have identified a new form of eating disorder. The disorder itself isn’t really that new, but only recently have we given it a name. It’s called orthorexia.

Orthorexia is a term coined by Dr. Steve Bratman, an individual who was heavily involved in the health food movement until he realized it had become an obsession. And that’s exactly what orthorexia is–an obsession with healthy eating.

Orthorexia entails a fixation with food that is so severe it can lead to malnutrition or even death. In its less harmful forms it is still all-consuming–the individual may avoid certain foods, such as those containing fats, preservatives, animal products, or other ingredients considered to be unhealthy. The orthorexic is so preoccupied with food that he or she orders their entire life around meals–they are constantly planning the next meal so as to ensure that anything less than pure and healthy does not enter their body.

To be clear, orthorexia is different from other eating disorders with which we are more familiar. As Bratman describes, “Anorexics seem to always think they’re fat. Orthorexics know they’re thin, but they want to be pure.”

And in this way, orthorexia is very subtle. The sufferer isn’t overtly starving themselves, so the behavior actually disguises itself as a virtue, especially in our increasingly health conscious world.

In reality, the orthorexic is a slave to their diet.

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If you or someone you know might be struggling with orthorexia, I encourage you to go see a counselor or a nutritionist. But I would advise you to speak with a church leader as well, because there is more to this disorder than unhealthy eating habits.

What is interesting about orthorexia is that it doesn’t come across as being blatantly harmful since the goal is to be at one’s healthiest. However, this struggle gets to the heart of the term “eating disorder,” because that’s exactly what it is–a disordered view of eating. An individual has an unhealthy understanding of food or diet that negatively influences their lifestyle, as well as the way that they view themselves.

And that’s why I encourage you to talk with a pastor–this is a diet issue, but it’s also a faith issue. In America, we see people bowing down to the altar of diet all the time, and we see it in one of two ways–either by eating too much, or by over-controlling how little they eat–both use food as a source of comfort and security. In both instances, people use food to prop up some part of themselves that is hurting or needy. And in this way, a fixation on food becomes an all-encompassing lifestyle in which diet becomes our god.

For this reason we must always be guarded about our actions and our motives. Even in trying to live a healthy lifestyle, which is a very good thing, it is easy to supplant Christ as the center of our world. In a culture that is obsessed with how one looks and how one eats, it’s easy to join in the worship of healthy eating.

So before you think that this doesn’t apply to you, I want you to ask yourself how often you think about food and eating every day. Then, ask yourself how often you think upon the things of God. Even if there’s a slight imbalance, so little that you alone know the difference, that is still a kind of eating disorder. It may not play out in the form of obesity or starvation, but any kind of mindset that puts diet as a priority over God is, spiritually speaking, disordered.

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