The Dark Side of Healthy Eating: Diagnosing 'Orthorexia' Eating Disorders
While orthorexia is not an officially recognized disorder (and thus it's hard to know how prevalent it is) in some ways it's merely the logical progression of the food anxiety that many, many people experience. I'll come clean and confess that I once found the pursuit of dietary purity and righteousness very compelling. I was convinced that honoring God with my body meant a devotion to principles of dietary goodness and health and ecological soundness—and I fervently believed that eating organic was a question of justice, too, which, of course, it can be. Problem was, I was getting more than a little picky about what I ate, and more than a little judgmental, too. Too many food rules can make it hard to love your neighbor.
Ultimately, a rules-based approach to food misses some of the most important things about food: that it is a gift of God to be received with gratitude and pleasure, and that food brings people together. It's no accident that Jesus gave us a meal by which to participate in being his body and blood: sharing a meal, in every culture, is a sign of community and belonging. Drinking the cup and eating the bread allows us to participate, somehow, in the life of God in Christ, but it also connects us to one another, and that's a kind of connection that doesn't happen only around the communion table. It happens every time food is shared.
Do some foods testify more clearly to the goodness of God by virtue of having been produced in ways that honor God's creation, God's creatures, and God's people? Certainly. But there remains that dietary 'perfection' is elusive, if not entirely illusory, and that our lives are much more than the food that sustains them.
Bratman tells the story of being offered a piece of processed cheese by an elderly gentleman, Mr. Davis, who he'd been caring for. To Bratman at that time, this food was total poison. But Mr. Davis would have been insulted by his refusal. Bratman writes:
"I chewed the dread processed product. To my great surprise, it seemed to have a healing effect. My cold symptoms disappeared within an hour. It was as if my acceptance of his gratitude healed me."
This is neither to endorse processed food, nor to say that anyone who follows a certain diet will end up having a pathological obsession with food. It's just that there's more to God's gift of food than its ability to confer health. It's a sign of love—of God's love for us, of our love for one another, and if there's anything we can say about love, it's this: love has no room for fear,and interferes with all rules.
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