Being Orthorexic expresses itself in different ways for different people depending on their story and circumstances. It is also wrongly associated with a number of ways of eating and various lifestyles.
When you search the blogosphere and the internet in general the conversations between Orthorexia and ways of eating like veganism go hand in hand. This is not a co-incidence. But it does not mean they are the same thing either.
Orthorexia is first and foremost about the underlying attitude towards food, and your mental pre-occupation with it. Then it’s about how this manifests itself in you life and your behaviors. Being a vegan does not make you Orthorexic. Although I find it challenging to believe sometimes, I do believe it’s possible there are vegans out there who live contently without too much worry or excessive pre-occupation with their food.
The easiest way to demonstrate this is to step back and look at the more common example of vegetarianism. The health of vegetarians is usually good, at a basic level this is simply because these people devote even some thought to their intake versus the rest of the population. It’s this that explains why statistically they live longer too. (Correlation not causation). However we all know someone who claims to be vegetarian, but exists on calories consisting of pizza, pasta, cereal and chips. There is no way these guys are Orthorexic, and the same principle should be able to be applied to veganism.
In reality if you have the condition we have come to know as Othorexia Nervosa to any degree, it can actually manifest itself in various different ways of eating. Veganism, vegetarianism, paleo, raw (or 80/10/10), organic, low carb (wit the belief too much carb is impure and toxic), zone diets, fasting regimes, even calorie counters…
…hell even body builders who are meticulously planning their 6+ meals per day and how they are going to reach their 4000 calories, and required grams of protein show numerous signs of Orthorexia. Yes those who that are keen on fitness often care a lot about their food too. If you’re doing quick push-up sets in your lunch break, I imagine theirs a high chance your lunch itself is also highly planned and measured.
All are derived from ideas, and can form lifestyles which have various benefits or potential drawbacks, but having any of these values/lifestyles/interests does not equate in itself to unhealthy obsession i.e. Orthorexia.
I think for the conversation on Orthorexia to evolve we need to be re-framing it to include these demographics. Not to try and push the brand, or label more people, but to help more people, and if anything give the vegans a break.
Having said all that why does veganism occur so often with Orthorexia when we look at it anecdotally?
My guess is that by definition it is one of the most restrictive diets to try and manage in modern society. You have to be very pre-occupied with food if you want to keep it up. To sustain the motivation to be this dedicated you must then be motivated by some pretty strong foundation ideas about this lifestyle. And what do you know, whilst people do take up veganism for a couple different reasons, one of them can often be closely linked to the idea of purity. It goes deep to, purity translates to spiritual purity and being at one with nature. Whilst vegetariens, may also make their choices based on moral ideas, and not wanting to kill things (because apparently humans are morally above the act of death and the circle of life…) vegetarianism perhaps offers that degree of flexibility which reduces the number of Orthorexic vegetarians in proportional comparison to Othorexic vegans.
By the way, I’m not advocating either as an ideal nutritional model of health. That is not what this is about.
I think it’s just interesting to look at the bigger Orthorexic picture and understand who else could be a sufferer and be offered the chance to voluntarily be part of the conversation to share and support each other.
What kind of Orthorexic are/were you (or someone you know)?