Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The New Guilt

by: Stephanie Horton

"When you wake up in the morning, Pooh," said Piglet at last, "what's the first thing you say to yourself?" "What's for breakfast?" said Pooh. "What do you say, Piglet?" "I say, I wonder what's going to happen exciting today?" Pooh nodded thoughtfully. "It's the same thing," he said. -A.A. Milne, Winne-the-Pooh

I love this quote, because it reminds me that eating is exciting, not a game to be won, not a goal to be set...just simply enjoying and being alive. Food these days has Issues (with a capital I). Not so long ago, say about a year or two, guilt over eating was paired with junk food: Oops, I ate too much ice cream, and I feel a bit remorseful, but it was totally worth it b/c ice cream is delicious. Today, the guilt can kick in over almost anything! Is the salmon farm raised or wild? Are these vegetables in season? The fruits locally grown? The beef grass-fed or feed-fed? Does this milk come from happy cows or sad cows? Sad cows?! It's hard to bare the thought. Through these questions, we're finding new ways to make healthy eating even healthier, which also means we need to take caution that we're not giving ourselves new ways to feel guilty about food.
(Happy Cow)

Buying locally and purchasing animal products raised under humane farming practices are eco-friendly, animal-loving choices that I try to stick to. There's something to be said about making an effort to support these kinds of farming practices. Not only do the foods taste better in my opinion, but they also seem more peaceful and planet-friendly. But what if you don't have access to a farmer's market on a regular basis or no time to seek one out? Yes, you go to the grocery store and maybe you buy organic, but still, there's a twinge of guilt over those tomatoes or cucumbers you purchase, because even though they're organic and full of vitamins and antioxidants, they're from California, not from the farm right outside the city. How healthy can your healthy get? This is the new guilt over food.

Somewhere along the line, buying locally and eating healthfully became chic. The higher the "locally grown" percentage of your refrigerator, the more committed to health, peace, and Earth you are. The more fruits and vegetables in your lunch box, the more proud you are to open it in front of coworkers and friends. If you buy local produce, grass fed beef, wild salmon, and happy chickens, you are considered a thoughtful, considerate person. But could this be the start of a whole new restriction problem? Could the guilt over not having the time or food knowledge to practice these shopping habits eventually turn into a psychological issue? These questions lead me to tell you about a new kind of eating disorder out there that many people are not aware of: Orthorexia.

"Orthorexia" is defined as an obsession with healthy or righteous eating. Those with Orthorexia create severely limited diets in the name of healthy foods. It often begins with someone's simple and genuine desire to live a healthy lifestyle, but it can quickly spiral out of control. The person may choose to stop eating red meat, but eventually cuts out all meat; then all processed foods; then they may only eat locally grown, organic fruits and vegetables and nothing else, and will eventually eat only specific foods that are prepared in very specific ways.

Orthorexia wasn't always recognized as an eating disorder, and there's still some conflict over whether or not it should be. There's some discussion over classifying Orthorexia as a form obsessive-compulsive disorder, but someone with Orthorexia will expend the same amount of energy thinking about food as someone with bulimia or anorexia nervosa. They may not be calorie-counting, but they become fixated on the overall health benefits of the food and on how the food was processed, prepared, and where it came from. The harmful effects of Orthorexia itself are not as severe as other eating disorders, but the fear is that it can morph into anorexia, which is a life threatening condition.

Being kind to your body and to your mind simultaneously is a balancing act. Once we know what's healthy for us and for the planet, it's easy to become fixated on restricting ourselves to only those practices that will benefit our bodies and our environment most. And it's possible that if we become fixated on these things, we may lead ourselves into a food trap. We must allow ourselves to live freely, without getting down on ourselves if we eat a conventionally grown apple purchased at a 7/11. After all, it's still an apple. It's about treating yourself and others right, but not at the expense of your or someone elses' mental health. If we all put in a little effort into being healthier and happier and we strive to take care of our planet without putting unnecessary pressure or stress on ourselves over these things, we will avoid the new guilt, and instead, we'll encounter the new guiltless.


  1. Food should be exciting everyday!! Obsession over anything is never constructive or positive, and can spiral into something very serious and destructive. Yes, it is important to eat healthy food, but it shouldn't be something that creates excess stress and problems in your life.
    thanks for the great summary steph!

  2. The problem is NOT the food- its the hunger and thirst for life that somehow got misplaced. Our culture's ability to produce the most amazing meals should be looked upon in a positive light but it's not because of body image. Once we combat the media's persistence on changing the way we feel about ourselves food will once again be seen as exciting.

  3. This is a great post! I had never heard of orthorexia, but I have definitely dealt with and seen the effects of the new healthier healthy eating trend!

    and Pooh is the master of all of lifes mysteries.