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Dr Russ Blog - Orthorexia?
Created on 2/19/2010

A few weeks ago I authored a blog piece where the main topic was the type of food we eat on Super Bowl Sunday. Intending to promote a sense of joy about food and the importance of community centered around eating, even pretty unhealthy food, I offered that eating unhealthilysometimes  might actually have its health benefits. Those health benefits might include relaxation, comfort, camaraderie, even a sense of being nice to your self.


Some might think that an unreasonable statement, especially from a doctor who focuses on helping people stay healthy! But I believe that any diet that is very strict is thus unbalanced and possibly not the best diet for us. Food is more than just medicine – it involves our souls, our families, our friends. You can taste the difference when a loved one has cooked you a meal as compared to a chef in the kitchen whom you never even see. Yes, food is important to physical health, very important, but food impacts us emotionally, environmentally, even spiritually, too.


That’s why when I read a recent Time magazine article on orthorexia  I shuddered. The term is being loosely defined as applying to a person with an unhealthy obsession (are there healthy obsessions?) with the avoidance of foods believed to be, well, not good for you. There are some people who may become so anxious about eating highly processed foods, for example, that they would rather go hungry than eat at all if the meal includes such refined meals. And THAT’S unhealthy.


In this blog I try to promote the idea that if knowledge is power, then let’s share knowledge with one another so we might have more power to be healthy. That’s not the same as creating fear.


I don’t believe there’s any food we need to be afraid of – just foods we’re going to eat more often, foods we’ll eat less often, and the occasional foods we’ll eat pretty rarely if at all, in order to stay healthy in a balanced  way.


I feel for people who are saddled with significant anxiety over the wide range of food choices and their potential health benefits or harms. The point of knowledge about healthy food choices should be to help us to relax, to give us a greater sense of doing good for ourselves and our loved ones, to help us prevent illness and optimize health, and to defeat fear, not generate it.


Through a combination of common sense, science, and shared experience we come up with a diet that works well for us. Sometimes we make changes to that diet based on health circumstances and new science, but those changes shouldn’t rob us of the joy of eating.  If we move forward with balanced approaches to diet and health, both individually and as a community, maybe the term orthorexia will never need to be used. I certainly hope that’s the case.


So enjoy what you eat. For the most part choose healthy foods to be eaten in moderation. Try to limit your intake of food known to be unhealthy, like fast or fried foods and focus more on fresh produce, cold water fish and the like. And when it’s time for that occasional “unhealthy” meal that feeds your soul, it’s okay – enjoy, don’t overdo it, and then focus on eating healthily again. An intermittent splurge on foods many feel are unhealthy might be healthy for you in other ways – just don’t splurge frequently, okay?


Be well.

Dr. Russ

** Information on this web site is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for the advice provided by your physician or other healthcare professional. You should not use the information on this web site for diagnosing or treating a health problem or disease, or prescribing any medication or other treatment. **

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