Two and a half thousand years ago, the father of medicine, Hippocrates stated, “let food be the medicine and medicine be thy food”. Of course, that was back in the days where food was very simple with little interference by human beings apart from catching or preparing natural foods.
Food over 2000 years ago was of course a vital part of existence but certainly not the major pleasure it is nowadays. Our modern world is bombarded by constant food advertisements, television shows elevating celebrity chefs to superstar status, not to mention the quick fix easy foods which take the strain out of food preparation.
With any major life pleasure, there is always the shadow, the underbelly, which in this case often leads to the excessive belly. But, apart from the obvious and increasing problems of obesity, could there possibly be a problem with so-called healthy eating?
My favourite medical website for excellent general review of modern medical issues, Medical News today, has “nailed it” again with two superb articles on orthorexia nervosa and food addiction. I thought I would review some of the key points from both of these articles and give my own perspective.
Orthorexia nervosa is defined as a pathologic obsession with healthy eating which may lead to social isolation, psychological disturbance and often physical harm. I had previously told the story of Prof Roy Walford who wrote the book, “The 120 year diet”. Prof Walford suggests that if you consume a daily diet of 1500 cal of pure plant food with no coffee, alcohol or meat you will live to 120. Prof Walford had a small group of loyal followers around the world who call themselves calorie restrictors. They don’t have an ounce of body fat, are constantly cold, tired, miserable and often depressed, but they live with the delusion that they will live until 120. The average age of death in the modern world for males is around 80 and for females around 84. A few years back, Prof Walford died at the ripe old age of 79, having lived that miserable existence of disciplined restriction for many years.
Medical News Today quotes the case of a 29 year old female who progressed through the steady slope of vegetarianism to veganism to becoming a raw foodist and finally only consuming fruit to then losing her hair and becoming quite ill. They quoted French nutritionist, Sophie Ortego who stated she had a patient who was “a pure, unbending vegan who even refused to take B12 supplements preferring to lose her sight rather than betray her commitment to animals.”
Orthorexia nervosa is not actually medically recognised and many people believe this is more a phobia than a food disorder. Many people in the field believe orthorexia nervosa has occurred because of the fear of modern issues such as mad cow disease, the use of pesticides in modern agriculture along with antibiotics given to domestic livestock, genetically modified foods and corporate farming. Many people who go down the slippery path of orthorexia nervosa believe that going organic and vegan will help prevent the toxicity of western lifestyle.
The other article presented by Medical News Today was on food addiction. This is where the need to eat becomes compulsive and uncontrollable and may be in response to an emotional disorder, stress, sadness or anger. Food addictions are also linked to cravings, typically chips, lollies (candy), white bread, chocolate pasta or ice cream.
Food addiction may lead to other disorders like obesity, bulimia or binge eating.
Regardless, there is no doubt, food is a vital part of our existence. If you don’t eat, you die. But, not achieving a balanced, nutritional program may have serious consequences. In a modern world where a solution to obesity is bariatric surgery rather than drastic lifestyle changes, we need to review the deeper issues as to why a significant proportion of human beings are obese, experience anorexia and/or bulimia or even more recently have these new obsessions with healthy eating, veganism or some fad diet.
It is my experience as a doctor of 40 years that I have never met one person (and I’m not excluding myself from this observation) that has life in balance. We all struggle in some way and this struggle may lead to overeating, undereating, an addiction to some substance (cigarettes, alcohol or illegal drugs), anger, anxiety, depression or somatic symptoms.
It is my opinion that any issue around food whether it be any of the problems I have discussed above, are purely manifestations of much deeper emotional factors. We are all the sum total of our various life experiences, genetics and our upbringing. Until we recognise the reason why we have whatever obsession, phobia, addiction or any other issue for that matter, we humans will continue to make the same mistakes and continue the same patterns.
Albert Einstein was once quoted as saying, “there is no more certain sign of insanity than to do the same thing over and over again and expect a different result”.
Rather than seeking a medical solution to your problem or starting on yet another diet or bizarre eating program, why don’t you find out the real cause of the problem, fix the cause and start an entirely different, healthier pattern.