Orthorexia: When ‘healthy eating’ ends up making you sick

People’s obsession with healthy eating may paradoxically be endangering their lives. (AFP)
Updated 07 October 2017
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Orthorexia: When ‘healthy eating’ ends up making you sick

PARIS: People, it seems, have never been so afraid of their food — and, say some experts, an obsession with healthy eating may paradoxically be endangering lives.
Twenty-nine-year-old Frenchwoman Sabrina Debusquat recounts how, over 18 months, she became a vegetarian, then a vegan — eschewing eggs, dairy products and even honey — before becoming a “raw foodist” who avoided all cooked foods, and ultimately decided to eat just fruit.
It was only when her deeply worried boyfriend found clumps of her hair in the bathroom sink and confronted her with the evidence that she realized that she was on a downward path.
“I thought I held the truth to food and health, which would allow me to live as long as possible,” said Debusquat.
“I wanted to get to some kind of pure state. In the end my body overruled my mind.”
For some specialists, the problem is a modern eating disorder called orthorexia nervosa.
Someone suffering from orthorexia is “imprisoned by a range of rules which they impose on themselves,” said Patrick Denoux, a professor in intercultural psychology at the University of Toulouse-Jean Jaures.
These very strict self-enforced laws isolate the individual from social food gatherings and in extreme cases, can also endanger health.
Paris nutritionist Sophie Ortega said she had one patient who was going blind due to deficiency of vitamin B12, which is needed to make red-blood cells.
B12 is not made by the body, and most people get what they need from animal-derived foods such as eggs, dairy products, meat or fish or from supplements.
“A pure, unbending vegan,” her patient even refused to take the supplements, said Ortega. “It was as if she preferred to lose her sight... rather than betray her commitment to animals.”
The term orthorexia nervosa was coined in the 1990s by the then alternative medicine practitioner Steven Bratman, a San Francisco-based physician.
To be clear, orthorexia is not an interest in healthy eating — it’s when enthusiasm becomes a pathological obsession, which leads to social isolation, psychological disturbance and even physical harm. In other words, as Bratman said in a co-authored book in 2000, it’s “a disease disguised as a virtue.”
But as is often the case in disorders that may have complex psychological causes, there is a strong debate as to whether the condition really exists.
The term is trending in western societies, prompting some experts to wonder whether it is being fanned by “cyber-chondria” — self-diagnosis on the Internet.
Orthorexia is not part of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, set down by mental health professionals in the United States that is also widely used as a benchmark elsewhere. The fifth edition of this “bible,” published in 2013, includes anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa, but not orthorexia.
“The term orthorexia was proposed as a commonly used term but it is not medically recognized,” said Pierre Dechelotte, head of nutrition at Rouen University Hospital in northern France and head of a research unit investigating the link between the brain and the intestines in food behavior.
Even so, says Dechelotte, it has a home in the family of “restrictive food-related disorders — but it’s not on the radar screen.”
Alain Perroud, a psychiatrist who has worked in France and Switzerland over the course of a 30-year career, says orthorexia “is much closer to a phobia” than to a food disorder.
As with other phobias, the problem may be tackled by cognitive behavioral therapy — talking about incorrect or excessive beliefs, dealing with anxiety-provoking situations and using relaxation techniques and other methods to tackle anxiety, he suggested.
Denoux contends that between two and three percent of the French population suffer from orthorexia, but stresses that there is a lack of reliable data as the condition has not been officially recognized.
Denoux’s figure seems coherent to Dechelotte, who says that women seem to be more than twice as susceptible to the problem as men.
Outside the world of clinicians, orthorexia seems to be creeping into wider usage.
American blogger Jordan Younger has helped to popularize the term, documenting her own painful downward spiral — since reversed — into unhealthy living.
On her blog, she describes it as “a bubble of restriction,” obsessing over a diet that was “entirely vegan, entirely plant-based, entirely gluten-free, oil-free, refined sugar-free, flour-free, dressing/sauce-free, etc.”
Those who seem to be most worried about healthy food are often concerned about food scandals in the West, Pascale Hebel from the Paris-based CREDOC research center told AFP.
Over nearly three decades, Europe has experienced a string of food safety scandals — beginning with mad-cow disease and continuing recently with insecticide-contaminated eggs — as well as mounting opposition to the use of antibiotics, genetically modified foods and corporate farming practices.
The disorder reflects a craving for control, suggested Denoux: food is seen as a form of medicine to fix a western lifestyle that may be seen as polluting or toxic.
“We are living through a time of change in our food culture, which has led us to fundamentally doubt what we are eating,” said Denoux.
Among believers, this “suspicion of being poisoned is deemed proof of insight.”


Saudi home-bakers cooking up sweet business on internet

Nada Kutbi started baking from home for family and friends before setting up her Sucre De Nada pastry shop to expand her home business. (Photos/Supplied)
Updated 22 May 2019
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Saudi home-bakers cooking up sweet business on internet

  • Thanks to social media, business is booming for Jeddah’s cake and pastry makers

JEDDAH: Enterprising Saudi home-bakers have been turning to social media to help cook up some sweet business success.
The Kingdom’s food producers are proving to be some of the rising stars of the internet, and none more so than 53-year-old mom Nada Kutbi.
Her Sucre De Nada pastry shop in Jeddah has become one of the go-to places for homemade desserts and cakes, and the online side of her business is also booming.
Kutbi’s daughter, Nassiba Khashoggi, told Arab News: “She has basically been baking all her life, especially after having children. She used to make cookies for us and whenever she tried a dessert somewhere else, she would recreate it.
“In restaurants or gatherings, she would always analyze sweets and make them at home for her family. That was how she started baking.
“I don’t think she ever thought she could pursue it as a career, but everyone loved her baking and one of her closest friends encouraged her to start her business when she was a stay-at-home mom.
“It was in 2011-2012, and her friend basically forced her to start by telling her, ‘yallah! make a cake and I will buy it from you now.’”
Khashoggi added: “In the beginning we just went by word of mouth, but when Instagram came along, we made an account and started posting pictures and the customers loved her creativity and uniqueness. I don’t think many people knew what banoffee was before my mom promoted it.”
Although Kutbi’s unique takes and touches went down a treat with customers, it was not until Ramadan last year that she officially opened her bakery in Jeddah.
But stepping up from running a home business presented new challenges. “When you are running a home business there are few staff and it is easy to control,” said Khashoggi. But expanding requires you to put more trust in other people and that was difficult for my mom. Also, when we increased the number of our products it became harder to maintain the quality of goods.”
Kutbi aims to avoid storing, pre-baking or freezing her products and is not a fan of mass production and blast freezing, according to her daughter. “In short, she is against commercial baking,” said Khashoggi. “What is unique about my mom is that everything she makes is made the same day from scratch. It makes it harder for her to redo everything but that’s what makes her special.”

HIGHLIGHtS

• The Kingdom’s food producers are proving to be some of the rising stars of the internet, none more so than 53-year-old mom Nada Kutbi.

• Kutbi’s unique takes and touches have been a hit with customer, but it was not until Ramadan last year that she officially opened her bakery in Jeddah.

Sometimes customers even send pictures or pieces of dessert to Kutbi asking her to recreate their favorite foods.
Another Jeddah-based bakery thriving on the internet is Ganache. Run by Anas Khashoggi, 58, and Jamila Ali Islam, 48, the pastry business has been operating for almost 20 years.
Khashoggi supported his wife after spotting her talent for baking and took a leap of faith by giving up his job and starting an online bakery.
“At that time, there was no social media, but we made an introductory website, which helped us gain popularity,” he said. That was in 1996, and the couple’s first store opened later the same year.
“Ganache has its own unique spirit as a family business, and it is run by Saudi youth who are managing the bakery and understand the Saudi market. The family committee is the one that approves the products,” added Khashoggi.