Thoughts About Orthorexia

Orthorexia   (Acknowledgement Steven Bratman)

An increasingly common condition in developed countries which has not been officially recognised and thus is not classified as an independent entity. The term Orthorexia comes from the Greek word orthos which means proper and orexia (appetite). It is characterized by pathological obsession for biologically pure or right food which leads to important dietary restrictions. Orthorexic people begin by eating well and then spiral into an obsession or fixation with goodness, purity, clean eating, and a certain smugness. They exclude food from their diets that they consider impure because of content such as animal meat or dairy food because they believe themselves intolerant or allergic or even righteous and moral. At its most extreme, health suffers, other interests diminish, relationships are affected and matters become dangerous at the worst. One orthorexic person said, I am painfully aware that I am a bore even if I strive for it to be a closet bore. I am no less aware than I am a type like many of my ilk- city living, and more than a tad a control freak.

 One well known former anorexic, now evolved into a Clean Eating protagonist said fiercely of her views that clean eating would “save the entire planet” Who wouldn’t be vegetarian!  Well it might save the planet but are there more urgent things to target first – like religious extremism and nuclear arms?

The association with eating disorders occurs where the dietary restriction is a proxy for weight loss or weight control. For example, some vegetarians avoid meat because of its so-called fat content, especially young women who instead of avoidance diets, need good quality protein and vitamins at a time when their brains and bodies are growing fast..

Orthorexic people share characteristics with anorexics such as perfectionism, maturity fears, asceticism, high levels of disgust and maturity fears. Like anorexics, orthorexics feel special and different regarding their eating habits, but would have extreme emotional reactions if dietary rules are breached. Some experts believe that Orthorexia is an “escape” from anorexia and only the degree of interference in life or episodic breaches of control would drive someone to accept help.

Susie Orbach, a well-known psychotherapist dislikes the term “Orthorexia” but says that it captures something about our cultural thrust to try and carve up food into ‘goods and bads’ like a more elegant version of the classic diet used to be. She says,  you think you are looking after yourself, but it can be the basis for feeling disturbed about foodstuffs that used to be taken for granted. Orthorexics’ claim to be healthy makes this kind of food management self-legitimising and it is also competitive. I would go back to basics and ask – what is the problem to which this is the solution? It is not medical – it is psychological.

If you avoid meat, fish, carbs, wheat, dairy food and so on, a psychologist might offer a differential diagnosis of delusional disorder, OCD, anxiety disorder and/or anorexia.


The Clean Eating Lie

With acknowledgement from Giles Coren, writing in the Times whose words are copied in parts. The language contained isn’t Deanne’s.

Anyone looking at Clean Eating, The Dirty Truth BBC Horizon would have seen some of the main myths of clean eating demolished including “Dr” Robert Young’s Alkaline Diet message and health claims.

Every diet claims to be the one that works; F-Plan, Cabbage Soup, Dukan, etc etc. We all signed a great sigh of relief when each was discredited or shown not to work, and we said   “I’m not eating another mouthful of cabbage, steak, kale smoothie etc. again” and we dived straight back into eating whatever we most liked that we felt had been taken away from us under false pretences.

As political events have a long backlash well after the event has ended (e.g. Vietnam war),  the same backlash happens about the history of healthy eating. We were told 50 years ago that fat was bad for us (however it shows up) and people are still terrified of drinking real (whole) milk.

So why are the Brits so overweight? It is because the discrediting of each diet rings in our dumb brains as a de facto endorsement of everything it had prohibited.  “You see”  we cry “I always knew that the experts didn’t know what they are talking about” so we tuck in like never before. Because diets invented by morons ( to deal with their own personal physical problems) to cater for other morons or suckers,  are always discredited down the line, often by other morons who have even more moronic ideas. All they want is to pick up the morons who are looking around for the next quick fix says Coren.

Systems like clean eating, detoxes, kale smoothies, NEVER eat meat or you’re a bad person; are just invented by morons who want to turn your own failure to grasp the simple messages of good nutrition into money, and they are addling your brain.

We just need to be less stupid. The rules for eating properly and staying slim are so obvious that it makes my eyes bleed says Coren.

Just don’t eat things out of packets or wrappings. Don’t eat in front of a screen or on transport or in the street. Don’t eat standing up, without cutlery or from a box. Don’t eat anything delivered to your door or passed to you in a car through a hatch or because you saw it advertised on TV. Don’t eat just because you are bored and don’t eat anything which contains ingredients you cannot visualise. Above all don’t eat or even drink anything which your grandmother would not have recognised as food and drink. And don’t solve your problems in a bottle of alcohol.

Regarding the last paragraph, I agree with him with the exception of a bit of dark chocolate.








Healthy Eating Advice To Preschool Kids

NCFED Childhood Eating Disorders and ObesityBBC Southern Counties interviews me yesterday over a planned initiative to give healthy eating advice to pre school children. Will it work?
I’m not sure you can solve the problem of child and adult obesity through the mind of a 5 year old child. Many know what healthy eating is (many do not) but children want to enjoy what they eat more than anything else and they have high levels of neo-phobia, dislike of new tastes. Adults care less and adults will happily knock back a kale smoothie that tastes disgusting for the sake of their health.

Childhood and adult obesity begins with maternal diet, in pregnancy and even post natal if mum is breast feeding. The taste of veggies come through in the milk and make it easier for children later on to accept their greens. So the solution lies with parents in the first place and the environment in the second place. We have to teach nurseries and schools to adopt a healthy no sugar policy for meals and snacks. Totally!

Teaching healthy eating to children means demonising certain foods and many ignorant teachers will teach them that fat is bad and sugar is bad so if you eat those foods you are bad. This may create eating anxiety among vulnerable children and could lead to eating disorders among the kids who are most sensitive.

We live in a society where it is hard to get the balance right. When mum turns up for the school run with a bunch of carrot sticks she is trying to keep her child healthy but the child may rebel down the line when they find their own spending power. I see this struggle at home as my own children try to be good parents and teach their kids how to live a healthy lifestyle. So they become good at finding out where to get their treats.

As for spending £1 million on this new initiative. Better to put the money into Sure start and pre natal teaching. What do you think?

The Clean Eating Debate

Last week the media was buzzing about what is clean eating, is it low fat high complex carbs or higher natural fats and lower carbs. The National Obesity Forum RIGHTLY said that the low fat messages just aren’t working for real people and that counting calories hasn’t worked. Then researchers in Israel discovered that we cannot count on the effect of any food in our diet, even sweeteners can make some people fatter due to interactions between our genes, our gut bacteria and the chemicals in food.

Katie Glass then weighed in with a fascinating article on clean eating being the acceptable face of anorexia. in the Sunday Times. I have posted it and had a backlash from someone who has recovered by turning vegan. Horses for courses as they say.

Please look on our Facebook page  to see the full range of the raging debates about what is healthy eating. At the end of the day, eat real food;  its not just the food that matters; it is also mind-set and obsessions about it.

Is Vegetarianism An Escape From Anorexia?

I’m really bothered about the claims made by the “clean eating” brigade about eating fish and meat.

At the risk of annoying many people including those who are excited about clean eating; I’ve just read some interesting research about vegetarians and vegans. Many people with eating disorders become vegetarian as a means to eat less fat / calories in their diet or apparently because of concerns about animal welfare. The latter is the most common reason given by people who turn against eating meat.

Anorexics and vegetarians are typically young western women and increasingly males who have changed their diet in their teenage years and have adopted food attitudes which are more extreme, ascetic and black-and-white than those of other people and by non consumption for specific foods, they both seem to strive for a stronger sense of purification, control and identity.

Vegetarians studied had differences from normal  eaters on the E.A.T. which is a  measure of disturbed eating patterns. They were similar to anorexics on psychological disturbance such as maturity fears, ineffectiveness and interpersonal distrust. Together with high levels of “perfectionism”, difficulty “connecting” to their physical body, and distinguish hunger from emotions, vegetarians and vegans share many fundamental aspects of the psychopathology of anorexia nervosa.

Many studies suggest that vegetarianism and anorexia are not independent but intertwined, the process may either be that anorexics turn to vegetarianism as part of their symptomology which may contaminate the research findings, or that vegetarianism may be an escape route for someone who might otherwise become anorexic.

I’d say there may be some truth in that.

Clean Eating Isn’t Cool

Jemma is in recovery from anorexia and asks me to share this post with you all. Great job Jemma!   She called it “Eating Disorders Are Cool”.

Eating Disorders are cool. I’m not talking about the ones where people starve themselves to emaciation and end up in hospital within an inch of their life. That’s not cool. That’s Anorexia. I know because I have been there but that’s what people immediately think when you say ‘eating disorder’. But that’s not what I mean, what I’m talking about are the ‘eating disorders’ that are cleverly masked as latest accessory to compare with your friends, who can have the strangest quirks and obsessions, who has made the ‘healthiest’, ‘purest’ ‘cleanist’ meal. If you read the papers, watch the news, scroll through Facebook or look at instragram, you’ll see what I mean. You can’t be blamed for jumping on the band wagon of ‘clean eating’, I mean, everyone is doing it, right? And if you’re not, then you clearly don’t care about yourself or your health. WRONG. Wrong, wrong and wrong again. I am a recovering anorexic in a world full of people, some are telling me that they ‘don’t have an eating disorder’, they just don’t eat gluten, refined sugar, dairy or bread except for every other Thursday at 12.06pm. Please don’t think I am against people who have allergies, members of my family and close friends have health problems which mean they physically cannot eat bread without quite painful and unpleasant consequences and I’ve seen what a real allergic reaction looks like. This is not being fussy, this is having a condition. I’m also not ‘having a go’ at people who choose to not eat a lot of processed food products and are choosing alternatives by cooking meals for their family as part of a healthy balanced lifestyle. These people are aware of what is good for them and what is not so good for them but they don’t allow this or the media to dictate what they fill their cupboards with. These people will pick up a loaf of Kingsmill and place it next to their bag of new potatoes, jar of marmalade and even a packet of biscuits alongside their pint of semi skimmed cows milk – yes COWS MILK. When did that become a no no in the fridges of the people enjoying a bowl of cereal or cup of normal PG Tips? Now it seems if you’re not drinking soya / almond / rice milk then you’re the odd one out. Again, if you’re lactose intolerant, you have to find an alternative to dairy. There are people that ‘prefer’ these milk substitutes and that’s absolutely fine but when you’ve convinced yourself that its because you as person are superior for not consuming cows milk, for whatever reason, this is where the problem escalates…

Having recently read an article written by a very famous female chef where she quite rightly announced that ‘clean eating is merely masking eating disorder’s’ I had to breathe a sigh of relief. I had thought to myself for a while and wondered when this obsession would end? When did food become dirty? When did we become scared of pasta or the humble potato and have to only eat sweet potato? So much so we now add it to chocolate brownies. I say ‘chocolate’, I mean a pinch of pure cacao. This so called brownie will also have no flour, egg substitute and agave nectar instead of sugar. Seriously? This is not a brownie. What happened to baking at home, using fresh ingredients, adding them in yourself to fill your kitchen with the delicious smell of baking and then enjoying your treats, yes treats, with family and friends, washed down with a cup of tea? Apparently this is not allowed within the rules of clean eating. Going to a coffee shop with a friend means pre packing your own snack, preferably one you have made yourself, consisting of ‘raw foods’ such as nuts, dates, some form of nut butter and additional superfood powder. This is the sad, sorry state we have got ourselves into. These people apparently ‘don’t have eating disorders’, even though they’ll spend as much time scouring the list of ingredients of products as anorexics do looking at the calories / carbs / fat content. One rule clean eaters live by it that they have to pronounce every ingredient on the list. This is one I can relate to. I like to know there are real ingredients, fresh produce and that there aren’t any nasty chemicals or additives in my food. I will not, however, go to the extreme of making my own tahini or pesto. Apparently eating a pasta sauce from a jar is also an excludable offence. I have actually enjoyed making my own tomato sauces recently and I must say, they taste amazing! But look in my cupboards, you’ll find an array of homepride jars because, you know what? I actually like them. I cook a fresh piece of chicken, boil new potatoes and steam some vegetables. Never have I seen this meal on any of the Instagram pages I follow and yet this would be a staple meal of meat and veg from my grandparents era (they’re 91 by the way, and both still have all their marbles and in good physical health) my Gran regularly washes her piece of cake down with a glass of red wine.

When did we become scared of food? I spent 6 months in the Priory in Roehampton. Our meals were cooked fresh daily by chefs. They used normal ingredients, potatoes, white rice, vegetables, salads, cheese, meat and puddings. The meals were healthy, balanced and contained everything we needed. The puddings were there obviously to supplement out calorie intake but they were there for the other patients to enjoy. And enjoy, they did. I watched people faces instantly light up when they saw their favourite treat, they’d sit down with fellow patients or friends and family to enjoy their favourite sweet treat. Refined sugars and all! The feeling of nostalgia one gets when eating a food from childhood or that evokes happy memories can work wonders for the soul and coincides beautifully with how the more traditional therapies work. I stand by my belief that eating the food you enjoy can work wonders for the mind and body. Your favourite food is like a hug, and although I don’t agree that food should be used to suppress or enhance emotions, I don’t believe it should be used as a punishment either.

I’m not perfect. I don’t claim to have left behind all my anorexic thoughts and behaviours, I’ll still make some choices based on what I consider to be the healthiest, lowest or ‘safest’ choice. But what I will do is eat the foods I enjoy. I like cereal and toast for breakfast, not quinoa and chia seed porridge. I have a ‘proper’ pudding every night and I snack on cereal bars, yogurt and fruit and I’m not afraid to admit I enjoy chocolate! However, I do like quinoa and avocado, genuinely, and I like to cook healthy meals.  I don’t like chia seed pudding or coconut milk. No matter how good they might be, I don’t want to eat them!

The reason I have written this is because I wanted to express my feelings towards these people who have allowed eating disorders to become acceptable. It has made me angry that people are being allowed to categorise food as ‘dirty’. We all know that regularly eating too much of the high sugar, high fat foods will cause us long term health problems but now what has happened is that we have allowed ourselves to be brainwashed into believing ‘normal’ food is somehow bad for us and if we don’t consume everything in its most natural state, that somehow we have failed. Can we go back to everything in moderation? Can we make cake without having to add beetroot and sweet potato? To me, ‘eating clean’ is just another way to control what we eat, which is just another way to hide someone’s eating disorder.

Diet Fads Are Destroying Us

Im about to do another obesity training, hot on the heels of more stories about how fat we are becoming. We are told that the great british diet is destroying us and that we should take more responsibility for our food choices. Less sugar, more mung beans so long as they are sprouted. We will live forever, be disease free and get to heaven when we die.

On the other side of the coin, I am doing so much work with people who are terrified to eat and find it hard to manage the idea of eating a piece of cake on their birthday.

And by inbox is full of stuff from nutritional experts trying to convince me that more gluco-oligo-saccharides in my diet are the key to happiness and fitness.

On a practical level, I’ve been visiting my granddaughter in Beirut. Child rearing practices there seem to be a battle between those who let their children and themselves eat whatever, for all sorts of reasons, and those whose children have not seen an ice cream in years. My daughter now asks me, how do we know what is moderate and how do I feed my child without creating either a sense of emotional deprivation by saying NO , or lead my child to physical harm.

I wish I knew the answer, but I don’t. So it is back to grandmother. A little bit of what you fancy does you good. And no one will perish by eating a little sugar or wheat or dairy ice cream. So please take a minute to check this out.

Diet Fads Are Destroying Us


Carbohydrate Phobia: Go Enjoy Your Toast!

Quoting Hannah Devlin,  the Science Editor of the Times; she  claims that nearly half of women say that they feel guilty about eating carbohydrates, despite their essential role in a healthy diet.

 A survey of 3,000 people found that women were twice as likely as men to suffer from ‘carb guilt’, even though they were more likely to be a healthy weight.  Nearly everyone I treat for an eating disorder considers carbs to be poison. But is this making us thinner?  Nowadays about 65 % of men and 58 % of women in Britain are overweight or obese, compared with 58 %and 49 % respectively in  1993.

Holidays like Christmas are becoming increasingly  indulgent with the average person having about 6,000 kcal on  Christmas day and an extra 500 kcals daily during the festive period, according to the British Dietetic Association. I’m not sure whether this includes alcohol which is consumed in enormous quantities during the holidays. Whatever, it leads to an average weight gain of about 5lb by the beginning of the new year.

 My niece who lives usually in the USA has visited London this January and expressed alarm at the number of dieting programmes she has seen on TV and in the papers. She says that there is nothing like it back home. A big part of this includes a recommendation to banish carbs from our diet as an effective way to lose weight quickly, despite clinicians saying that  this can be harmful.

 Jane Ogden, a professor in health psychology at the University of Surrey who is involved in this research  said  that people are irrationally demonising carbohydrates. “If they realise that carbohydrates have an essential part in  their diets, not only for energy but also  for building long-term sustainable healthy habits, then carbohydrates can  resume their place as a central part of how they eat”, she said.

Most people are unaware of how much carbohydrate they should be eating .  The recommended daily allowance is 250g – around half of a person’s daily calories – but when asked what that might amount to in food, most people significantly underestimated it.  A correct balance would be a bowl of breakfast cereal, two slices of bread, one plate of pasta and three oatcakes. That is what we could and should be eating. Basically, that is what I eat.

A recent Horizon investigation into the effects of a fat versus carbohydrate diet shows that you can live very well on carbohydrates, regulate your insulin very well – despite claims to the contrary – and also lose weight.

 But that’s not what people think. We have been taught from the 1950s onwards to fear the humble carb. Of those questioned, 1 in 10 women said they felt guilty all the time about the amount of carbohydrates they ate and about a quarter said they would avoid them in the week to allow themselves to indulge at the weekend.

 Instead of trying to cut out carbohydrate, Professor Ogden – and me too – say that the focus should be on mostly avoiding food with a lot of added sugar, and trying to include foods with healthy complex carbohydrates, such as whole grains, beans, fruits and vegetables. I say mostly because one piece of cake won’t hurt you now and then.

A diet low in carbs can make people feel permanently  hungry, which can lead to snacking and grazing on foods full of fat and simple sugars.  People feel that they are denying themselves the foods they really want to eat and , in the end, most people end up over-eating the very foods they are trying to avoid.

This, in turn, results in feelings of guilt and the need to deprive oneself again.  Ultimately, it becomes an unhealthy, vicious cycle”.

So, we are afraid of fat and we are afraid of carbs. Neither it appears will hurt you. It is only when they are stuck together in processed foods that they seem to do us harm. And booze, that’s another matter for another blog.  So go and enjoy your toast.



Eat Butter Eat Butter Eat Butter – Yay!

There’s growing evidence that our favourite fat can not only be good for us, it also wont make us fat in moderation says one of my favourite nutrition experts, Dr John Briffa.

For years and years we have had the illusion that all foods can be measured in calories and all calories are the same. We have bought the story that all fat is dangerous and rush like lemmings to buy skimmed or semi skimmed milk, fat reduced sludge that we call margarine,  and low fat everything.

I’m not going to replicate all the physiological arguments here, but the body doesn’t work like that. We have been sold many pups by people who are interested in making money out of our fears. We buy strange yoghurts with plant stanols in our fear to reduce cholesterol and we buy fat-reduced chocolate biscuits and low-fat crisps that taste like cardboard. Fat-reduced biscuits? Who are these people really kidding!

In addition to being made fearful of fats, we are also fearful of particular kinds of fat. Saturated types of fat like butter is supposed to be bad for our waistline and our hearts.  We don’t even know that the second most plentiful fat in butter is unsaturated, which is supposed to be good for us like nuts and seeds and cold pressed olive oil.

But does butter make us fat? Strangely there isn’t much good evidence. Taking fat out of food and milk can make it higher in sugars, which is associated with weight gain. Adding butter to your diet might be good for your brain, make you happier and reduce your cravings for sugar.

So next time your hand hovers over the full cream milk and your eyes wander over the butter in Tesco, let yourself buy it. Full cream milk is a low fat food which will keep your blood sugar stable and light your inner fire. Butter tastes nice, won’t make you fat and is good for your heart.

People with eating disorders and weight problems have become terrified of fat. It’s often the first thing that gets ditched with the dieting.  We need to eat fats and we needn’t be scared of butter. Follow the informed arguments, not the advice of people who want to make money out of your fears. I’ve started eating toast with butter and drinking full fat milk again, and it makes me very, very happy that I can, without fear.