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Orthorexia Nervosa: The Health Food Eating Disorder

I recently came across the work of Steven Bratman, a medical doctor whose studies and experiences make him a highly regarded expert in alternative medicine. Of particular interest to me is a book that he wrote called Health Food Junkies : Orthorexia Nervosa: Overcoming the Obsession with Healthful Eating. I would like to thank Dr. Bratman for graciously giving me permission to share the following article that he wrote on this topic with our guests. - Ben Kim, D.C. 
 

Orthorexia Nervosa: The Health Food Eating Disorder
by Steven Bratman, M.D.

Because I am a physician who practices alternative medicine, patients who come to me often begin the conversation by asking whether they can be cured through diet. "Regular medical doctors don't know anything about nutrition," they say, believing this will build rapport with me. I feel obligated to nod wisely. I agree that conventional medicine has traditionally paid too little attention to the effects of diet. However, I am no longer the true believer in nutritional medicine I used to be. My attitude has grown cautious where once it was enthusiastic and even evangelical.

I have lost two beliefs that once encouraged me, and that are still widely accepted by others who promote dietary methods of healing. One of these is an assumption that there exists a comprehensive and consistent theory of healing diseases through nutrition. The other is a faith that dietary therapy is a uniformly wholesome, side effect free intervention.

My attitude has not always been so lukewarm. Twenty years ago I was a wholehearted, impassioned advocate of healing through food. My optimism was unbounded as I set forth to cure myself and everyone else. This was long before I became an alternative physician. In those days, I was a cook and organic farmer at a large commune in upstate New York. My experiences there formed the foundation of my early interest in alternative medicine, and continue to give me insight into the ideals, dreams and contradictions that underlie the natural health movement.

All communes attract idealists. Ours attracted food idealists. As a staff cook I was required to prepare several separate meals at once to satisfy the insistent and conflicting demands of the members. The main entree was always vegetarian. However, a small but vocal group insisted on an optional serving of meat. Since many vegetarians would not eat from pots and pans contaminated by fleshly vibrations, this meat had to be cooked in a separate kitchen. The cooks also had to satisfy the Lacto-ovo-vegetarians, or Vegans, who eschewed all milk and egg products. The rights of the non-garlic, non-onion, Hindu-influenced crowd could not be neglected either. They believed onion-family foods provoked sexual desire.

For the raw foodists (and young children) we always laid out trays of sliced raw vegetables. However, a visitor once tried to convince me that chopping a vegetable would destroy its etheric field. I chased him out of the kitchen with a huge Chinese cleaver.

The macrobiotic adherents clamored for cooked vegetables, free, of course, from "deadly nightshade" plants such as tomatoes, potatoes, bell peppers and eggplants. Some also insisted on eating fruits and vegetables only when they were in season, while other communalists intemperately demanded oranges in January.

Besides these opinions on which food to serve, there were as many opinions on the manner in which it should be prepared. Most everyone agreed that nothing could be boiled in aluminum, except the gourmet cooks, who insisted that only aluminum would spread the heat satisfactorily.

By consensus, we always steamed vegetables in the minimum amount of water to avoid throwing away precious vitamins. Certain enthusiasts would even hover around the kitchen and volunteer to drink the darkish liquids left behind. About washing vegetables, however, controversy swirled. Some commune members firmly believed that vital substances clinging just under the skins must be preserved at all costs. Others felt that a host of evil pollutants adhered to the same surfaces that needed to be vigorously scrubbed away. One visitor explained that the best policy was to dip all vegetables in bleach, and gave such a convincing argument for her belief that we would have adopted the principle at once were it not for a fortuitous bleach shortage.

I used to fantasize writing a universal cookbook for eating theorists. Each food would come complete with a citation from one system or authority claiming it the most divine edible ever created, and another, from an opposing view, damning it as the worst pestilence one human being ever fed to another.

This would not be difficult. For example, a famous naturopathic concept proclaims that raw fruits and vegetables are the ideal foods. Some proponents of this school exclaim periodically "the greatest enemy of man is the cooking stove!" However, another popular theory bans raw foods as unhealthy, and attributes to their consumption such illnesses as MS, rheumatoid arthritis and cancer. I am referring to macrobiotics. This influential system of alternative dietary principles insists that all vegetables should be cooked; fruits should not be eaten at all.

Similar discrepancies abound in alternative dietary medicine. The following rules may be found in one or another food theory:

Spicy food is bad.
Cayenne peppers are health promoting.
Fasting on oranges is healthy.
Citrus fruits are too acidic.
Fruits are the ideal food.
Fruit causes candida.
Milk is good only for young cows.
Pasteurized milk is even worse.
Boiled milk "is the food of the gods."
Fermented foods, such as sauerkraut, are essentially rotten.
Fermented foods aid digestion.
Sweets are bad.
Honey is nature's most perfect food.
Vinegar is a poison.
Apple cider vinegar cures most illnesses.
Proteins should not be combined with starches.
Aduki beans and brown rice should always be cooked together.

The discovery that nutritional medicine was so chaotic troubled me. Yet I could always hope that a universal theory of nutrition might eventually be found. What disturbed me more was observing the extremism that so frequently develops among those who propound dietary cures.

I remember a macrobiotic seminar at the commune, led by Mr. L. of the Kushi institute. An audience of at least thirty-five listened with rapt attention as Mr. L. lectured on the evils of milk. It slows the digestion, he explained, clogs the metabolism, plugs the arteries, dampens the digestive fire, and causes mucous, respiratory diseases and cancer.

At that time, a member of the commune by the name of John lived in a small room upstairs from the seminar hall. He was a "recovering" alcoholic who rather frequently failed to abstain. Although only in his fifties, John's face showed the marks of a lifetime of alcohol abuse. But he had been on the wagon for nearly six months when he tiptoed through the class.

John was a shy and private man who would never voluntarily have so exposed himself. But upon returning from the kitchen with a beverage he discovered that there was no way he could reach his room without crossing through the crowded seminar. The leader noticed him immediately.

Pointing to the glass of milk in John's hand, Mr. L. boomed, "Don't you realize what that stuff is doing to your body, sir! Class, look at him! He is a testament to the health destroying properties of milk. Study the puffy skin of his face. Note the bags under his eyes. Look at the stiffness of his walk. Milk, class, milk has done this to him!"

Bewildered, John looked at his glass, then up at the condemning faces, then back to the milk again. His lower lip quivered. "But," he whimpered, "but, this is only milk, isn't it?"

In the alcoholics anonymous meetings with which John was familiar, milk was practically mother's milk, synonymous with rectitude and purity. "I mean," he continued, to the unforgiving students, "I mean, it isn't whiskey, is it?"

By focusing on diet singlemindedly and ignoring all other aspects of life, alternative practitioners like Dr. L. come to practice a form of medicine that lacks a holistic perspective on life. This is ironic, of course, since holism is one of the strongest ideals of alternative medicine, and its most ubiquitous catchphrase (next to "natural").

It would be more holistic to take time to understand the whole person before making dietary recommendations, and occasionally temper those recommendations with an acknowledgment of other elements in that person's life. But too often patient and alternative practitioner work together to create an exaggerated focus on food.

Many of the most unbalanced people I have ever met are those have devoted themselves to healthy eating. In fact, I believe many of them have contracted a novel eating disorder, for which I have coined the name "orthorexia nervosa." The term uses "ortho," in its meaning as straight, correct and true, to modify "anorexia nervosa." Orthorexia nervosa refers to a fixation on eating proper food.

Orthorexia begins innocently enough, as a desire to overcome chronic illness or to improve general health. But because it requires considerable willpower to adopt a diet which differs radically from the food habits of childhood and the surrounding culture, few accomplish the change gracefully. Most must resort to an iron self-discipline bolstered by a hefty sense of superiority over those who eat junk food. Over time, what they eat, how much, and the consequences of dietary indiscretion come to occupy a greater and greater proportion of the orthorexic's day.

The act of eating pure food begins to carry pseudo-spiritual connotations. As orthorexia progresses, a day filled with sprouts, umeboshi plums and amaranth biscuits comes to feel as holy as one spent serving the poor and homeless. When an orthorexic slips up, (which, depending on the pertinent theory, may involve anything from devouring a single raisin in violation of the law to consuming a gallon of Haagen Daz ice cream and a supreme pizza), he experiences a fall from grace, and must take on numerous acts of penitence. These usually involve ever stricter diets and fasts.

Over time, this "kitchen spirituality" begins to override other sources of meaning. An orthorexic will be plunged into gloom by eating a hot dog, even if his team has just won the world series. Conversely, he can redeem any disappointment by extra efforts at dietary purity.

Orthorexia eventually reaches a point where the sufferer spends most of his time planning, purchasing and eating meals. The orthorexic's inner life becomes dominated by efforts to resist temptation, self-condemnation for lapses, self-praise for success at complying with the self-chosen regime, and feelings of superiority over others less pure in their dietary habits.

It is this transference of all life's value into the act of eating which makes orthorexia a true disorder. In this essential characteristic, orthorexia bears many similarities to the two named eating disorders: anorexia and bulemia. Whereas the bulimic and anorexic focus on the quantity of food, the orthorexic fixates on its quality. All three give to food a vastly excessive place in the scheme of life.

It often surprises me how blissfully unaware proponents of nutritional medicine remain of the propensity for their technique to create an obsession. Indeed, popular books on natural medicine seem to actively promote orthorexia in their enthusiasm for sweeping dietary changes. No doubt, this is a compensation for the diet-averse stance of modern medicine. However, when healthy eating becomes a disease in its own right, it is arguably worse than the health problems which began the cycle of fixation.

As often happens, my sensitivity to the problem of orthorexia comes through personal experience. I myself passed through a phase of extreme dietary purity when I lived at the commune. In those days, when I wasn't cooking I managed the organic farm. This gave me constant access to fresh, high-quality produce. Eventually, I became such a snob that I disdained to eat any vegetable that had been plucked from the ground more than fifteen minutes ago. I was a total vegetarian, chewed each mouthful of food fifty times, always ate in a quiet place (which meant alone), and left my stomach partially empty at the end of each meal.

After a year or so of this self imposed regime, I felt light, clear headed, energetic, strong and self-righteous. I regarded the wretched, debauched souls about me downing their chocolate chip cookies and fries as mere animals reduced to satisfying gustatory lusts. But I wasn't complacent in my virtue. Feeling an obligation to enlighten my weaker brethren, I continuously lectured friends and family on the evils of refined, processed food and the dangers of pesticides and artificial fertilizers.

For two years I pursued wellness through healthy eating, as outlined by naturopathic tradition and emphasized with little change in the health food literature of today. Gradually, however, I began to sense that something was wrong.

The need to obtain food free of meat, fat and artificial chemicals put nearly all social forms of eating out of reach. Furthermore, intrusive thoughts of sprouts came between me and good conversation. Perhaps most dismaying of all, I began to sense that the poetry of my life had diminished. All I could think about was food.

But even when I became aware that my scrabbling in the dirt after raw vegetables and wild plants had become an obsession, I found it terribly difficult to free myself. I had been seduced by righteous eating. The problem of my life's meaning had been transferred inexorably to food, and I could not reclaim it.

I was eventually saved from the doom of eternal health food addiction through three fortuitous events. The first occurred when my guru in eating, a lacto-ovo-vegetarian headed on his way toward Fruitarianism, suddenly abandoned his quest. He explained that he had received a sudden revelation. "It came to me last night in a dream," he said. "Rather than eat my sprouts alone, it would be better for me to share a pizza with some friends." I looked at him dubiously, but did not completely disregard his message.

The second event occurred when an elderly gentleman (whom I had been visiting as a volunteer home-health aide) offered me a piece of Kraft Swiss cheese. Normally, I wouldn't have considered accepting. I did not eat cheese, much less pasteurized, processed and artificially flavored cheese. Worse still, I happened to be sick with a head cold that day. According to my belief system at that time, if I fasted on juice I would be over the cold in a day. However, if I allowed great lumps of indigestible dairy products to adhere to my innards I would no doubt remain sick for a week -- if I did not go on to develop pneumonia.

But, Mr. Davis was earnest and persistent in his expression of gratitude, and would have taken as a personal rebuke my refusal of the cheese. Shaking with trepidation, I chewed the dread processed product.

To my great surprise, it seemed to have a healing effect. My cold symptoms disappeared within an hour. It was as if my acceptance of his gratitude healed me.

Nonetheless, even after this miracle I could not let go. I actually quit visiting Davis to avoid further defiling myself. This was a shameful moment, a sign that I was drowning.

The life-ring which finally drew me out was tossed by a Benedictine monk named Brother David Stendal-Rast. I had met him at a seminar he gave on the subject of gratitude. Afterwards, I volunteered to drive him home, for the covert purpose of getting to know him better. (This may be called "opportunistic volunteerism.") On the way to his monastery, although secretly sick of it, I bragged a bit about my oral self-discipline, hoping to impress the monk. I thought that he would respect me for never filling my stomach more than by half, and so on. David's actions over the subsequent days were a marvelous example of teaching through action.

The drive was long. In the late afternoon, we stopped for lunch at one of those out of place Chinese restaurants -- the kind that flourish in small towns where it seems no one of remotely oriental ancestry has ever lived. As expected, all the waiters were Caucasian, but the food was unexpectedly good. The sauces were fragrant and tasty, the vegetables fresh, and the eggrolls crisp. We were both pleasantly surprised.

After I had eaten the small portion which sufficed to fill my stomach halfway, Brother David casually mentioned his belief that it was an offense against God to leave food uneaten on the table. This was particularly the case when such a great restaurant had so clearly been placed in our path as a special grace. David was a slim man and a monk, so I found it hardly credible that he followed this precept generally. But he continued to eat so much that I felt good manners, if not actual spiritual guidance, required me to imitate his example. I filled my belly for the first time in a year.

Then, he upped the ante. "I always think that ice cream goes well with Chinese food, don't you?" he asked, blandly. Ignoring my incoherent reply, Brother David directed us to a Friendly's Ice Cream Parlor, and purchased me a triple scoop cone.

David led me on a two mile walk through the unexceptional town as we ate our ice cream, edifying me with spiritual stories and, in every way, keeping my mind from dwelling on the offense against Health Food I had just committed. Later that evening, Brother David ate an immense dinner in the monastery dining room, all the while urging me to have more of one dish or another. I understood the point. But what mattered more was the fact that this man, for whom I had the greatest respect, was giving me permission to break my Health Food vows. It proved a liberating stroke.

Yet, it was more than a month later that I finally decided to make a decisive break. I was filled with feverish anticipation. Hordes of long suppressed gluttonous desires, their legitimacy restored, clamored to receive their due. On the twenty minute drive into town, I planned and re-planned my junk food menu. Within ten minutes of arriving, I had eaten three tacos, a medium pizza, and a large milkshake. I brought the ice cream sandwich and banana split home, for I was too stuffed to violate my former vows further. My stomach was stretched to my knees.

The next morning I felt guilty and defiled. Only the memory of Brother David kept me from embarking on a five day fast. (I only fasted two days.) It took me at least two more years to attain the ability to follow a middle way in eating easily, without rigid calculation or wild swings.

Anyone who has ever suffered from anorexia or bulimia will recognize classic patterns in this story: the cyclic extremes, the obsession, the separation from others. These are all symptoms of an eating disorder. Having experienced them so vividly in myself twenty years ago, I cannot overlook their presence in others.

For this reason, as a practicing alternative physician I often feel conflicted. I almost always recommend dietary improvements to my patients. How could I not? A low fat, semi-vegetarian diet is potent preventive medicine for nearly all major illnesses, and more focused dietary interventions can often dramatically improve specific health problems. But I do not feel entirely innocent when I make dietary suggestions. Like drug therapy, I have come to regard dietary modification as a treatment with serious potential side effects.

Consider Andrea, a patient of mine who once suffered from chronic asthma. When she first came to see me, she depended on several medications to stay alive, but with my help she managed to free herself from all drugs.

The method we used involved identifying foods to which Andrea was sensitive and removing them from the diet. Milk was the first to go, then wheat, soy and corn. After eliminating those four foods the asthma symptoms decreased so much Andrea was able to cut out one medication. But she wasn't satisfied.

Diligent effort identified other allergens: eggs, avocado, tomatoes, barley, rye, chicken, beef, turkey, salmon and tuna. These too Andrea eliminated, and was soon able to drop another drug entirely. Next went broccoli, lettuce, apples, buckwheat and trout, and the rest of her medications.

Unfortunately, after about three months of feeling well Andrea began to discover that there were now other foods to which she was sensitive. Oranges, peaches, celery and rice didn't suit her, nor potatoes, turkey or amaranth biscuits. The only foods she could definitely tolerate were lamb and (strangely) white sugar. Since she couldn't actually live on those foods alone, Andrea was forced to adopt a complex rotation diet, alternating grains on a meal by meal basis, with an occasional complete abstention to allow her to "clear." She did the same for vegetables, with somewhat more ease since there was a greater variety to choose from.

Last week, Andrea came in for a follow-up visit, and described the present state of her life to me. Wherever she goes, Andrea carries a supply of her own particular foods. She doesn't go many places. Most of the time she stays at home and thinks carefully about what to eat next, because if she slips up the consequences continue for weeks. The asthma doesn't come back, but she develops headaches, nausea and strange moods. She must continuously exert her will against cravings for foods as licentious as tomatoes and and bread.

Andrea is happy with the treatment I've given her, and has referred many of her friends to see me. Yet, I feel ill when I see her name on my schedule. The first rule of medicine is "above all, do no harm." Have I helped Andrea by freeing her from drugs, only to draw her into the bondage of diet? My conscience isn't clear.

If it was cancer she had been cured of, or multiple sclerosis, I suppose the development of an obsession wouldn't be too high a price for physical health. However, all Andrea had was asthma. I have asthma too. When she took her four medications, she had a life. Now, all she has is a menu. Andrea might have been better off had she never heard of dietary medicine.

I am generally lifted out of such melancholy reflections by some substantial success. After Andrea, I saw Bob in follow-up, a man whose rheumatoid arthritis was thrown into full remission by one simple intervention: adding foods high in trace minerals to his diet. Before he met me, he took prednisone, gold shots and high doses of anti-inflammatories. Now he has gone a full year without a problem. Seeing him encourages me not to give up entirely on making dietary recommendations.

But my enthusiasm will remain tempered. Like all other medical interventions -- like all other solutions to difficult problems -- dietary medicine dwells in a grey zone of unclarity and imperfection. It's neither a simple, ideal treatment, as some of its proponents believe, nor the complete waste of time conventional medicine has too long presumed it to be. Diet is an ambiguous and powerful tool, too unclear and emotionally charged for comfort, too powerful to be ignored.

 
 

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Comments

I, too, had a son who had to follow the rotation diet, and we were chained to the kitchen. However, my experience was that after several years of healthy eating, his digestive tract was healed enough that he could rejoin the rest of the world. That is the beauty of true healing. It eventually works by creating health. Then food becomes like a checking account. You can take a vacation if you make regular deposits. I empathize with your worries about ones isolating themselves over diet. I have a friend that does it. She says that I am "a nun and a whore". I guess she's right. If its bad, its gotta be worth it.

I believe that it's what you do "most of the time" that counts. I follow a pretty strict healthy diet, but once or twice a week (usually when out with friends) I allow myself a meal consisting of whatever my friends are eating, and I enjoy it with them and do not judge. THIS WAS LEARNED BEHAVIOR, over time. I did not start out this way. I used to be isolated from friends and family, because of my militant ways.
The only thing that is still VERY hard for me is to watch parents giving their kids Diet Coke. I go crazy...I guess I know too much!

VERY well said. Everything that you said makes a lot of sense. Thank you for sharing.

Dr. Kim, thank-you for posting this article. One of my 15 year old sons' friends was diagnosed with anorexia(boy).We knew it before we heard.He went from a chubby boy to looking like a skeleton.He works out with a trainer but develops no muscle.My husband is a Podiatrist and when he found out this boy was drinking over a gal. of water a day he explained the dangers to him.He has a food obsession.He comes to my house and spends time in my pantry reading labels.He brings his own snacks to parties.It's sad.His mother called me the other day to tell me that he is not as weird now and to please have my son call him,she said he is enjoying life more and not as consumed with food although,she said he still pays close attention.I can almost put my finger on how and when this happened to him.I'm going to get this article to his mom.Hopefully,she'll by Dr. Bratmans' book.I have found in my lifetime that most extremes are not good. Thanks again, Susan C

While reading your article, I felt like it was written for me. I too have had eating disorders, i.e. bulemia, and am now following a "healthy lifestyle regime". Perhaps I even fall into the category of Orthorexia Nervosa. There is so much contradicting information, that I do agree, you must decide what is right for you. Every one is an individual. Each BODY is unique in its needs and tolerances. Moderation. That is the key.

This is me. A new mom, from SAD, to organic, to vegetarian, to vegan, to raw vegan, to fruitarian...to othorexia nervosa. My heart goes out to you in gratitude for this article. Now how do I get help?

Thank you Dr. Kim for this enlightening article. I really needed this. I was diagnosed with CHF in 2001. I was working for a Doctor at the time. I had this terrible cough. The other girls in the office kept trying to get me to make an appointment to see the Doctor. I like him as a person and employer, but I never liked taking medication so I figured why bother. Eventually I had no choice. I was admitted in the hospital for seven days. He discharged me with 6 different prescriptions. Almost $300.00. The meds made me so sick I think I was really dying. I stopped taking the meds, except from time to time I would take the water pill and some potassium from the health food store. I changed my eating habits. Organic this and that, non toxic cleaners etc. Now my (grown)children get a little tired of me speaking of this not being good for you that not being good for you but at the same time whenever they get anything they call me. I had severe digestive problems too and now that I am so much better without the meds for my heart, and I have rejoined the world and can walk now, and not have to push the cart when I am in the market to lean on, they feel I must be doing something right. I realize more than ever that BALANCE is definetly important. Thank you so very much, I am sure my family thanks you too!!!

Yes , you are so right it is about balance. I like to eat organic food and avoid food with aspartame etc as I know this definatley does make you ill in time, I eat as much fruit and veg as my body feels it wants to eat, I eat fish and sea food and when I feel like eating meat I will have lamb and sometimes parma ham.
It has to be about what suits you and common sense. We have to revert back to listening to our inner self and not so much what we are TAUGHT although it is a great thing to educate yourself ... there is a difference there though I think that matters .. your body knows best if you just listen.

Eating food is like anything else. There is an intuitive knowing of what to eat or not. Sure a person can go mental and make eating good clean food a wrong thing but that doesn't change reality. Bad food is just that. Bad food. It's not good for you and it doesn't make you feel good. Eating bad food is as much of an issue as eating good food with the wrong motivation. And that's what it's all about. What is motivating you. Apparently Steven wasn't motivated by the knowing so that's what needed to be corrected. And that doesn't happen by just eating bad food.

rytlove

Ok - I must concur with the message of averting food parania. At the same time, certain "foods" are not foods at all - like the Kraft "Swiss Cheese" and such. Certain addativies like MSG and all those that fall under excitotoxins will never be acceptable biologically, despite their promoted social acclaim. I recommend watching the video by Dr. Blaylock, a forefront physician in the excitotoxin field:
http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-2141666279271222294

Now I was a vegan for a few years, and slowly came to the realization and reacceptace into the omnivorous life, so I am first handedly orientated in orthorexia. And it's true, sometimes one must take a few bites of my friend's sugary baklava, for your own sake and their's. But eating such foods on a regular basis does not promote health. Eatng out has only become a norm in the last century - for millenia people have prepared their own food, amd without all the adverse side effects of Diabetes Mellitus, autoimmune diseases, cardiovascular diseases cancers and I could go on. Lookking at the diet of some third world countries, we can see it is limited, yet the people are as a whole much healthier than in the US, for instance, with the huge "variety" of foods that in many contexts are not considered foods at all. Rather than accepting the norm, those conscious of certain diety ills should try, by slow and steady good example, to ingrain the normalcy of our ancestors. Cheers to good health and future generations.

Since I have diabetes, I will comment. In order to stay fit and eat "right" and rarely ever having sugary pastries or much in the way of carbs, I still got diabetes. There are a lot of factors not just diet that contribute to illness. Stress is one. Maybe age. Hubby's stress and exposure to agent orange possibly. But in my case, the only factor is stress and age. The pancreas just gets tired in some people. Also, my grandmother had a ranch of black Angus cattle, always ate meat, and had one whiskey sour before retiring to bed. She was the healthiest person in our family and lived to be 96. I suppose there are those who might say that if she had a better diet she might have lived to be 100! Each person needs to find out what works for them and stop preaching to everyone else what they should eat. I agree there are some glaring exceptions like nitrates and nitrites, MSG (for those sensitive to it) inorganic arsenic in apples and potatoes and phytic acid which occurs in veggies, beans, seeds, and nuts needs to be dealt with too, but so far these have been my only concerns. Hubby is sensitive to nitrates and nitrites and MSG. Personally, MSG does not phase me. Phytic acid helps some people digest their food slower which is beneficial to some diabetics. SO, this goes back to my point that everyone needs to take a proactive role in their diet and determine what foods work for them. One day those foods may not be working and a change may be in order. We have to be flexible in our determinations and in our lifestyles.

Thank you for sharing this article. I have long believed what Dr. Bratman said, about the possibility of healthy eating habits turning into an eating disorder. To some extent I have experienced this myself. I think that the greatest harm to one's health in being overly strict about your diet is the psychological and mental harm. Beating yourself up over the fact that you ate a piece of pizza or some chocolate is very detrimental. It raises stress levels, makes you feel sad and therefore unable to function, and keeps you unfocused on other tasks, as well as promotes other health problems, such as ulcers from worrying. Not only that, but when you are so focused on only yourself society suffers as well. Everybody and everything is connected to each other and in order to for our world to heal, we have to heal ourselves first, and realize that to be perfect isn't human. We need to start giving ourselves a break and getting our humor back so we can laugh instead of cry in the face of the whatever it is that's keeping us down.

This isn't a new topic. Twenty centuries ago people had the same questions and concerns, about health and food and the importance of eating the right stuff.

A man named Jesus answered some of these concerns. He said to not worry about our lives, namely, what we will eat or drink. He didn't say to not practice good dietary health...he merely warned against the OBSESSION and subsequent ANXIETY and LOSS OF LIFE a fixation in this area can bring. Then he asked the question "isn't LIFE more important than food?" And the answer is yes. Yes, it is.

It is a terrible thing, a dietary lifestyle that restricts us from the real reason for living; to love God and one another in genuine relationships.

Food doesn't ultimately make us healthy; what we allow to reside in our hearts, and not our stomachs, is what makes us truly healthy. A healthy diet is important, but not nearly as important as a healthy heart.

My prayer is that we would all come to know and grow in True Health, and give thanks to the One who showed us where true eternal health lies. (inspired by Matt. 6:25 & Mark 7:19)

I appreciated your comment, Andrew. You may wish to peruse our website - www.thepathoftruth.com. You can see what the Lord has done for us at "Our Testimonies." Besides giving us health on a much deeper level, He taught us good principles, taking us back to the basics of life. We have a market garden where we make available high-quality organic food. You can see what else He has provided for us and others at www.harvesthaven.com.

You may wish to read <a href=http://www.thepathoftruth.com/teachings/christiandiet.htm>Christian Physical Diet</a>.

Sara

Thank you so much for sharing this. I have been struggling for over a year now. I know Jesus is the only way I can be truly set free and have my life back. I don't want any distractions any more. I need Jesus and He needs me to give my life back to Him.

He always answers prayer and your "Comment" Andrew, was His answer to me. I just needed an answer to this problem which involved God. Any other answers or "help" was just not good enough.

Dr. Ben, I really felt exhilirated after I read this article. I could not put a name to what I was going through and every word you have written was straight out of the jambled thoughts in my head I could not put into words!!!! I realized I was a classic Orthorexic case myself. I have no health issues whatsoever but have been a bit health conscious as long as I have known myself. Offlate in the past few years, this interest has been growing slowly with my quest for retaining youth and looks longer than possible and before I knew, I got into an obsession mode. It started having a major impact on my social life too. I cannot enjoy a social gathering or food without going through a multitude of crazy feelings leaving me frustrated, depressed, anxious and sad apart from certain amount of disdain for others who are not as conscious coupled with some superiority complex.
In addition, I have also been feeling the heavy pinch on my pockets due to the high costs associated with the health foods and organic foods I have been buying regardless of the fact that I may not really afford everything.
Even before I read your article, I have been trying to get a hold on myself and go easy on my obsession and get a bit realistic.
I applaud you for writing this eye opening article which I am sure would benefit a lot of people like me.
While it is good to follow good health principles in general, I guess maintaining a healthy social balance is also equally important. Thanks again and I am so glad to have taken membership to your letters!

What a fascinating article! Thank you, Steven Bratman. It brought to mind that the obsessive- compulsive behavior of the orthorexic could likely be mitigated if the poor person's brain had the materials needed to make sufficient serotonin and other essential neurotransmitters. The needed building materials come from animal proteins, omega 3 oils,and the much maligned saturated fat, but only from properly raised (pastured) animals. Weston A Price, one of the great nutritional pioneers, studied totally healthy indigenous groups of people in at least 20 locations around the world, back in the 1920s when he could still find isolated groups eating traditional diets. These people had no heart disease, cancer, diabetes, tuberculosis, extremely few dental caries, and no difficulty in conceiving or bearing children. They were happy and had little if any crime or mental ills. The healthy groups Dr Price studied ALL ate animal protein. They all ate some of their protein raw. They all ate fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kimchi, poi, yogurt, kiefer, etc. They all fed their young people especially rich foods, such as organ meats, for months in preparation for marriage, so they would bear healthy children. Despite living all over the globe, they had these and other things in common. Their diets were far richer in animal fats, the fat soluble vitamins, and minerals than our diets today. So, find healthy sources of foods, including meats and saturated fats, drop the supermarket oils and processed foods, eat lots of veggies, and you will be able to stop obsessing and enjoy your life in good health.

an excellent article. I have a friend who was hospitalised and had many tests-all negative..finally one doctor picked up that she and her husband were following a rigid eating regime and she in fact was suffering from malnutrition! Although not completely healthy she is now much stronger aftetr returning to eating normally, but carefully.

Interesting journey for Dr. Ben Kim. I, too, have had an interesting journey. Lifelong chronic pain and a cancer diagnosis about 6 years ago gave me motivation enough to make drastic, sweeping and permanent alterations to my diet and lifestyle. I don't feel bad when I slip and eat things that are bad for me and not on my chosen dietary path, because I never slip and eat things I have determined to cause me great distress. My diet is not extreme (except that I have a number of food intolerances the won't allow me to eat typically normal-to-others foods such as bread, for example); on the contrary, my diet is balanced and there are hordes of good foods that I can still enjoy liberaly. I am not vegetarian. Granted, my dietary choices have alienated me socially to a large extent, and I think this is very unfortunate. I wish societies weren't so food-centered. But they are. That isn't apt to change. The personal price for me to "go along with the crowd" is far too high for me to consider. With my food allergies, eating out would be like playing Russian Roulette with a full chamber, so I simply don't do it. My choice has made my life a little more solitary and inconvenient, and I do have to spend some time planning when I'm going to be away during a meal time, as well as time spent preparing foods to eat while I'm gone, but my life is by no means consumed with thoughts of food like described in this article. My lifestyle decisions are sometimes hard for people to 'get,' but I do have some friends who care enough about me to respect the choices I have made for myself (after all, I am not making food and lifestyle choices for THEM) and are not threatened when I bring my own food when invited over. In return, I don't offer, unsolicited or otherwise, critiques on their diets. I am not eating like I eat so that I can get "well enough" to return to my old ways; I am eating like I eat because I don't enjoy being in horrible pain and because I want to be as healthy as possible my life long, however long that may be. None of this seems to be rocket science for me. It's quite simple. I have eliminated the foods I'm allergic to and those that are not good for human beings (such as sugar and artificial sweeteners, junk foods, most processed foods ... obvious no-brainer culprits)and have scrambled to create wonderful-tasting dishes with foods that I can eat without digestive troubles. I have also continued to educate myself, keeping in mind that there are many varied opinions about foods. I eat only organic and enjoy working in my raised-bed organic garden off my back courtyard, which supplies a bountiful harvest that I share with neighbors, guests and friends. Common sense should tell us that any line of thinking that over-focuses on one food or a few foods is suspicious. I hope that people won't discomboble this article as an endorsement to go out and have foods that are clearly bad for any human being. I am a relative newby to this site, and I have thoroughly enjoyed it very much. I am glad that so many have found this article helpful. However, I did not find it helpful personally. It's just not very encouraging for those of us who genuinely must swim against the commonly accept current of society in order to be healthy and feel good. Not everyone has the liberty of spontaneous culinary indiscretions. And I was not impressed with the "hero" of the article who was obviously over-indulging in all sorts of foods that his mouth was enjoying but his body was not. Even tho I don't agree at all with the exteme groups of people who are fixated on food-exclusive culinary paths they are convinced are healthy (nor do I agree with the larger masses who give virtually no thought except for "How does it taste?" to what they put into their mouths), looking down on either group, or any group for that matter, is putting one in the same self-crowned superiority position as those groups criticized in the article. We should all just accept each other and respect each other and each other's choices even when (especially when) we see things differently... Sounds like a plan to me.

Are you sure you read the article?

I could relate to your response to this article. The person who asked if you even read the article obviously did not understand we can make good food choices (and for many good -- and obvious -- reasons) without obsessing over it all. I also agree that the article is not truly helpful. What about Dr. Joel Fuhrman's books, Eat To Live, etc., or Dr. Neal Barnard's many books about healthy eating, to name a few, with many experiencing results of overcoming disease and enjoying excellent health, abundant energy, and a (relatively) long healthy life? Anyway.... the bottom line, of course, is don't live an anxious life, whichever path you choose, because anxiety will make you sick. I do believe there are better (and worse) paths available to us, and they are livable without alienating ourselves, becoming obsessed about food, etc. This is 2010, for heaven's sake! We have abundant healthy food choices at our fingertips.

I have been on a strict nutritarian eating plan for six months...with the goal of eliminating BP meds and cholesterol meds. (My family doc did not agree with my desire to be so dogmatic in eating this way.) My levels did not lower enough to allow me to stop the meds or decrease them. I do know eating this way is healthy but it left me isolated from enjoying foods with friends, left me feeling so guilty for desiring 'sad' foods and the amount of time, effort and work to create interesting meals, made me lose any enjoyment in eating and cooking. Now I eat a healthy diet the majority of the week but allow myself permission to enjoy non-nutritarian foods. This article helped me tremendously. I was spending large amounts of money seeing a famous nutritarian doctor, buying his books, supplements, etc. and hating myself for being so obsessive...in the name of curing my BP and cholesterol...which are not dangerously high. Thank you, thank you, thank you....

Interesting article but I think the good doctor should remind himself that if he practiced "regular" medicine he probably would have a number of hypochrondriac patients instead of those focused on food and health. It really boils down to understanding that we have choices and balance is one key to understanding how to decide. I choose to eat healthfully for several reasons. Organic is not only better for me but is good for the environment. Buying local supports local businesses, reduces carbon foot print and reminds me to eat what is in season. However, I don't only eat organic and yes, I do eat cantoloupes in mid winter. I also enjoy eating pizza etc but I do not eat McDonalds. I do not eat twinkies. I eat at good local pizza joints not chains. I eat gooey freshly baked goods not goods packaged to last an eternity. I get to vote 3 times a day as to how I want my food to be produced. I try to choose wisely for health, environment and economic reasons. If I ever had to choose over having a life and eating healthfully, I hope I chose having a life. I want to live life to the fullest and as healthfully as I can. Nutrition is a big part of that equation.

"Balance" is my life word. Thanks for the very balanced response to this article. As one who, at 55, has engaged in what I might call extreme eating (organic, vegetarian, macrobiotic, fruitarian, etc.)since I was a teeneager, I have learned to choose life over fanaticism. Won't deny that it is still a struggle. The entire food issue can be pretty safely reduced to the choice between whole foods and pseudo foods. The closer a food is to the way the earth gifted it to us, the better.

Right on, you sound like one of the most balanced persons on this blog. Thanks

As a certified nutrition consultant and holistic health practitioner, I can totally relate to this article. It is so well written and so true. The field of nutrition is full of contradictions. In addition, our bodies are continually changing. There is no one siize fits all diet. One man's food is another man's poison. Whether my clients are trying to lose weight or recover from cancer, nutrition is certainly at the heart of the program. However, I also believe that it is not healthy to give too much power to food. I usually promote the 80/20 principle with diet for myself and my clients. I feel that if we are eating healthful foods 80% of the time, while not obsessing about "bad" foods such as birthday cake or pizza when offered in a social setting for example. Anyway, I am inspired to write my own article about this because I believe it is an important topic. Thank you, Drs. Bratman and Kim!

I really enjoyed this article. Thank you, Dr. Kim! I, too, lived in a health conscious community where we grew our own food and experimented with most of the most popular health diets, including raw food, macrobiotic, Ayurvedic, vegetarian, etc. As a Certified Nutrition Consultant I have also worked with a lot of weight loss clients. I have come to similar conclusion--as important as food is, most of us give food too much power and attention. There is so much I could say . . . I am inspire to write my own article. This is an important message. Health is a dynamic state of balance and resilience.

This was extremely interesting, thanks so much Dr. Kim!

Thank you, Dr Kim, for sharing this article! I fear I'm borderline orthorexic! With 2 small children, I've felt that everything that goes into their little bodies must be healthy and pure. I've felt tremendous guilt after allowing a hot dog at a friend's birthday party (knowing what's in one). I've felt anger towards my husband for taking them out to McDonald's (luring children with "Happy Meals" and toys!?). I've worried about becoming a widow someday when my husband drinks a soda. I've lashed out at my mother-in-law when she offered my children Jello made with Splenda (Jello? Splenda? Back away from my children!). Tears have filled my eyes with thoughts of my children being prematurely motherless if I ate that slice of bacon. I've harbored thoughts against sick friends and family like "It's no wonder- look what you eat!". My passion has occasionally spilled over and I've lectured some on how to cure their illness (any and all illnesses that is!).

It's all been justified in my mind because it's been well-intentioned. Yet, I love the article's holistic point. Health is more than physical. Pure healthy food will make our bodies physically healthy. But rotten relationships will make our hearts heavy. When I went to an alternative doctor with health problems, I loved that he educated me holistically. Love more. Savor life more. Embrace your spirituality. Journal more. And yes, by the way, be sure you eat a healthy variety of foods. I believe his "prescription" was in that order. Yet, it seems to my Type A personality that making a purely healthy meal plan is much easier and safer than loving, savoring, trusting God & others, etc etc. :)

Thank you for the reality check and for all the incredible information you provide!

Angela,
Thank you for your post. As well as Dr. Kim for posting this article. Your thoughts are right in-line with mine. I have a daughter who will be two next month and I have struggled with this very obsession of only putting organic food into her body. I have had pretty good "success" so far. It is a constant struggle though. I say "success" because I have had to get "tough" with people even my husband and in-laws. I think this line of thinking is a no brainer, but apparently society as a whole doesn't. I hate the feeling of having to swim upstream against society's raging river. I feel I know too much and I have incredible guilt about exposing her to any kind of toxins especially in food. My mother-in-law could not understand WHY I was not letter her have a piece of birhtday cake at a party when she was one. She preached, "EVERY kid has to have something sweet"! REALLY!! I don't think hydrogenated oil, artificial sweetners/colorings, and bleached flour qualify as anything that should be put into a growing body!!! The last birthday party we went to I made an organic cake the day before so I could take a piece with us to give to my daughter instead of the other icky kind. I am slowly realizing, with the help of this article, that it is not healthy to obsess like I do. I have done what I feel I should and now as she gets older, it's hard to claim she will be healthier this way when she is outcast from her own social cirlces because she has a mother who is obsessed about swimming upstream! THANK YOU!!

Thank you for a great article. The older I get the more confirmed I become that balance in all things is important. I often look to my father as a great example. At 84 he is in very good health. He has always eaten simply, mostly a vegetarian diet, but never obsessed about what is on his plate. He bakes a wonderful cake filled with fruit and topped with whipped cream. He admittedly loves sweets -- though he doesn't over-indulge in them. He lives a joyous and balanced life, grateful for the blessings of nourishment, family, friends and having all of his basic needs met. He's a great example to follow. :)

I found your article fascinating because I too have run into many extremist attitudes towards food in my path seeking true health. And it can be confusing when food sensitivities multiply when you reduce the variety of foods you are eating. My son with autism had severe reactions to gluten and dairy products for many years. Over time and with proper whole food supplementation of nutrients he was missing, his sensitivities have been greatly reduced. He still does not eat gluten but he tolerates goat cheeses just fine and even the occasional cow cheese does not cause his face to break out in a rash as it once did. I have been confused by this phenomena of "food purity" that seems to lead to obsessive behaviors and even less than robust health because people limit their foods too greatly limiting the variety of nutrients. And we need to eat with joy and pleasure - as essential as the nutrients! Dogmatic eating by fundamentalist foodies with such narrow views does not nourish the soul! Perhaps a little wine and camaraderie is called for! Once we found the nutrients we were missing, and this can be different for everyone although there are those that are so essential their deficiency will cause health problems for everyone, we have been able to eat a great variety of foods paying attention to certain key elements. One must get an abundance of the omega-3 fats, lots of fresh fruits and vegies, less red meat and dairy and basically no white foods (except cheese and cauliflower.) I believe that fermented dairy is healthier for most people. These are simpler guidelines and do not lead to obsessive compulsive behaviors. You do have to supplement with the essential nutrients, however, because no matter how well you eat you will not get enough nutrients, period. Our foods don't have all that we need even if they are grown in season, locally, organically, with people singing to them. Although that would be nice.

My mind is always back and forth .. always going from an extreme to balanced perspective on what I am putting into my body. For some reason I can never find a level of sagacity in myself.

Your article was beautiful. Well-written, and so inspiring because it really opened up my eyes to what my life has become. I am 17 years old, going to college in a few months, and I have gone from a normal healthy 13 year old who ate a balanced diet and lived a joyful life, to an obsessive 17 year old with anxiety towards a variety of subjects.

It kills to know that my eating habits is what has caused such significance change in me, and this article was definitely a wake up call. No diet is the 'right' diet, it is, after all, whatever works for the individual. I am seeking balance and happiness, and want to reach a healthy new chapter in my life by the time I go away to school.

Thank you so much for letting people become aware of this and helping inspire people who so desperately need to see their problems, despite the 'good intentions' they feel it is. When it boils down to it, the best word to describe it is just an unhealthy obsession. Just seek to be balanced, happy, and levelheaded. Extremes is what causes turmoil. I'm so happy I opened your email and read this. All I can say is thank you, and bless everyone who has become aware of this reality as well.

DO NOT LIVE TO EAT .. LIVE TO LIVE

Oh, how I loved this article.

I have Celiac disease-can't have wheat, oats, barley or rye- and am allergic to all forms of dairy-cow, goat, sheep etc.

I am forced to have a somewhat restricted life in order to accomodate these needs.
Also, I can't seem to tolerate frozen or canned foods, so ideally I try to eat fresh/organic. Fats are hard to tolerate, so I keep a low fat diet from neccessity.

Holidays are tricky! It has taken ten years for me to finally enjoy what I can eat, give thanks to be healthy, and enjoy the occasional gluten-free goody at Christmas without guilt.

I had a dear friend die of cancer last year. During her lengthy illness, she insisted on ever more radical diets in an effort to heal herself, while refusing any professional help-natural or allopathic. She just "knew" that the right diet/supplements would cure her (she was an herbalist with extra certification in many therapies). Her high ideals caused her a lot of extra suffering, and an early death, from a highly curable form of cancer.

I so agree with you that "Diet is an ambiguous and powerful tool, too unclear and emotionally charged for comfort, too powerful to be ignored."

Thanks so much for your insightful article! You have deep insight and honesty, and I appreciate your work very much.

Sincerely,
JJ

Awesome article. It will help me understand the condition of a few of my relatives, understanding that it's a disease Orthorexia and they are not "possessed" by healthy eating. Thank you Dr Kim.

Well done! And an article I have been wanting to see written for such a long time. Having been raised amongst plenty of "bad" food habits, I initially embraced all health food information as "gospel" and also went through the gamut of all the "best" ways of eating and (to the annoyance of my closest friends and family) acted righteous in my knowing of it. It didn't take long for me to notice though some of the "healthiest" people I knew, were the sickliest and most unhappy also. This threw up red flags as well as did more happy balanced and fulfilled people eating what I then called junk. I've since come to also find balance and most importantly putting myself in a place of gratitude and happiness prior to eating it...I feel the body is amazing and can transform food into exactly what we need....of course I still vote three times a day and eat clean and whole foods often...there are plenty of times I just relax into what is there and appreciate whatever it is and it all works out...better than I could ever have imagined. Here is a clip from a speaker who has shared many helpful words of advice but this one is on this particular topic...hope you enjoy. :) Will help those who are wondering okay I've got Orthorexia, what next?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DmlPiJ7Q2aM&feature=sub

Thanks Dr Kim for uploading this article! I think it's such an important part of the equation!

Orthorexia Americana
An interesting read by Mr. Bratman. May I give you my old country experience? After the Second World War food was rationed. A scoop of ice cream was a treat once or twice in the summer. Fruits and vegetables were available only in season. For the winter one had to preserve by drying or pickling. Meat and poultry were out of “season”- rarely available. Limitations had its hidden effect. My mother just turned 93 in 2009.
When I came to America I was surprised to see ice cream in the food pyramid. Neither could I understand the trays of raw vegetables offered on parties. If we were herbivorous would have a second stomach. I hear this from nutritional gurus. There needs to be a warning on the Wonder bread- this bread does not provide any nutrition. Now I am not surprised to read the statistics about overweight and obesity. This people are not in their best health and are a bigger problem for the health system than are the extremes of the “Orthorexics”. Awareness and self responsibility is prevalent more so in overly educated that is in the two thirds of the overweight and not as healthy population.
Eat, drink and educate simplicity.
David Nakov

What a great article! I can't express how much it means to me coming from MD. Many of us are on a quest to better health and it is so confusing to realize that the journey is actually a maze, really.
The points and the honesty of the article help tremendously.
David Nakov, you are so right. When I look at many cultures successfully helping its people survive on completely different diets, its obvious to me that it's not just the type of food but the correct application of quantities and qualities that matter. Thank you for commenting!

Thank you David for your perspective of a European . . . Orthorexia Nervosa is primarily a disease of the educated and affluent. The VAST majority of Americans are in FAR greater danger of contracting diabetes, obesity ("diabesity"), metabolic syndrome, heart disease, cancer, etc. than they are of developing Orthorexia. My German mother-in-law was in total shock when visiting the US. For years she'd seen American movies with thin beautiful people, and when landing here she couldn't stop commenting on how FAT Americans are. We are the fattest nation on earth, and one of the sickest (with our health care system already overstrained), so it is no where near time to stop spreading the word about the importance of nutrition. While there are a few of us who know too much about nutrition (and obsess), there is a vast majority of Americans greatly lacking in this area--whose lives would be greatly improved by nutritional education. Diet has the potential to improve energy, weight loss, mood, immunity, and a whole spectrum of chronic diseases.
That being said, I agree that it is tempting to become OCD about food. If I buy everything at my local organic market, my blood boils when I get to checkout and realize what I am spending. My elevated cortisol levels cancel out the benefits of the food!!!! Balance is needed! I only buy organic milk, because you can't "wash out" the hormones and antibiotics from it (produce you can wash!). I only buy organic produce from the very top of EWG's "dirty dozen" list. I can't afford grassfed beef & wild salmon all the time. Farm-raised salmon is still light years ahead of McNuggets & fries, in my mind. We have to keep perspective!
Thanks again for your post.

Thank you for this great article!

Thank you for sharing this thought-provoking article. I plan to pass it along to friends.

I followed Adelle Davis in the late 70's, making everything from scratch-rich dairy milk, home ground wheat for bread. The Farm in TN helped me to be more versatile. Jethro Kloss guided my herbology studies. In the mountains of CO I worked at a food co-op and became a pescatarian. Fifteen years ago I became a vegetarian.
I have forayed into Veganism and my whole family was 100% Raw Vegan for two years. Eating healthy requires time, and thought. If our world was set up correctly, healthy foods would be at our fingertips. We will all die of something. But we must all eat something. If I found myself in this trek through life, becoming weird or too paranoid - a victim of nervosa, I stopped what I was doing and reevaluated.
We now include some organic dairy and eggs in our lives, but try to eat mostly fruits and veggies. I still try the latest thing out (acai to maca) but the one thing I disallowed in my life fifteen years ago is the killing of animals to eat. That will not change. It's an unnecessary taste for blood. Anyone who feels the need for meat, is not giving themselves enough protein. I found the slaughter of beings, part of the picture sadly missing from the article and most of the comments.

I agree, though I can not eat any animal products anymore. After watching Mercy for Animals videos on the slaugther house industry, or Food, Inc., even "humanely" killed animals to me is an oxymoron. I personally do not believe man needs to eat animals or any byproducts to survive. I've been macro, ayurvedic, raw, vegetarian and now vegan for life. It really is easy. Socializing unless with like-minded friends is a challenge, but any challenge can be overcome. It is spiritual and compassion for me. After reading in the China Study that casein can be cancer causing and reading what dairy cows go through to produce milk, let alone what happens to them when they're "spent", no dairy products are in our household. I've been making Dr. Kim's almond milk and we both love it. The Korean pancakes are fantastic! There is a whole world out there eating meat-free, enjoy what bounty can be found!

Hey Marty

I am myself still on a journey (have been for the past 10 years) to a balanced food intake. Less and less I see myself eating animal products by limiting a portion of red meat every two weeks and the odd piece of chicken once per week. I love my fish though... I cut out dairy from my food intake for many years now and only have it as a treat every blue moon (social events). What I am trying to say is, how about the B12 vitamin which can only be found in animal products and it's derived products like milk? How do you get it? All I know is that no forms like the man made B12 shot is really efficient (spray form or sublingual tabs). And since we cannot do without it... How do you make it as a healthy vegetarian or... vegan without a B12 shot? How do you do it? What is the healthy alternative..? Is a B12 shot the answer?
I know the Food Inc movie can be watched on "You Tube" but I haven't had the heart to watch it yet!! As I know how much it will affect me :-( Maybe I am not ready to go down that road yet or ever...
Many thanks. Edwige, London

Hi Edwige,

How DOES one get the right kind of B12, without eating animal products?
George Bernard Shaw. who was a devout vegetarian, nevertheless ate liver once a week because he said he needed the B vitamin derived from liver. And this was so many years ago when most people didn't even know what B vitamins were!
It is very hard to eat the right things all the time. When I eat foods which I know are not good for me, I try not to beat up on myself and just try to do a bit better for the next several meals, eating more greens.
I have cut out a lot of foods, make my own chocolate nut treats even my own ice-cream, using fruit, kefir and xylitol. I try to be inventive, using common sense and not sinning too much!
Submitted by Marianne

I really enjoyed this article, thank you. I do believe that you are what you eat but I also believe that you can't cure disease with diet but rather you can prevent disease by eating right from early on. You can't eat poorly, be diagnosed with cancer, and think that you can change your eating habits and get better. The time to eat 'better' is now. I think better just means making the better choice whenever you can.

Thank you, I feel like I'm on my soapbox sometimes preaching about healthy eating. I agree it's a great way to live, but I feel like i have missed out on certain little enjoyments in life b/c it was not healthy. The hot dog at the game, the dessert at the restaurant with friends, little treats here and there that I say no to because of the guilt. It's something i need to work on and I think this article just brought it to the front of my mind.

Thanks for sharing!

Thank you!
It's funny because I have read so much contradicting information about the same foods, but never realized what was going on before.
This article very well may have saved me from being compulsive.
Thank you. I will work on being less rigid and stop trying to "spread the word".

When I first became a vegan, I was perplexed to say the least. So many different ideas..but I just relaxed and began eating what God had created and not what men processed. The experience has made us happier, more calm, clear headed, feel younger on and on. I cannot feature ever going back to eating animal protien in any form. I buy as much organic as possible, go by the dirty dozen and the clean fifteen. I have come to realize that most people do not care about changing their diet full of fructose,etc.Some people go out of their way to eat the worst thing in front of me to see my reaction. Live and let live is my theme. I wish my friends cared and did eat clean but this is america and they are free to cremate their livers ha ha the article was interesting and I am so glad that we are not the least bit stressed about it just peaceful and happy and much much healthier..blessings to vegan and none vegans alike..

Great article. Really important to have PEACE in your innards not only healthy food. I went on a macrobiotic diet 20 years ago for a suspicious breast lump. Had two different macro counselors. One was austere which I was ready for because I was scared. The second one was relaxed and calm. And he told me "maintenance" was key but to enjoy myself as the social situations presented themselves. He also allowed me fish once a week. I pass on this counsel all the time to my friends as I try to eat healthy and they ask me what to do regarding their health concerns. The lump finally was gone after a number of months.
My real key was spiritual. I learned to pray and hear from God through His word and it was the start of a very satisfying relationship with my Creator. I learned that our bodies are His temple and not to defile them according to 'His' instructions, not my thinking. After all, He made these bodies. I pray a simple prayer before I eat... right out of the Bible..."Bless my food and my water and keep sickness from the midst of me, I give you thanks.
Love and blessings to you all!

I enjoyed this article very much because it begins the questioning of what we see written about nutrition in every day newspapers and magazines.

This is important.

These days, to eat something because somewhere it says it is the best thing for you and will keep you from aging is buying in to irresponsible trends that prey on those of us seeking alternative ways to manage our health. Up drinks, down drink and Acai Berry to name a few . . .

The clearest aspect is that we are individual's who are made up of different combinations of strengths, we therefore require different things. Some of us can have as much milk as we want, and in fact thrive on it. Others of us cannot.

Spicy, mild or cold, food comes in all flavors having many actions containing many properties. The simple fact is, food itself is not the issue. Not understanding ourselves and refusal to listen to the words of our own bodies (through signs and symptom recognition) is the biggest issue - Diagnosis is what is key.

When something is written negative or positive about a certain food, always ask the question "Does this pertain to me as an individual?" before tossing out your black pepper or bringing over some aloe juice or never steaming another veggie again!

Dr. Kim,
Thank you for sharing this article, it was the nudge of common sense I needed to dampen the dis-ease I had recently recognized. I had been eating terribly for nearly 4 years and could feel the effects; mental fogginess, lack of energy, an internal feeling of impending health issues, all because of the lousy diet of junk I had allowed my lazy self to fall into. Recently, I decided to get disciplined and consistently make a weeks worth of great vegetable salad and a diverse fruit salad. Weeks later, after adhering to my desired diet, of which meat was a daily part, in short, my body could have kissed me in thankful gratitude. However, soon my mind started down the road described by this article and intuitively, it was a bit disturbing to say the least.
I scanned the comments of your readers and the word balance stood out, but just what is balance? Intolerance of particular foods aside, I feel that variety, and fresh, natural foods are good when conditions permit. I personally subscribe to a common sense approach to life, in short, the knowledge we seek is right in front of our noses if we but open our eyes (mind). Most all living things are scavengers, consuming that which is available so life may continue. Humanity survived as scavengers for eons, so would it make sense to say that our bodies developed into amazing processing machines, able to separate the useful from the chaff in most cases? I have heard of incredible cases of survival under extreme conditions of nutritional depravity, which seems to illuminate the obviousness of this statement. Eat well when you can, but be unafraid to eat anything you desire, always being mindful that moderation is a good rule to follow, if conditions permit.
Living life from a menu is fear and fear deprives us of the fullness of life. To paraphrase, Let each thing have its proper place in our lives.
I commend you for your efforts on our behalf.

This is by far the best article I've ever read about dietary sins and virtues. Dr. Ben, your description about what goes on in the minds and lives of these fanatics is so truly ridiculous, it had me laughing out loud at my desk! But the reality for me is that you have saved me from being infected by this prevalent disease myself. I can't thank you enough for making me see the light.

really thought-provoking. Thank you! Makes me think of my mother's favorite aphorism: "All things in moderation", AND Michael Pollan's recent injuction: "Eat Food, mostly vegetables, not too much." Simple!

I could feel my mind being challenged repeatedly with this article. Yes eating pure foods.. whatever this is?! is wonderful and often healing. But this focus can become idolatrous and have us behaving odd and unhappy sowing a legalistic bent to what God meant for us to enjoy with grace and gratitude.

Thank you very much for sharing this article. As a health concious individual and former vegetarian I can very much relate to this article (and some parts made me laugh right out loud).

I grew up with a stepmother who was vegetarian to the point of being fanatical. I have always used that as my gage when following my own personal beliefs about health and nutrition. I had been a vegetarian off and on most of my life, finally becoming a strict vegetarian dabbling in veganism and raw foodism. I ended up giving that up, not only for health reasons but also because my life became all about food. It was too restrictive and separatist. I won't even mention my encounters with the vegan and raw food communities! I love where the author describes attaining "the middle way in eating". The middle way is a good philosophy for eating, and indeed for life.

Thank you so very much, Dr. Kim, for being so honest and writing this article. What you say is so true. While we must use wisdom in the proper care of our bodies, we need to stay in the peace of God concerning what we eat. Our world is not perfect, and we can never achieve a "perfect" diet. So we need to do the best we can, stop worrying and trust the Lord to keep us well. The Lord is our healer.

Thank you Dr. Kim! I love hearing someone unbiasedly spelling this out for us. In curing myself of an autoimmune condition, I too, developed the obsession with diet that you speak of.

All of the special diets: vegetarian, vegan, pescatarian, flexatarian, etc-are define as so by what food items they EXCLUDE, rather than what they INCLUDE. I believe that healthy eating has little to do with what you don't eat, and everything to do with what you do eat! I think that if you focus your diet around highly nutritious foods, that ice cream and pizza aren't going to kill you when consumed on occasion.

You're the man, Ben Kim. Keep it up :)

I found this article quite interesting, as I too see amongst clients much of this obsessive behaviour. However, my impression from this article is that the author has no training in any particular approach to nutritional medicine. From the perspectives of Ayurveda, Tibetan Medicine and Traditional Chinese Medicine, food is a vital aspect to healing. It involves a customized approach to the individual and their illness. Hearing about the patient with asthma made me cringe, as it seems that although the asthma has abated, the root of the issue has not been addressed.

I am so glad to have a chance to read this article. I have been eating healthy for about two years now. Slowly changing over foods, I was a real junk food addict. Well, now I eat very good, never hungry lots and lots of veggies, and well you know the healthy foods. But, I do slip up and eat junk food once in a while, and I am not proud of myself, but, I enjoy it, and will probably do it again, once in a while, I was starting to get upset reading all of the info about what is and what isn't good for you. I have lots of food allergies, always have had them, and high cholesterol, so I eat for those things, but, I do not go overboard, I use my head and try to be sensible, and eat healthy foods, and do the best I can for me, and I am learning to buy better foods, not so much garbage like I used to eat. I do believe in all of this healthy stuff I am reading, and that our food does have a lot of terrible things in it, but, I can do only what I can do, and not be crazy about it, and so far I am doing well, and try to make the best decision I can without going over board, thanks for helping me not to be afraid to eat sensibly. Thank you Vick.

Thank you for this great article. I so needed to read it.
Pauline

THank you for this timely and thought provoking article. I am currently on a rather limited diet due to allergies and food sensitivities which manifest in an inflammatory gut response and debilitating arthiritis. While I am thankful for the restored function, I often wonder at what cost...
The diet is restrictive enough that I can't go out without bringing my own food, I feel anxious about eating with friends, and I have cravings like I've never experienced before. Surely a new tendency towards binge eating is a sign that something might not be right with this dietary cure?
In my case, we stick with it, as there isn't an acceptable medical alternative at this time. But I'm thankful that alternative practitioners such as yourself are beginning to step back and look at the big picture. Natural treatments, just as mainstream medical treatments, need to have an overall benefit to the patient. It is essential that we maintain a wholistic focus and keep our patient's overall well-being at the forefront of everything we do! Your article has encouraged me to keep on working at finding that balance between physical health and quality living!

Reading Dr. K newsletter herein and the confusion reminds me of
how important it is to eat what the body is designed to handle best.
The creator gave us a digestive system, unlike carnivorous animals
and to be aware that garden foods are the best for the digestion
and elimination of human beings. If we create good balance with
a wide variety of fresh fruits, vegetables, with some whole grains,
nuts and seeds to be eaten in small amounts, our bodies will thrive.

I'm not sure how I started on your email list Dr. Kim, but I find you to be a voice of reason and balance in a world that polarizes 360 degrees on this topic (must be standing on one of the poles I guess). Thank you for sharing your experience, I could SO relate to it.

I am studying to become a certified nutrition/lifestyle coach. I was reading comments about the subject of ageism from fellow students and I decided to follow a link a student remarked about this article. SO glad I did. Dr. Kim has given me much to keep in mind when working with clients in the future. A major precept of our course work is that we are all bioindividual. One man's food is another man's poison. There is so much more to each of us than what we eat. As Dr. Kim discovered it can be more wholesome to our lives that we spend time sharing in another's life that is different than our own. Thank you Dr. Kim

I would like to know if I can use this article in the future in a blog post of my own.
alison cline
student, Institute for Integrative Nutrition

What a wonderful essay on balanced eating, and the place food should occupy in our lives. Superb.

This is so true. Balance is the bottom line. Just listen to your body. It will tell you what you need.

A number of years ago when I lived near Las Vegas, I frequented this raw food cafe and on their menu was a quote as their mission statement of unity:
"I would not interfere with any creed of yours, or want to appear that I have all the cures. There is so much to know...So many things are true,,,The way my feet must go may not be best for you. And so, I give this spark of what is light to me, to guide you through the dark, but not tell you what to see." Author Unknown

Thank you. I cannot begin to express how this article has freed my thinking. I am exhausted with thinking about food and cooking. I am just going to relax and practice moderation. I will continue to eat wholesome foods but not freak out when they are occasionally not available. Thanks again.

I have also tried the no gluten diet, the vegetarian diet, etc. All goes well for a while. But then I start having digestive problems, etc. and trying to find what to do, I eventually stop and go back to my old way of eating (partially) and things just seam to get better. I've wondered if all of these diets should only be observed by those who really need them. Because I too have found them time-consuming and at times impossible to follow. I enjoy my carbs. I enjoy meat. I enjoy my cheese.

 

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