The Fat Diaries: The New Eating Disorders

Written by Monica Marier on Friday April 29, 2011

Thanks to our crusade against obesity we know more about the science of why we eat. But as we learn more, we may have to shift our focus from weight to health.

We’ve all heard of anorexia, bulimia, and even lately overeating described as a psychological mania in people. In fact thanks to America’s new crusade against obesity more hours and study are being devoted to the science of why we eat. If we’re going to tackle this rising problem, we need all the knowledge we can get. I read an article this week about two new eating disorders that are surfacing in the psychological world. The first is adult selective eating disorder, the second is orthorexia.

The first term applies to adults who can only stomach a very limited selection of their favorite foods. It’s much like the picky-eating habits one finds in a child, but the behavior extends into their adult years. I admit I’ve heard of this first one. I have a few friends who abstain from lots of different foods with different textures because it “grosses them out.” In fact one friend (for a time) would only eat food that was white like pasta, crackers and mashed potatoes. In fact, a few years ago I even saw that TV special on Maury or Oprah (or something that was on when my kids were in school) about the woman who only ate french fries. That was it. Nothing else. Well now Duke University and the University of Pennsylvania are trying to get the facts on this rising problem. They’ve started a registry of people to get a rough headcount and plan to do studies on why outside of a few foods, all other foods seem so repulsive.

The second disorder, orthorexia, is a classic example of too much of a good thing being bad. It’s an obsession with healthy food to the point of severely limiting food type and intake to unhealthy levels. Subjects fixate on healthy food to the point of neurosis and starvation akin to anorexia except instead of losing weight the goal is to be healthy and untainted. This condition has been linked to obsessive compulsive disorder and the numbers seem to be rising given the latest emphases on health.

Neither of these are officially classed as eating disorders, but that might change soon, and more disorders may follow as we delve into Fat America to discover what’s going on with us. The big question is, is American obesity a cultural mindset or is it a disease? Both are drastically different stances with different cures. One implies that obesity is the symptom and the latter means it’s the sickness. What does that mean for us?

If obesity is a treatable disease, how do we go about treating it? Do we treat it like an epidemic and try to stamp it out before it spreads, or do we try to phase it out gradually like all the anti-smoking laws and campaigns? If it’s a disease, is it something we send people to doctors for? Will bariatric surgery become the new “tonsil surgery” for the 21st century? Will it be coverable by insurance (obesity’s already a pre-existing condition!). If it’s coverable by insurance, how will Obamacare hold up under it?

These are questions that we need to bring up while we’re discovering more about the science of eating, and I sure as heck don’t know the answers.  An even bigger question though, is will this involve another one-size fits all solution? America right now seems to be focusing on the weight issue more than the health issue. We keep hearing about fat people, heavy people, people with asthma and diabetes, but what about the other end of that scale? What about the orthorexic people and the picky eaters who are dangerously underweight, or even at a “healthy” weight but still not getting the nutrition they need?

Will America be there for them too? Or will their efforts be lauded as geared in the right direction? Before we slap a one-size-fits-all band aid over the problem, let’s keep our focus in check.

If America becomes finicky over who it sees as unhealthy, we all lose out.


Category: News Tags: culture diet eating food health