Orthorexia: Do you have it? Do you know what it is? Is it even a thing?
The term orginated in the 1990s by was introduced in 1997 by Dr. Steven Bratman, to label an obsession with eating healthy food. The term is derived from the Greek “ortho,” which means “right,” or “correct.”
The term has been slapped on healthy living bloggers, fitness enthusiasts and even vegetarians and people who eat gluten-free diets.
But celebrity nutrition and fitness expert JJ Virgin, co-host of the TLC show Freaky Eaters and author of the book Six Weeks to Sleeveless and Sexy (Gallery Books, $13.99) thinks more people should practice orthorexia. We talked with her about the term and how people can eat more healthfully by using her diet grading system.
Q. What do you think of the media attention of the term orthorexia?
A. I think it is a way to demonize health. Back in the ’70s and ’80s we were called “health freaks,” then health clubs and healthy foods started taking center stage. This is the modern-day version of the health freak and a great way for the media to say, “See, you shouldn’t be so focused on your health. It’s OK, have that cookie, go out to the supersized dinner, watch more TV.”
Q. Why do you think more people should be orthorexic?
A. Seventy percent of the population is overweight or obese — more are obese than merely overweight. Adult-onset diabetes is no longer called this because kids are getting it. Our medical bills are out of control. Watch the ads on TV — we are depressed, constipated, overweight, tired. All directly related to diet.
Our problem isn’t that we are overly focused on our health, our problem is that we aren’t focused enough, nor are we making the connection between what we eat and how we feel.
Q. Perhaps we should rename orthorexia?
A. No kidding! I can see if someone is obsessed to the point of not eating or living because they are scared – sort of the Howard Hughes of food. But being concerned about pesticides, artificial sweeteners, damaged fats is a good thing because these ingredients are literally killing us.
Q. So how can you strike a healthy balance between caring about your health and getting obsessed?
A. It reminds me of how we look at eaters on my TLC show Freaky Eaters. They have taken their eating habit to the extreme so that it is interfering with their health, their career and their relationships. Anything taken to the extreme — work, drinking water, working out, sleeping — can be problematic
Q. Explain your diet grading system and how it can help people lose weight and eat more healthfully.
A. When a client comes to me, I have them bring a three-day diet recall. I grade it based on how much bad stuff is coming in like sugar, refined carbs, artificial sweeteners, damaged fats, processed foods, chemicals, snacking, juice
and how much good stuff is missing — low glycemic fruit, clean lean protein, healthy fats, breakfast, water, fiber, nonstarchy veggies. Then I work on taking them up to an A-/B+. If their genetics are against them — i.e. they have a tendency toward obesity — I will move them to an A-. If they are more genetically blessed, once they get to be in their ideal range I let them hit a B+ but no lower than that.
That whole “everything in moderation” statement is B.S. Moderation makes you slowly fat.
Tips from JJ
If you want to be healthy you have to eat, live and think like a healthy person:
- You have to focus on making good food choices.
- You have to avoid pesticides, chemicals, added hormones, artificial colorings and sweeteners whenever possible.
- You should avoid or severely limit refined foods.
- You need to move more — that is an hour or more daily and get in some real exercise several times a week (that means you got hot, sweaty and it hurts a bit).
- You need to get 7-9 hours of sleep.
- You should take a good multivitamin/mineral and antioxidant formula and essential fatty acids.
- You should ensure that you are having 1-3 good bowel movements daily.
- You should get a physical annually.
- You should schedule in down time.
- You should make sure you have a social network.
- You should drink 64 ounces or more of pure spring water daily between meals.
“If we did this, the whole health-care reform issue would go by the wayside,” she says. “This is health-care reform.”