True Life: I have Orthorexia

(While I was watching the episode a commercial for Midol came on and I rolled my eyes at the cultural construction – hehe)

Anyway, I watched the episode True life: I Have Orthorexia which follows three young people and their lives dealing with an eating disorder focused around an obsession with healthy eating. This is neither bulimia nor anorexia, but may contain elements of both. The stories follow the same basic pattern: they grew up with normal eating patterns, but some event or change in mindset lead them to become obsessed with their healthy eating for various reasons. All three take steps to improve their habits and selves, but the disorder will always be a struggle.The narratives given are in the style of restitution or quest, where finding a cure and making an effort to restore health is primary; Western ideals (namely body image) are prevalent. Different medical interventions occur, mainly in the form of therapy and stress-relieving techniques. The goal is ultimately to improve one’s self while managing the disorder.

The first example, a stay at home mom named Spring, will not eat any cooked foods and ultimately eats the same foods every day. This takes a toll on her social and home life. She actually avoids social situations because of the pressure placed on her to eat and cannot eat a normal dinner with her family. A similar situation occurs with Andrew, who is convinced processed food will give him cancer, and Lauren, who receives much grief from her friends and family because of her rigid eating habits. The stress and weight loss accompanied with the cultural emphasis on dining together takes it’s toll, however, they initially avoid admitting to the sick role. As a means of healing, all three see some form of therapist or professional such as dietitian to help them come to terms with the extremes of their beliefs.

Illness narratives are useful for patients/family/healthcare providers because they expose an experience that cannot be quantified in terms of a blood test or medical scan. The effects of disorders such as orthorexia nervosa may been seen in the form of low blood sugar and body weight, but that does not give any clues as to how to properly treat the disorder. When Spring admitted to her mom she was purging, her mother was able to use her own knowledge to help her heal, legitimizing her experience.

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