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Are You an Orthorexic?

Filed Under: Announcements & News at 5:24 pm | By: Susan Coyle, Senior Editor
In Defense of Food Book CoverSince January first, the nutritional buzz has centered around one man and his manifesto. Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto examines the eating habits of our country, labeling us a nation of orthorexics, “people with an unhealthy obsession with healthy eating.”  We, he says, have become fixated on nutrition, determined to scientifically identify, isolate and define every substance (vitamin, mineral, antioxidant, etc.) that may offer the slightest benefit to our wellbeing. In doing so, we have ruined eating, rendering it little more than a forced ingestion of specific nutrients, and we have destroyed our health. How do we rectify this? According to Pollan, we, “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly Plants.”

It sounds simple, but the details of these instructions are not as cut and dry as you would assume. Food, for example, cannot be found in the pre-packaged, processed items that line the majority of our grocery stores. Those items are not food. Those are manufactured goods.  So to help us on our way, Pollan has created some instructions on what and how to eat. For complete details, you will have to buy the book yourself, but until then, here are a few suggestions that may guide you to a truly healthier life:

• Don’t eat anything your great grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food – strictly speaking, this means that anything your great grandmother would be confused by (microwave popcorn, Doritos or, Pollan’s example, gogurt) shouldn’t make it to your table. This will limit you to the more traditional supermarket offerings such as whole-grain bread, fruits, vegetables and actual meat.
• Shop the peripheries of the supermarket – upon entering almost any grocery store, you encounter the produce section. If you continued through that section around the building’s outer aisles, you would find the deli, seafood counter and bakery. You would find fresh, real food, as opposed to what you would find in the center – a manufacturer’s mother lode, stocked with more processed goods than any human being could ever want.
• Eat mostly plants, especially leaves – what makes a plant-based diet healthy is a matter of debate, but whether or not such a diet is healthy is not. The boons of a diet awash in a variety of plants will create a well-nourished individual. Meat is not prohibited, but it should be a condiment rather than the main affair.
• Be the kind of person who takes supplements – since you are at, I’m going to assume that you already are the kind of person who takes supplements if not a supplement-taker. But that doesn’t mean you should ignore this bullet. This statement is meant to encourage you to become (or remain) a health-conscious, well-educated human being. Know and understand the nuances of your wellbeing.
• Don’t look for the magic bullet in the traditional diet – we are constantly tempted to name the one food that will save or destroy our health. There is no such food, for, “The whole of a dietary pattern is evidently greater than the sum of its parts.” Create a lifestyle that is conducive to health, rather than an obsession with one item that could never cure all.
• Eat meals – turn your car back into a car and eat at home, at a table, with people. Eating is more than stuffing whatever is convenient into your mouth. It is an act that not only fuels your bodies but your relationships and mental health as well.
• Cook and, if you can, plant a garden – growing and preparing your own food eliminates the question of freshness and the problem of affordability. It also connects you with the meal and turns your mind from your orthorexia. It creates “a great many things to worry about, but “health” is simply not one of them, because it is given.”

Michael Pollan is the author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals, The Botany of Desire: A Plant’s-Eye View of the World, A Place of My Own and Second Nature. He has been a contributing writer at the New York Times Magazine since 1987 and is the recipient of several awards. For more information on Pollan and his work visit

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