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Orthorexia Nervosa: Do you have a food religion?


Are you a Vegan, or a Keto Carnivore, or maybe a high-fat, low-carb foody? Are you into fasting, or apple cider vinegar, or PSMF (Protein-Sparing Modified Fast), or the Paleo Diet, or is your diet Perfectly Balanced? I might have missed a few options. In our COVID 19 pandemic there are new ideas. Are you getting enough vitamin D?

After decades of fast food and other unhealthy eating, we have a pandemic of health problems, often called metabolic syndrome, and often leading to permanent diabetes. This is happening in the wealthiest parts of the world, where we have an abundance of food at low prices. It seems that we make bad choices, when we have the power to choose.

Here is my version of the “Bratman Test,” a method to test if you have Orthorexia Nervosa, or maybe a food religion:

  1. Does your healthy diet interfere with relationships and your social life?
  2. Do you feel guilty if you eat food not approved for your diet, and do you judge others who break your rules?
  3. Does your happiness depend on you eating the correct foods, and do you extend this to people close to you? (refer to rules 1 and 2)
  4. Do you secretly wish you could eat forbidden food, maybe for special events?
  5. Have you removed some foods from your diet?
  6. Does your ‘correct’ diet give you health problems, including rapid weight loss?

I don’t know how many boxes we need to check off to confirm a problem, but it’s easy to see these patterns in our lives.

I remember a friend in a church, many years ago, who was very healthy and fit. He was a good friend, and people who knew him liked him. Maybe he knew something that the rest of us needed to know because he was in good shape. When anyone talked to him, the conversation would always go to one topic; our friend had one word for us:

Ginkgo.

The Ginkgo Biloba is a tree from China. Those trees don’t grow where I live, but I once visited Portland Oregon in the fall, and the Ginkgo trees planted on the streets were beautiful with their fall colors. I remember I stopped and stared.

For our friend at church, Ginkgo seemed like the most important thing in his life. It is still a popular food supplement:

We went to church to worship God, and our friend’s diet advice was just part of a conversation. We wanted a God religion, and not a food religion, and we never let the Ginkgo topic turn religious.

We all need healthy diets, in this time of unhealthy food. There is an alarming rate of bankruptcy due to health expenses, in some parts of the world. Religions always start with a problem and a solution; sin and salvation. They also include the future, good or bad; utopia and dystopia or Heaven and Hell. In human religions, there will eventually be a god figure, but that comes later.

This is a picture of spiritual sickness. It’s not a new idea; among the first Christians, there were arguments about Jewish “Kosher” diets, and eating meat sacrificed to idols. One answer is “So if eating meat offered to idols is going to make my brother sin, I’ll not eat any of it as long as I live because I don’t want to do this to him” (1 Corinthians 8: 13).

We should never let diet become a spiritual sickness. What you put in your mouth is not the meaning of life.

Jesus called himself “the bread of life” and it’s surprising how much he had to say about food and religion. Here is a small sample:

“My food,” said Jesus, “is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work.” (John 4:34)

Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. (John 6:27)

Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? (Matthew 6: 25)

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