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Heather McGuire
Ryan Barney
BIOL 1090-408
21 April 2015
Can an Overemphasis on Eating Healthy Become Unhealthy?
Lindsey Getzs article Orthorexia: When Eating Healthy Becomes an Unhealthy Obsession addresses the
issue of a pathological fixation on eating proper food,1 from the perspective of some medical professionals
especially Steven Bratman, MD and author, who coined the term and definition of orthorexia. The term orthorexia
was coined in 1997 by Bratman, but as of 2013 it has not be clinically accepted. Despite the fact that she obtains the
opinions of a variety of medical professionals including psychiatrists, MDs, and registered dieticians, Getz is forced
to concede that Although it is not yet a clinically recognized term or disorder, orthorexia is gaining wider
recognition as cases continue to emerge and capture media attention.1 While its important to consider the opinion
of medical professionals, it is also important to understand that the condition has yet to be medically accepted in
journals and critiqued in peer review. Some signs that orthorexia may be a concern, according to Getz, include
obsession about eating only healthy foods, rejecting social invitations to eat out with friends, and avoiding food
altogether if no healthy option is available. Even though the condition is not currently accepted by the clinical
community, it does present some extreme behaviors that may lead a person to become malnourished. Also, the
author directly connects a parents eating habits to their childrens eating habit development, but lacks any scientific
evidence to support the claims. In spite of the vast number of medical professionals who support the hypothesis of
orthorexia nervosa, the medical community needs to further its research and independent studies on the subject to
provide enough significantly important evidence to support their hypothesis.
Opposing Getzs argument, lays the argument presented by Chris Woolston in Whats Wrong With the
American Diet?2 Woolston introduces the main problem with the Western diet; it has too many calories. This is
backed up by three independent sources including a Professor of Nutrition and Food Studies at a New York
University, a former director of nutrition education for the American Institute of Cancer Research, and a
spokesperson for the ADA2. Additionally, Woolston highlights important statistics from the CDC showing that sixty
six percent of all Americans are considered overweight. This hits home because I was obese for most of my life, and
I am still considered overweight. The author also presents statistics, based on an article published by the Journal of

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American Medicine, recognizing that between 1986 and 1998 the number of overweight children has doubled.
Woolston has presented another correlation between parents eating habits and children who are overweight. More
importantly, he asserts that even though government and independent guidelines and recommendations for healthy
eating exist, Americans ignore them. He further explains that calorie dense foods including red meats, fats, salts and
sugars are high in the American diet, but important nutrient rich and high fiber foods such as vegetables, fruits, and
grains are left to the sideline, if eaten at all. This high calorie, low-fiber diet is increasing the coronary heart disease
risk of women as outlined in a 12 year study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine.2 Woolstons claim that
the American diet is causing health issues beyond being overweight or obese include studies that show the American
diet increases risk for other diseases including cancer and diabetes. In addition to too many calories, the Western diet
has larger portion sizes leading to an unrealistic image of what a serving size or portion size is. Both Woolston and
the USDA dietary guidelines3 agree that certain foods are not forbidden, but should be limited and complementary
rather than the main staple of the dinner plate. While outlining important statistics and clinical studies, Chris
Woolston paints a picture of an overwhelmingly overweight nation that needs help with portion size and eating in
moderation.
An overemphasis on eating healthy seems to be a legitimate claim that needs further studies and significant
data to be clinically accepted. While it is Getz claims that orthorexia is a growing concern, it is evident in
Woolstons article that higher percentages of Americans are still overweight and/or obese. Government and
independent agencies that provide dietary guidelines3 are focused on helping our country reduce the occurrences of
heart disease, cancer and diabetes which are all associated with higher calorie, low fiber diets. For the majority of
my childhood and adolescent years, I was obese. When I became an adult, I found motivation to change, and I found
it most helpful to learn about nutrition and calories from sources such as the food guide pyramid and the USDA
guidelines. In addition to changing my eating habits, I learned that more activity was required in order to lose
weight. Woolston mentioned that ultimately it will be up to us individually to improve the way we eat and increase
the amount of exercise we get.2 This leads me to conclude that it is very important for these recommended
guidelines to continue to be followed by dieticians and medical doctors when they advise their patients, but with
additional exercise recommended to help people who need to lose weight. As with any psychiatric eating disorder
including anorexia nervosa and bulimia, each individual physician or dietary nutritionist should be aware of their
patients eating habits in order to determine if there is a potential problem that may lead to malnutrition or social

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isolation. With the proper education on nutrition, a balanced dietary plan that is individualized for each person, and
guidance on eating in moderation and portion sizes, I believe that the current dietary guidelines provided by the
USDA3 should be followed with modification allowed to fit individual needs.
If every American followed the calorie and nutrition guidelines published by the USDA in 19803 along
with recommended exercise, I believe that our country could limit the occurrence of both excessive weight and
diseases associated with excessive weight. However, it is important to realize that each person is an individual that
has a unique relationship with food, so we cannot reasonably expect all Americans to follow the recommendations.
Additionally, the guidelines provided are just recommendations meaning that each person should assess, preferably
with a dietary specialist, their own caloric and nutritional needs. Another equally important question comes to my
mind How do we teach our children to be healthy? First and foremost, it is recognized by many, that parents
decisions are an inevitable environmental influence on children. A definite correlation between parents influencing
their childrens nutritional patterns is presented in Orthorexia: When Eating Healthy Becomes an Unhealthy
Obsession1 and Whats Wrong With the American Diet?2, but there is no scientific evidence provided in either article
that supports that the parents obsession directly causes a child to develop the same obsession. As parents, we should
consciously encourage our children to eat healthy foods with reasonable portion sizes, but allow all foods in
moderation. This will encourage children to develop a healthy association with food and nutrition.
Each psychiatrist, medical physician, and registered dietician should conduct a comprehensive evaluation
of their patients eating habits, behaviors, and feelings toward food, so that they can properly advise each individual
on how to obtain balanced nutrition, portion awareness, moderation, and how to limit restrictions from their diet.
This could potentially help reduce the occurrence of orthorexia while promoting weight loss. Since orthorexia is
considered a psychiatric disorder by those who accept its existence, there may be other factors to consider as being a
codependent cause or independent cause including behavioral influences, fear of weight gain, fear of developing an
incurable disease, desire to control, etc. It is equally important for physicians to consult a patient who is overweight
or obese about other potential psychiatric or behavioral factors that have helped cause their weight gain. As I am
aware, not everyone consults a doctor or dietician about weight loss or healthy eating, so we may continue to see a
rise in weight gain and unhealthy obsessions with healthy eating no matter what position the medical community
takes on the healthy eating issue.

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References
1.

Getz, Lindsey. Orthorexia: When Eating Healthy Becomes an Unhealthy Obsession Todays

2.

Dietician. (2009) 39-43. Print.


Woolston, Chris. Whats Wrong With the American Diet? Consumer Health Interactive. (2009) 4447. Print.

3. Can an Overemphasis on Eating Healthy Become Unhealthy? Salt Lake Community College Biology
1090, Human Biology: Taking Sides Readings. (2014) 74-88. Print.