When good food goes bad
Eating healthy may not always be good for you. This week HEALTH looks at orthorexia, an obsession with consuming pure, organic produce that leads to serious problems.
Checking the label on every product to verify its ingredients and being determined to only consume produce free of pesticides and other chemicals might sound like a healthy plan, but all too often these goals become an obsession pushing people to an extreme that leaves them very ill. Orthorexia is a term that was coined by Dr Steven Bratman in California in the late 1990s.
Unlike anorexics, orthorexics are not concerned with quantity but quality. What’s more, while anorexia and bulimia are often considered to be eating disorders that carry a weight of shame, orthorexics feel somewhat superior to the common man by being able to control what they eat.
"It's people who are not confident in themselves or their bodies and who feel the need to eat especially pure products in a bid to improve themselves and feel of value in front of others," says Dr Bernard Waysfeld, a nutritionist in Paris.
Very often, orthorexia is a cover for other eating disorders; indeed, some doctors feel that the term is nothing more than a new name for the same thing.
"I can't speak for the patients I don't see, but in my cabinet the people who come with a diagnosis of orthorexia suffer from a serious mental health issue which is anorexia or bulimia covered with a social varnish," notes psychiatrist Dr Maurice Corcos.
Ten to 15 percent of women suffer from an eating disorder at some stage in their lives.
The problem with food is finding the right balance, but scientists in the US are now looking at whether or not cutting out calories could potentially lead to a longer life.
Scientists have suspected this since the 1930s and tried their theory on rodents and rhesus monkeys: in both cases the semi-starved group outliving their well-fed fellows.
American scientists at Tufts University in Boston are now trying to find out how far what works for monkeys applies to man. They’ve put volunteers on a carefully reduced diet for two years. On it, the men consume only 1,800 calories a day rather than the recommended 2,500 and women take in 1,500 daily calories compared to the average 2000.
The secret is not just about staying slim by whatever means. Lab mice that maintained a low body weight by exercising showed no longevity improvement - only those that didn't get many calories to begin with seemed to benefit.
Finally, sudden changes in lifestyle can have a negative impact on people’s health. In the United Arab Emirates, close to 20 percent of the adult population now have diabetes. That’s the second highest rate in the world.