Last November, when I first wrote about the gluten-free diet fad, I bemoaned how an everyday protein, a staple in human diets for many millennia, had become demonized by the diet fad crowd. In fact, the gluten-free fad rapidly grew into a multi-million-dollar industry in Canada to accommodate that vulnerable intersection of consumer fears and gullibility.*
Back when I was writing my piece, the National Post had a piece that indicated while nine million Canadians were allegedly on a gluten-free diet or avoided gluten for non-medical reasons, only 1% of us – about 330,000 people – actually have Celiac disease (of whom only 33,000 are actually diagnosed with it).
A whole lot of people have self-diagnosed themselves with gluten-sensitivity, based more on what they’ve seen on TV or read on the internet, rather than on actual medical advice, let alone the results of tests. But that’s a psychosomatic illness, not a real one. And in fact, some people may simply be faking it (i.e. if you claim a gluten allergy and yet you still drink beer…) or because it fits with their other pseudoscience interests or fads.
Are you into reiki, homeopathy, or the healing power of crystals, magnets or Head of the Class reruns? You might be a phony celiac.
Many self-diagnosed “sufferers” seem likely instead to have “orthorexia nervosa” – “an extreme or excessive preoccupation with avoiding foods perceived to be unhealthy.” An obsession with righteous eating. Psychiatric Times calls it a “disease that masquerades as health.”
Orthorexia is marked by the compulsive and rigid imposition of a set of ideals about what is correct to consume and the distress that ensues when actual eating does not adhere strictly to these ideals. In anorexia, the goal of food restrictions is to lose or to avoid gaining weight, so the focus is directed toward how eating (or exercising or purging) affects the morphology of the body. Orthorexia instead is a preoccupation with ideas of health or other philosophical ideals.
A food blogger lists some of the symptoms of orthorexia:
- Feeling virtuous about what they eat, but not enjoying their food much
- Continually cutting foods from their diet
- Experiencing a reduced quality of life or social isolation (because their diet makes it difficult for them to eat anywhere but at home)
- Feeling critical of, or superior to, others who do not eat as healthily they do
- Skipping foods they once enjoyed in order to eat the “right” foods
- Choosing to eat foods based off of nutritional value, instead of eating what they’re craving
- Feeling guilt or self-loathing when they stray from their diet
- Feeling in total control when they eat the “correct” diet
So maybe that’s the real culprit here.