As we learned in Blog Post 1, Orthorexia is a fairly new phenomenon that was officially named in the 1990s. Many believe that Orthorexia as we know it today stems from the wellness culture that has existed in the United States since the early sixties. Wellness culture went mainstream in around the eighties, with the emerging popularity of organic eating, programs like jazzercise, elimination diets, juice cleanses and so on. With more and more research being conducted about our diet’s impact on our body and lifespan, people have become more and more cautious about their food consumption. People have also become more and more conscious about their food consumption as we are forced to navigate a market with food full of preservatives, pesticides and other harmful chemicals. Thus, it is not unreasonable to say that unlike other eating disorders, Orthorexia may be a culture bound illness as it is uniquely tied to the culture in which it exists.
Diet culture has existed in the United States for hundreds of years, and it essentially shapes our relationship with food, health and our bodies. Diet also shapes the way that we as a society value bodies and body types. The body types that our society values are often unrealistic and naturally occur in very few people. For many, the inability to conform to these societal body standards brings feelings of shame and self loathing. To make matters worse, these “ideal” body types have shifted over the years to become less and less realistic, especially for people who experience the natural phenomenon of weight gain as they age.
These “ideal” body types exist primarily because there is money to be made off of people’s insecurities. The Weight Loss Industry is worth approximately 72.7 billion dollars as of 2020 and is always shifting, as there are always new diet trends and fads. At the moment, weight loss companies are working to appeal to Millennials instead of Baby Boomers, as Millennials are now reaching the age at which the human metabolism naturally begins to slow down. Diet Companies have begun to change their products to fuel demands for foods that are “clean”, as millennials tend to prefer products with no toxins, GMOS, artificial flavoring and sweeteners.
Today, it is difficult to go almost anywhere without seeing advertisements for diet, weight loss treatments and so on. Even if you don’t leave your house, you will probably see an ad on the internet or the TV. These advertisements disproportionately affect teenage girls as they are vulnerable and in a developmental stage. A study from the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse found that among teenage girls in the United States, 62.3% had tried to lose weight. Other studies have found that an increase in social media use is linked to symptoms of Orthorexia. In order to combat the instances of eating disorders such as Orthorexia, Bulimia and Anorexia, we must work to address the unrealistic beauty standards that pervade our society. This begins with the acknowledgement of the fact that the beauty industry, the fashion industry and the diet industry push us to accept unrealistic body types as ideal.
Golden, N. H., Schneider, M., & Wood, C. (2016). Preventing Obesity and Eating Disorders in Adolescents. Pediatrics, 138(3)
Syurina E.V., Bood Z.M., Ryman F.V.M., Muftugil-Yalcin S. (2018). Cultural phenomena believed to be associated with orthorexia nervosa – Opinion study in Dutch health professionals.