Orthorexia–When “Eating Right” Goes Wrong

I read a fascinating article at Christianity Today about an interesting twist on problem eating. 

…I’m equally concerned when I see how easily the devotion to ‘healthy’ and ‘righteous’ eating can take a pernicious turn and become legalistic, judgmental, isolating and even crippling. Not long ago, I met a woman who was deeply concerned about her granddaughter. “She doesn’t eat anything any more! It’s not that she wants to be thin, she just thinks so many different things are unhealthy. She doesn’t eat grains. She doesn’t eat anything that comes from an animal. She tries to eat only things that are raw. She wouldn’t even eat this,” she said, gesturing to the home-cooked meal we were sharing.

The grandmother was putting her finger on a key aspect of food and eating as well as one of the dangers of dietary legalism: food is communal and community-forming, and restricted diets of all sorts tend to isolate and damage people. Dr. Stephen Bratman explores this dynamic. The author of Health Food Junkie, he coined the term “orthorexia nervosa” (from the Greek ortho, “correct,'” and orexis, “appetite”) in 1997. In an essay, Bratman talks about his time as a cook in a commune. Some members were vegans, some vegetarians, some macrobiotic eaters, some who wouldn’t eat anything from the onion family of vegetables and some who were raw foodists. All could marshal “experts” to support their dietary doctrines. And it was really, really hard for them to eat together.

Orthorexia isn’t an official disorder but I think the points in the article are well-taken.  While eating healthy is an important part of well-being and self-discipline, Christians have always considered being too “fussy” or rule-bound about food to be a manifestation of gluttony.    Food should feed the body, soul, and community and any approach to eating that offends these dimensions of eating becomes disordered no matter how “healthy” the approach to eating is.

Exposing the Lie: Marriage and Manipulating the Media

No doubt you’ve seen the headlines, Marriage Is Not an Antidote to Poverty.  It’s a lie–or at least wishful thinking.  If Marlboro came out with a pr campaign that said, “Anti-Smoking Efforts Fail to Curb Lung Cancer Rates” would you believe it?  Or would some part of you say, “Hmmm.  Maybe there is something else going on here.”

The same is true about the paper underlying the headlines. It’s a position paper–essentially a PR campaign of the marriage-hostile “Council on Contemporary Families”, and since all news is PR these days, the press is swallowing this report whole.  The paper is fine for what it is, but it is not a study, nor does it report new findings.  Despite what the news is leading you to believe (or has been lead to believe) this isn’t a new study demonstrating the failure of the marriage movement to address poverty.  In fact, the position paper  that is the source of all the buzz actually supports a foundational point of the marriage movement’s campaign to fight poverty.  Namely, that marriage after baby is a risky proposition, especially if the husband isn’t the father. 

University of Virginia sociologist Brad Wilcox does a great job respectfully fisking this non-story.

Ironically, this CCF report just confirms that old wisdom recently articulated in the report Knot Yet: The Benefits and Costs of Delayed Marriage in America: namely, men, women, and children are much more likely to enjoy a stable and supportive family life when they sequence marriage before parenthood. As Ron Haskins and Isabel Sawhill at the Brookings Institution pointed out in their book Creating an Opportunity Society, young adults who put education, work, marriage, and parenthood in the right order—first finishing high school (or college), then getting a job, then marrying, and then having a baby—face very low odds of poverty.

And while it is true that most of the federally funded programs designed to strengthen relationships among low-income couples with children have not achieved success, this is a common pattern for new policy initiatives (most of these programs are just a few years old). It usually takes some time for policymakers to figure out the best strategy to address a critical public policy challenge. Heck, almost fifty years after Head Start was launched, the evidence suggests the federal government still has not figured out how to make Pre-K effective for poor children—and yet, given preschool’s potential benefits, lawmakers remain determined to make the program work.

He goes on to share actual research on marriage initiatives that actually are fighting poverty.  You should go read his post.  It’s good stuff and essential reading for anyone who wants to know how to come out on top in those water-cooler conversations where people can’t wait to tell you how your values are outdated and your morals are dead.   The data is on our side, folks.  When you see reports that claim to show that marriage isn’t what it’s cracked up to be, know that there is a growing body of data–never mind 4000 years of cultural experience–that gives you the power to say that the rumors of the death of marriage are greatly exaggerated.


“Manning Up.” The Truth About Masculinity

My son, Jacob, has a provocative post about masculinity at his website.  I think he offers some powerful insights on the confusing messages we send to boys about masculinity and how the theology of the body can help young men respond to those messages.   Here’s a sample…

One of the biggest lies that the world sells us is that masculinity is something to be achieved. Keep this in mind the next time you go on Facebook or head to the grocery store and I think you’ll see that I’m right. The magazines and the pharmaceuticals say, “Buy this and it will make you a man!” The movies say “Act this way! Girls will like you!” and the exercise machine commercial says, “Work out, work out, work out! Somebody will finally love you if you work out!” and all of them say, “This, THIS will finally make you a man”.

Men, are you listening? I’m going to be frank with you.

You’re already a man. You can be a better man, you can be a stronger man, you can be a holier man. But no matter what you do, God made you a man. You were born a man and you are a man. You are manly. Just by possessing a man’s DNA, you are encoded with God’s spiritual and physical gifts of masculinity. Gifts like strength in weakness, vulnerability, empathy, leadership, wisdom, and all of the rest. Can you grow stronger at living out these gifts? Of course. Will you be working on bettering your ability to live out these gifts for the rest of your life? Yes, but that’s what life is all about.
The fact is, no matter how sinful you become or how badly you fail or how much you struggle, nobody can take your manliness away from you. Your masculinity is something planted deep within you, and while it can always be utilized more intensely, nothing you can do can make you lose it.

What Do Pope JPII, Pope BXVI, and a Lesbian Feminist Have in Common? (Guest post by Dave McClow)

In a WSJ interview with Bari Weiss, Camille Paglia, a self-described “notorious Amazon feminist” who is identified as a lesbian and a mom, actually sees that we have a problem with how we view men in our culture.  This is the theme I discussed in my previous blog, “Towards a Theology of Authentic Masculinity.”  She gets that, “Houston, we have a problem”!  Weiss states, “…no subject gets her going more than when I ask if she really sees a connection between society’s attempts to paper over the biological distinction between men and women and the collapse of Western civilization!”  Paglia says it this way, “What you’re seeing is how a civilization commits suicide.”  Blessed John Paul II (JPII) used to say, “The future of the world and of the Church passes through the family” (Familiaris Consortio, 75).  I would add that “The future of the family passes through fatherhood.”  And as we will see shortly, Popes JPII and Benedict XVI (B16) believed there is a crisis of fatherhood. 

While the reporter did not mention an explicit connection, certainly the general anatomy and physiology along with JPII’s Theology of the Body make clear that the “biological distinctions” point to motherhood and fatherhood.  And the status of fatherhood (human and God’s) have Popes B16 and JPII sounding the alarm that civilization is being threatened.

Cardinal Ratzinger, later Pope B16, identifies, on two separate occasions, this insidious threat to humanity that is found in how we view human fatherhood, and its effects on our relationship with our Father God:

God himself “willed to manifest and describe himself as Father.” “Human fatherhood gives us an anticipation of what He is. But when this fatherhood does not exist, when it is experienced only as a biological phenomenon, without its human and spiritual dimension, all statements about God the Father are empty. The crisis of fatherhood we are living today is an element, perhaps the most important, threatening man in his humanity (emphasis mine, Zenit, March 15, 2001, address at Palermo).

Human fatherhood can give us an inkling of what God is; but where fatherhood no longer exists, where genuine fatherhood is no longer experienced as a phenomenon that goes beyond the biological dimension to embrace a human and intellectual sphere as well, it becomes meaningless to speak of God the Father. Where human fatherhood disappears, it is no longer possible to speak and think of God. It is not God who is dead; what is dead (at least to a large extent) is the precondition in man that makes it possible for God to live in the world. The crisis of fatherhood that we are experiencing today is a basic aspect of the crisis that threatens mankind as a whole (emphasis mine). (Joseph Ratzinger, The God of Jesus Christ, p. 29.).

John Paul II sees this cultural suicide from the perspective of God’s Fatherhood and the culture’s attempts to abolish it.  Crossing the Threshold of Hope ends with a lengthy reflection on fatherhood and the two types of fear of the Lord—filial and servile.  The former comes from being loved by the Father, the latter from working for the love of the Father as a servant—a master-slave relationship.  But what is startling is his quote of André Malraux’s prediction in the middle of a hopeful message:

In order to set contemporary man free from fear of himself, of the world, of others, of earthly powers, of oppressive systems, in order to set him free from every manifestation of a servile fear before that “prevailing force” which believers call God, it is necessary to pray fervently that he will bear and cultivate in his heart that true fear of God, which is the beginning of wisdom.


This fear of God is the saving power of the Gospel.  It is a constructive, never destructive, fear.  It creates people who allow themselves to be led by responsibility, by responsible love.  It creates holy men and women–true Christians–to whom the future of the world ultimately belongs. André Malraux was certainly right when he said that the twenty-first century would the century of religion or it would not be at all.


The Pope who began his papacy with the words “Be not afraid!” tries to be completely faithful to this exhortation and is always ready to be at the service of man, nations, and humanity in the spirit of this truth of the Gospel. (pp. 228-229)

Civilization is on the brink—according to popes who don’t exaggerate for effect.  Human fathers and God the Father are critical in changing this tide.  This is why I argued in my previous blog that it is time for the Church to lead the charge in defining masculinity, as all men are called to spiritual [and I’m now adding “chivalrous”] fatherhood lived out as priest, prophet, and king.

Getting back to Paglia, she laments that no one in the elite class has any military experience, and this is a huge problem because “there’s this illusion out there that people are basically nice, people are basically kind, if we’re just nice and benevolent to everyone they’ll be nice too. They literally don’t have any sense of evil or criminality.”  But John Paul II and the whole Catholic Church are very aware of what people are capable of and call this personal and original sin.  They would also agree that if you get the anthropology wrong, everything else is going to be skewed or in error after that.  Interestingly, John Paul II ties original sin and God’s fatherhood together:

…[W]e know from Revelation, in human history the “rays of fatherhood” meet a first resistance in the obscure but real fact of original sin.  This is truly the key for interpreting reality.…  Original sin, then, attempts to abolish fatherhood, destroying its rays which permeate the created world, placing in doubt the truth about God who is Love and leaving man only with a sense of the master-slave relationship.  As a result, the Lord appears jealous of His power over the world and over man; and consequently, man feels goaded to do battle against God. (Crossing the Threshold of Hope, p. 227-228)

Evil, original sin, and the abolishment of fatherhood—all are THE KEY FOR INTERPRETING REALITY! 

Paglia also sees men being silenced by Political Correctness. 

“This PC gender politics thing—the way gender is being taught in the universities—in a very anti-male way, it’s all about neutralization of maleness.” The result: Upper-middle-class men who are “intimidated” and “can’t say anything. . . . They understand the agenda.” In other words: They avoid goring certain sacred cows by “never telling the truth to women” about sex, and by keeping “raunchy” thoughts and sexual fantasies to themselves and their laptops.

While I’m not advocating that a Catholic man engage in a “prophetic raunch fest,” the lack of truth-telling is a deficit in men who are not living out their fatherhood as prophets—speaking the truth in love. 

Paglia says there are very few models for men to imitate.

Politically correct, inadequate education, along with the decline of America’s brawny industrial base, leaves many men with “no models of manhood,” she says. “Masculinity is just becoming something that is imitated from the movies. There’s nothing left. There’s no room for anything manly right now.”

“A key part of the remedy, she believes, is a ‘revalorization’ of traditional male trades—the ones that allow women’s studies professors to drive to work (roads), take the elevator to their office (construction), read in the library (electricity), and go to gender-neutral restrooms (plumbing).” 

While this would certainly help, I would argue there needs to be a “revalorization” of masculinity as a whole!

So what kind of feminist is Camille Paglia? An “equal-opportunity feminist” “that demands a level playing field without demanding special quotas or protections for women.”  Her heroines are Amelia Earhart and Katherine Hepburn who were “independent, brave, enterprising, capable of competing with men without bashing them.”  John Paul II would say it this way, “there is an urgent need to achieve real equality in every area: equal pay for equal work, protection for working mothers, fairness in career advancements, equality of spouses with regard to family rights” (Letter to Women, 4).

Palgia continues, “’Equal-opportunity feminism’ has triumphed in basic goals. There is surely a lack of women in the C-Suite and Congress, but you’d be hard-pressed to find a man who would admit that he believes women are less capable.”  Palgia argues that the women’s movement needs to return to these roots and give up the “nanny state” mentality that leads to the PC witch/warlock hunts—my term, not hers.  If this movement is to succeed, it will have to go the big-tent route, “open to stay-at-home moms” and “not just the career woman.”

Here’s what Chesterton would say to the feminists who demand special quotas and protections for women: “It isn’t that they can’t see the solution.  It is that they can’t see the problem.”  Paglia sees the problem accurately, and she ends up in the neighborhood of JPII and B16, echoing their thoughts on the problem.  Her conclusions point in the right direction—we need men to be manly; but the Church and the popes have a deeper solution, and it begins with “Our Father…”

Dave McClow, M.Div., LMFT, LCSW is a clinical pastoral counseling associate of the Pastoral Solutions Institute.  To learn more about how the Pastoral Solutions Institute’s telecounseling practice can help you transform your personal, marriage, or family life, visit us online at www.CatholicCounselors.com or call to make an appointment at 740-266-6461.