Up the Valley: Eat Your Feelings

October 25, 2012

Has your picky eating driven you, or others, crazy? My latest column in the Star

Two of my closest friends in town are, respectively, a psychotherapist and a personal trainer which — given my propensity for craziness and rotundity — proves the adage that those who can teach, can’t teach their friends.

And while they’ve both given up on my personal redemption, they are, respectively, founts of late-breaking knowledge concerning mental health and physical fitness — neither of which I have any hope of ever attaining. But I do find it all interesting in an abstract, don’t-take-away-my-mashed-potatoes-or-make-me-discuss-my-dreams, kind of way. And I’m ever-watchful for those occasions when something they say can be misinterpreted, twisted or otherwise hijacked to support my own version of a healthy lifestyle, such as: “ butter is healthier than margarine” or “sugar is healthier than artificial sweetener” or “decking somebody is healthier than turning your anger inward.”

So my ears perked up recently when my therapist friend first mentioned a mental disorder called orthorexia. It’s not every day that new personality disorders or mental diseases come to my attention, although I’ve started worrying that Jesse Duarte, a talented and ubiquitous young reporter for this newspaper, could be suffering from whatever emerging mental malady might cause an otherwise employable person of his iGeneration to pursue a career in print journalism. But I digress . . .

Orthorexia is an unhealthy fixation on healthy food. It can be a serious problem and an all-consuming obsession — sometimes leading to anorexia, malnutrition and other scary things. Since my friend would never condone a frivolous discussion of mental disorders, I did some research on my own, using venerable sources from Wikipedia to those medical websites that sell herbs, supplements and restorative teas. I learned that orthorexia isn’t officially recognized by the American Psychiatric Association, but it is becoming more frequently diagnosed.

Apparently, plain old hyper-healthy eating becomes a disorder when the behavior causes the victim distress and negatively impacts their life. If anyone reading this article suspects they might have the condition, I encourage them to seek out a smart and caring professional who can help. This column, on the other hand, is aimed at obsessive eaters on this side of the orthorexial line — those who are not suffering from a mental disorder, but who cause their friends and relations to suffer their insufferable gastronomic Puritanism. In other words, not orthorexia — let’s call it ortho-obnoxia.

Ortho-obnoxics lecture me about chlorine traces in Splenda and demand my switch to Stevia with the urgency of human rights activists petitioning the United Nations for military intervention. They suggest meeting me for lunch at Mexican or Italian restaurants, then order only a green salad. They concoct their own unsalted butters out of inedible nuts and insist that my crunchy salted peanut butter is laced with salmonella. They disparage the lactobacillus levels in my insufficiently probiotic yoghurt. And they have not a kind word to say about sugar, fat or fries — three of my favorite food groups.

If you ask me, today’s über-fussy parents are causing ortho-obnoxia to reach epidemic proportions among our nation’s youth. Here in the Napa Valley, impressionable school children toil in lush organic schoolyard gardens and learn sustainably-sourced gourmet cooking techniques from a local 3-Star Michelin chef (seriously — if you don’t live here — this is Napa Valley normal). Is it any wonder that I have been admonished by 6-year-olds for polluting the planet with incorrect seafood choices or for poisoning myself by eating meat? I anticipate a Halloween when local tricksters rebuff my high fructose corn syrup treats and demand unsalted endamame pods instead.

But much as I’m tempted to smack these unfortunates upside the head with the nearest foot-long salami, I recognize that it’s not their fault. Their brains simply lack the chemical balance gained through prolonged childhood consumption of Twinkies, Ho Hos, and whatever those bright pink coconut covered marshmallow balls were called. It’s a sad truth that many children in America today grow up without ever learning the proper way to eat an Oreo. And while I’m sure that a bowl full of granola and almond milk is a nutritionally superior breakfast choice, its consumption fails to evoke the sportsmanlike spirit once stirred by fishing stars, moons and clovers from one’s cowmilked bowl of Lucky Charms.

The best way to combat ortho-obnoxia, if you suspect you might have a raging case of it, is to admit your own weakness. While you are spooning Tofutti onto a gluten-free birthday cake before a roomful of disappointed revelers, it’s a good time to confess that you keep a stash of M&M’s in the glove compartment to stave off episodes of road rage. Develop your Peaceful Happy Face of Tolerance to don while watching friends consume cheesy pepperoni pizza, and cease speculating on the sausage’s traumatic origins.

And if you wish to continue to receive social invitations here in the Napa Valley, refrain from detailing the environmental risks of CO2 emissions from wine production, and never question studies extolling the heart-health benefits of steady wine consumption. Such statements will only lead those with ortho-obnoxia to find themselves ortho-ostracized for good.

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One Response to “Up the Valley: Eat Your Feelings”

  1. Joan Comendant Says:

    Very Funny! Love the new vocabulary……….hope to catch up to you soon……………


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