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Orthorexia: “Unhealthy Obsession” With Food

Friday’s episode of 20/20, entitled “Orthorexia: Obsessing Over Health Food,” really painted an ugly picture of the so-called health food nut in general, but even more so of the raw food movement, the primary focus of their story.

According to Wikipedia, the term orthorexia was actually coined by the Steven Bratman, the author interviewed in the first segment.

In Part 1, we meet the scarily skinny Johnny Giovanni Righini. Here the distinction is drawn between this diagnosis of orthorexia — not (yet?) officially recognized in the medical and psychological texts — and anorexia. The latter involves a distorted body image. In this case, Johnny knows how he looks and has a website devoted to his recovery from both.

In Part 2, John Stossel, in his admirably blunt fashion, points out to Victoras Kulvinskas, one of the original raw food advocates and author of Surviving Into The 21st Century, among several others, is only eight years older than himself, but looks much older.

My favorite quote is from the second part, “Nobody gets to pick how they die, they only get to pick how they live.” (-Charlotte Andersen, 29-year-old, mother of three) True, true. Indeed, it’s this very reason that many Calorie Restrictors eat as they do, i.e., not so much for life extension as health extension.

It’s hard to say how 20/20′s story will be received by the general public. As always, a lot depends on who the media chooses as spokespeople to represent a given movement, organization, trend, etc.. Perhaps by picking Johnny, they’ve drawn a clear enough contrast, at least based on appearance, that health-conscious individuals will not all soon be confronted (more than they already are?) by friends and family with this show as “proof” of their “illness.”

So, what do you all think? Do you see yourself in these stories? How do family and friends react to your “obsession”? Does Stossel have a point about Kulvinskas’ aged look? Post your comment and let’s chat.

14 Responses to “Orthorexia: “Unhealthy Obsession” With Food”

  1. Amanda says:

    I think its VERY SAD when the show picks 2 eating disorder individuals (a 78 lb scary gay guy & housewife) to represent the average raw foodist!! Sure .. lets focus even more on Homophobes out there to confirm gays “freak abomination” status!! These two would have had downfalls w/ ANY kind of diet ! They had eating disorders BEFORE they went raw!

    How about the millions of HEALTHY Minded and “Normal” raw foodists around the world.. including myself.. OR the healthy raw vegan who’s interview was left on the cutting room floor, since his appearance would have been contradictory to John’s tabloid sensationalism!!! And then to degrade and INSULT a respected author and raw food pioneer.. was just negative and DISGUSTING! Sorry if Mr Kulvinskas is not into regular BOTOX injections & make -up..as John Stossel apparently IS!!

  2. Irit says:

    I’m so glad you posted on this and I agree that (as the media likes to do often) the focus of the story was the “extreme” individuals who probably do not represent the majority of those who practice eating a raw food diet. However, it also seems helpful to educate the public that even this “healthy” practice can become an obsession. It does remind me of a few CR folks who take hours upon hours to write down every micro and macro nutrient every day- but that is their choice I suppose. We all have a choice in how much time and energy we place into this. I do have to say – Victoras seemed a bit odd to me — saying that the gal who died because her weight got so low was probably being recycled into a new life (or something to that extent) – seemed like an odd comment about a YOUNG woman’s death. THANKS for raising this issue!

  3. Irit says:

    Just one more quick comment – having looked at Johnny Giovanni Righini’s website of “recovery” – that young man SCARES me! Some of the things he has done to his body are so unbelievably self-destructive ! He REALLY needs help -I fear for his life — if he continues, he won’t be here much longer. It really is sad that 20/20 chose such an EXTREME example of an individual who is without a doubt (in my mind) not healthy at all – psychologically or physically.

  4. Amanda says:

    Oh I agree wholeheartedly.. ANY sick individual is going to deteriorate under whatever path they choose.. If he was bulimic.. throwing up on conventional foods.. would they crucify the food industry & processed food markets?? Its silly… But yes.. ANY diet is dangerous to an eating disorder OCD person! & Mr Righini is an EXTREME OCD unhealthy individual, mentally AND Physically!!

    The raw food lifestyle is NOT a diet.. its a way of eating for the rest of your life.. People that choose to view it as such, are ones that will take it to extremes or fail in their goals.. Diet addicts!

    As far as Victoras comments on afterlife.. I’m sure he didn;t mean anything insensitive from his comments.. those just happen to be his beliefs.. He’s an EXTREMELY positive & kind man w/ Buddhist like thoughts.. & has saved THOUSANDS of peoples lives by helping them reverse disease & ailments… You have to view his websites and his lectures on youtube to understand the man.. He’s from Europe!! ( need I say more! lol) Granted .. anyone who hasn’;t heard him speak or met him.. WOULD BE thrown off by what he said..

    Now as far as 20/20, the news or any other informational broadcasts..WHO do u think funds these shows??Did u notice all the food, milk, dairy & conventional food commercials on 20/20??? The food industry is a VERY POWERFUL MULTI billion $$ industry..who FROWNS upon organic raw foods, since it doesn’t put $$ in there pockets.. Its NO secret that in America..Its ALL political & about the almighty dollar!!! US citizens are on the bottom of the totem pole, when it comes to Government, food industry, pharmaceutical companies, FDA, priorities!! THATS a fact!! Health care..lets not EVEN go there!!

    Lets see …..who;’s the most OVERWEIGHT country w. the most Diabetes, heart trouble, cancer & overall illnesses… Take a guess!

    How can Americans strive for health when everything we are bombarded with( commercials, ads, 20/20, drive thrus, $1 menus, etc) is geared to feed us toxic foods laden with chemicals, additives, preservatives, pesticides, etc.. contributing to America being the unhealthiest country in the world?? WHY isn’t THIS in the news instead of who’s in Rehab or what celebrity just had a baby.. Take one guess!!

    Then take the media’s obsession over skinny, anorexic ideas of beauty!

    WHY do u think alot of American’s suffer eating disorders? We’re # 1 again!!

    THATS why the health conscious are HUNGRY for information on healthy eating & reversing illness & years of toxin ingestion!! But instead of heralding that & exploring those options.. they’re knocked down & exploit 2 very sick individuals and scapegoat the Raw food movement!!??

    WHY DO U THINK??? Random??

    INCREDIBLE.. Drs don;t study preventative medicine or nutrition!! They only study how to TREAT u once ur sick( surgeries, more toxic chemicals ( meds), etc) They study 1 year of pharmaceuticals ( gee guess who funds that!!>> ) & whatever they’re gonna specialize in!

    We can’t rely on what the government sanctions, prejudiced television shows, or the Medical professionals we TRUST w/ our health Brain wash us with! We all need to be proactive as what IS out there & can be beneficially nurturing to our own lives, health and quality of life..

    Unfortuantely, Most Americans don;t even GET the fact: that its what u put in ur mouth that contributes the MOST to what diseases ur gonna get!!! Most go by what they see, hear & are told… accepting their demise in disease, conventional unhealthy diets, traditional handed down meals & taking their meds & surgeries when they get sick & NEVER questioning or taking control of their preventative health journies or paths!

    Wow.. I really commented huh?? lol
    Oops.. We I meant every word ..
    Peace & LOTS os self love… :-)

  5. Amanda says:

    P.S.. After my blood sugars nromalized..I stopped taking my Diabetes meds 2 WEEKS after going raw!!! WHY isn’t THAT or the REST of individuals who have been helped by Raw Foods, on 20/20???

  6. Irit says:

    LOVE your PASSION about this topic! YOU GO GIRL!!! And THANK YOU for the clarification on Victoras views on the afterlife – I now see why he made that comment – it was from a loving, caring view.

    You make so many AWESOME points in your post- way to go!

    OK -Erin – I think you should ‘weigh in’ on the topic – a great one to start – but I’d love to hear your take on it all also!

  7. Amanda says:

    LOL.. Thanks Irit.. I was sooooo empassioned bythis topic, that I copy & pasted ur site onto a discussion on Giveittomeraw.com to get a discussion going ..I also gave a link to ur page! :-)

    Heres that discussion link:


    I guess since I’m still new to raw & amazed at my Diabetes results.. I’m abit passionate about it!! But hey.. I’m passionate about EVERYTHING!!!lol
    Must be the Latina in me??? :-)

  8. Erin says:

    Happy to let you vent, Amanda.

    Congrats on resolving your diabetes! I guess that kind of information is left to documentaries like Raw For 30 Days.

    Tried to find confirmation of your botox “accusation” regarding Stossel to no avail. Have you anything further on this or is it just speculation? He actually doesn’t strike me as one to go in for that.

    Thank you too, Irit, for your comments. We both get to see this kind of over-the-top’ness in one of our own beloved CRONies. It is sad when it happens, and maybe there’s a good warning in these types of stories? May I equivocate? ;)

  9. Amanda says:

    Lol.. Thanks Erin..& I wasn’t venting on u!! But is SURE felt good speaking my mind!! .. Then again.. I LOVE to write!! ( see discussion link above & check out my profile for proof! lol) I’m passionate over kiwi.. for goodness sakes! :-)

    Just the premise of a show having unfair leeway on what some people might prejudice against Raw foods itself..Got my goard !! Insinuating that it was RAW FOODS that got them sick… Cause THATS exactly what they UNFAIRLY did!!

    Example: My friend Lissa who sent me the show link on 20/20, told me that one of her Diabetic High Blood pressure family members who were considering raw/healthier eating because of her, commented after seeing the show “Maybe we shouldnt do this afterall and just another of Lissa’s fads, etc.. Needless to say ..Lissa was dismayed,,.

    But ur right.. Orthorexia IS a serious disorder & raw foods is just another catalyst for people like w/ disorders.. I don;t disagree at all :-)
    & yes.. I have known some people that ocd about other diets.. not to the extreme as 20/20′s individuals.. ( Atkins, South Beach, etc)

    & as far as proof as to Mr Stossels botox use.. I have none.. I was being sarcastic/fasticiuous.. But in reality hun.. THATS what most people in the media/Public eye DO( from celebrities, famous news casters, performers, actor/actresses.. MOST people in the public eye!!)

    I can only assume when ones hair is TOO dark for their age & not ONE wrinkle on their expression less forehead!!??? TV Make up is a given..TV longevity & work is Paramount to ones youthful appearance in America’s youth obsessed world & the reality is that people get “refreshed” quite regularly! Its NOT a far fetched notion!! lol


  10. Johnny says:

    I was lead to this post. It seems to me there is quite a bit of judgement here from people who don’t even know me. Your judgement is just as devestating as the issues I face. I am fighting to break free from the issues I deal with, I would truly hope you are all seeking inner freedom from judgement and more clarity from an open mind and heart.

    And for the record, I am not gay. I date all genders.

    Assuming will get you no where. Focus on your own health. I am doing the same and trying to help others in the process.


  11. Erin says:

    Thank you, Johnny. It’s good to hear from you.

  12. Amanda says:

    Johnny.. I’m sorry you feel I was coming across “judgemental” when I made comments about your condition and sexual identity! The point I was making was that in that 20/20 episode..Raw food was getting a bad rap , because of your Orthorexia.. An NEW eating disorder co exisiting w/ Anorexia/Bulimia (illnesses of which you yourself have admitted to.. PRIOR to being introduced to Raw foods.. Raw foods had NOTHING to do with it!

    As far as the comment about you being gay.. yes I assumed..But then again.. Most of America would as well! According to your website, you yourself say.. verbatim “I openly identify as a transgendered and queer male”. Should I have used those words instead of the word gay??

    I wasn’t judging YOU for that ( I have known and have MANY gay friends) The point I was making was ” yeah.. have 20/20 feed the homophobes notions of gays as abominations, w/ another eating disorder & blame it on Raw foods!”…In other words.. Feeding the ignorant stereotypes of ignorant people out there, was doing NOTHING for raw foods! ( I was being slightly sarcastic to prove a point.. I’m sorry you took it wrong or as an assault to you personally..thats NOT how I meant it)

    I am grateful to Raw Foods for reversing my Diabetes and I was empassioned when I saw that show..It has also helped with my depression and mood swings.. we are ALL fighting our own demons and illnesess, in our own way. Whatever steps you are taking in your recovery are awesome, if they truly are helping.. But to me ..that 20/20 piece was just unfair sensationalism on their part.. I have no idea what your motives were. But if they were meant to be a vehicle in your recovery.. Then I’d say 20/20 twisted it around and used it towards their own agenda to condemn the Raw Food lifestyle…

    Wishing you all the best in your recovery…


  13. [...] a nice counterbalance to the 20/20 story on orthorexia, CNN’s Sanjay Gupta, M.D., has now taken a look at the raw food diet as [...]

  14. Denver says:

    I used to have a problem with food and the recovering was extremely hard to break after college. I found myself eating at times when I was bored, even when I wasn’t hungry. I wouldn’t eat big meals, but small unhealthy meals throughout the day. I justified that I could eat unhealthy snacks throughout the day as long as I didn’t splurge. Well eventually, I was sick because of my diet and overweight.

    What eventually helped me was a program I got on at a school where they would make me over eat at four meals a day. After four months I finally pulled through the small meals and ended up losing 20 pounds in the first two months after the end of that program.

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