By Martha Ross
Contra Costa Times.
SAN JOSE, Calif.
During a recent trip to the Half Moon Bay, Calif., farmers market, Johnny Righini didn’t suffer a panic attack or chastise his mother when she bought nonorganic produce.
For Righini, this moment of self-restraint marked another small victory in his struggle to overcome a pathological obsession with eating “pure” foods.
Starting in his early 20s, Righini dedicated himself to vegan and raw food diets, thinking they offered a healthy way to recover from years of anorexia and bulimia.
But he took those restrictive diets to extremes, agonizing, for example, over fruits and vegetables losing their “life force” each minute after being picked.
He now says his “twisted thinking” was a symptom of orthorexia, an eating disorder that is increasingly on the radar of health professionals.
Righini didn’t obsess over calorie counts, as he did with anorexia. He pored over ingredient labels, then rejected food with labels as being too “impure.”
He found it impossible to eat out at restaurants or other people’s homes or to be around people eating fast food. He even tossed out food his mother brought home from a supermarket.
“Just as I restricted myself from food, I restricted myself from people,” he said. “If they were eating something my orthorexic mind didn’t approve of, I would get physical shakes and panic attacks.”
Eating disorder experts say there is nothing wrong with wanting to eat nutritiously or to eliminate certain foods. But healthy eating becomes harmful when people’s thinking or behavior becomes so “extremely rigid” they jeopardize their physical and mental health and relationships with other people, said Jennifer Lombardi, executive director of the Eating Recovery Center in Sacramento.
“Any diet or dietary restriction that causes a person to be unable to celebrate and socialize with food comfortably is going too far,” agreed Leah Hopkins, a clinical dietitian at the Monarch Cove Eating Disorder Treatment Center in Pacific Grove, Calif..