The thin line between healthy and pathological nutrition

The thin line between healthy and pathological nutrition

In today’s “wellness society” in which abundance of food predominates, more and more attention is paid to nourishing in a conscious and balanced way. But there is a thin dividing line between healthy nutrition and pathology, as in the case of orthorexia and vigorexia.


Advertising message Since ancient times, food has played a leading role in the life of the individual, holding a set of functions related to survival, the need for fulfillment, belonging to a group, identity and sociality. .

We eat in fact to celebrate birthdays, weddings and graduations or simply to share pleasant moments with friends and relatives at the table. You eat to find a place in society and to define your identity by feeling part of a community with which you share rules. You eat to silence negative emotions such as anxiety and stress, to console yourself when you are sad, to occupy time in moments of boredom or to enjoy a pleasant experience as a reward. Finally, you eat to introduce the necessary foods to ensure the right nutritional supply to the body.

In the so-called current “wellness society”, characterized by the abundance of different types of food, the possibility of eating continuously, exceeding in greater quantities than necessary, together with the pursuit of models of beauty and physical perfection, has produced a hyper focus attention to food as an “enemy to avoid”.

Added to this is the media and advertising bombardment present on the net which, offering food advice and protocols, in addition to creating a context of greater information and knowledge, has the paradoxical effect of producing false beliefs and myths about nutrition, not based on scientific foundations (Garano et al, 2016).

This mechanism which had on the one hand the effect of increasing the obsession with a diet based on “right” dishes and on the subdivision of foods into “good and bad” and on the other led to the spreading, starting from the years eighties of the twentieth century, of restrictive food practices such as the low-carbohydrate “ketogenic diet”, the “low-calorie diet” which provides a lower daily energy intake than that required by the body, such as for example in Weight Watchers and in the Zona, the low-fat “macrobiotic diet”, the “raw food diet” which involves the consumption of unprocessed foods, often from organic food, the “dissociated diet” which is based on a rigid association of various foods,the “Dukan” with high protein content up to the “intermittent fasting”.

Getting lost in this labyrinth is really easy, especially if you are not a specialist in the sector and, within this context, the borderline between healthy and pathological food regimes becomes increasingly blurred as in the case of orthorexia and vigoressia.

Both disorders develop internally in an environmental context which reinforces the idea of ​​healthy eating and which culturally accepts the pursuit of an ideal of beauty that can lead to initially mistaking the onset of this pathology with a way to improve the their health and correct incorrect eating behaviors.

Both orthorexia and vigorexia are based on a lifestyle marked by the pursuit of a strict nutritional regime but, while orthorexia rests on the obsession with healthy eating that leads the subject to spend a lot of time thinking about food, which foods to avoid, to select and prepare them in order to maintain a good health condition, vigorexia regards the obsession with perfect fitness achieved through the use of a hyper-protein diet and the exercise, in order to obtain hypertrophic musculature.

Advertising message In both diseases, food and sports practices are used to define a sense of identity and belonging to the group, to give consistency to the self but at the same time, due to self-control and the strict food discipline that they require, they tend to distance the individual from the community, leading him to social isolation and compromising his working life. Self-esteem thus becomes secondary to the maintenance of physical fitness or diet which, if followed correctly, leads to a sense of superiority compared to the others but has as a downside, the heightening of feelings of guilt and discomfort when you ” He fails “. And while in orthorexia these emotions lead the person to follow increasingly restricted diets as a self-punitive gesture,

Some have defined these attitudes as a form of “food fanaticism” which, by bringing attention to focus solely on nutrition, impoverishes the complexity of reality, involves fleeing from real problems and leads to finding refuge in a single achievable purpose: food . The food thus becomes a “sacred” element, chosen not for the taste it produces on the palate but on the basis of the qualities and benefits it can bring based on ethical-diatetic ideals. Nutrition takes on a form of “religiosity” becoming a guide of precepts and behaviors to follow in order to silence fears and insecurities. This fundamentalism, which highlights the importance of pure and uncontaminated foods, allows to concentrate the anxieties about the future on the plate and in the food,

This brings us to the great paradox of these rigid and restrictive dietary regimes which, starting from the idea of ​​wanting to preserve health, through the use of healthy foods and physical activity, come to deplete it Orto involving nutritional imbalances and medical complications whose consequences, too often, they are underestimated by the “new age of food”.

The teaching that can be drawn is what the ancients had already learned and which Aristotle explains well in the Nicomachian Ethics “assuming that excess and defect ruin perfection, the middle way safeguards it” which translated into a more psychological language consists in ‘have a flexible approach in all contexts of life, including nutrition, because excessive rigidity is one of the alarm bells of pathology.