Health nut neurosis

Health nut neurosis warns us of the danger of going crazy about food.

By Bernard Preston

There are three common responses to a sudden decline in health.

  1. I'm sick and want to be well, so I'll make the changes that have to be made. That's the pragmatist.
  2. I'm sick, damn it, but I just can't or won't make those changes to be healthy again. The denialist is at work.
  3. I'm sick, and there's nothing to be done. The depressive can be the most difficult.

There's a fourth, which is less common, but very significant. The neurotic.

The health nut neurotic faces the danger of exchanging a physical ailment, real or imagined, and replacing it with a mental illness.

The illness is characterised by having no measurable parameters. So no one can gainsay the illness. I'm fatigued, I'm sore, if I eat this, or don't have that vitamin, or mineral pill, then I get these horrible...

And of course there are many people suffering from these exact symptoms from real complaints.

The key sign is usually a withdrawal from what we might call reality.  I can't go to the restaurant, or have supper with them because they might have used butter, or old oils for deep frying, or sugar, or tartrazine, or... anti-social behaviour.

Health nut neurosis

Health nut neurosis describes how an over riding passion about healthy choice foods can lead to orthorexia nervosa.

Legitimate withdrawal

And of course there is a place for withdrawal for a variety of reasons, but it's for a season. I've hurt my back, and I shouldn't sit... I've got diarrhoea, I'm running a fever... but always, it's for a season, and the healthy, legitmate withdrawal is characterised by a return to normal interaction with society.

A domain fraught with difficulties.

The healthnut neurosis is all to do with degree. Is  it okay to have a coke very occasionally? An slice of very rich black forest cake?

I personally WON'T eat at McDonalds. Am I neurotic? To a degree, perhaps yes. And I WON'T eat margarine. Or, at least I do my damndest to avoid them. I will break down now and again and have french fries, even when I can smell the oil hasn't been changed for a week.

And where do we draw the line? I won't have a cigarette, a drink, a snort of cocaine...

The chronically ill

But the chronically sick person, has to engage their illness, and make changes, uncomfortable though they may be.  The type 2 denialist just ends up being disabled, or dying, or suffering great pain.

Sometimes we feed off our illness though; oddly, it seems ocassionally to fulfill a hidden need. The obese person, who knows they are in for great pain, a total knee replacement, and huge cost but simply can't ring in the changes that are needed.

Those changes might to some of us seem simple enough. Stop smoking or die; is it easy? Certainly not. Start walking daily or go blind from your diabetes.

Start eating a salad and fruit or suffer from the ravages of the subclinical malnutrition that is the cause of a host of serious diseases; oh, that's far too much schlep.

Change without neurosis

At this site I've made a call to move steadily towards healthy living. Because if you're not going to look after the bod, where are you planning to live?

But let's do it without health nut neurosis. Go to fast foods restaurants now and then (that's for me!), enjoy a white roll occasionally, have a beer periodically, without guilt or apprehension,  but steadily move towards the healthy living tips you read about here at That's if you want to sit under the trees you once planted, and enjoy watching your grandchildren grow up.

Orthorexia nervosa

Orthorexia nervosa is the medical term for the health nut. It's an obsessive compulsive disorder, alongside anorexia, but characterised by a fetish with eating clean.

Like all diseases, there's often a fine line between what is an illness and health, especially in the early stages. Take DM for example. An obese person has raised blood sugar, but not yet to the extent of being labelled diabetic. Tomorrow it could be quite different.

So it is with orthorexia nervosa. Today you want to eat healthily; that's good. But tomorrow you find yourself with an extreme preoccupation with avoiding foods perceived to be unhealthy.

Provided that perception of healthy foods remains correct, the illness remains in the domain of the mind. But sometimes the person's understanding of what is pure becomes twisted; then it can lead to malnutrition too.

Usually it involves those foods that remain controversial. Are tea and coffee bad? Are dairy foods only for babies? Which is the bad boy, margarine or butter? Are starches like new potatoes and freshly picked corn on the cob bad?

Often there's also an obsession with taking the many supplements on the market too. This makes such a person prey to doctors who peddle these products.

Key signs are:

  • Do your dietary considerations make it difficult to eat out with family and friends, because there might be this or that in the food, or what they might say?
  • Do you have feelings of guilt or even self-loathing if you indulge in one of your forbidden foods?
  • Has the quality of your life suffered as a result of your new dietary restrictions?
  • Have you lost a significant amount of weight? More than is clearly healthy. Is you BMI below 20?
  • Do you spend more than three hours a day thinking about healthy food?
  • Are you taking a bucket load of supplements?

Selling sickness

Health care in general feeds off the chronically ill; mostly it's with good intentions, but the greed factor prevails throughout and, when CEOs of big pharmaceutical companies open their mouths a little too wide, we the public know we always have to be on guard. Selling sickness; does it affect chiropractic too?

Is there a doctor, or health food adviser, benefiting unduly from your diet?

On a personal note...

I myself won't drink colas, or eat white bread and margarine. I'm reluctant to eat cookies and chocolate cake. Does that mean I'm on the verge of orthorexia nervosa? It's a fine line!

The only one of the six considerations above is spending three hours a day thinking about food. Yesterday I spent five minutes baking our healthy low GI bread, two minutes squeezing the four citrus fruits drink, one hour planting leeks, and perhaps half an hour picking spinach for eggs Florentine, lettuce for lunch and broccoli for dinner. Even that is less than three hours, even if you add the time spent enjoying these health foods.

Be your own judge, but do be on guard; there's no point becoming neurotic about your food but, unless we have concerns about the crap dished up by the food companies, we cannot possibly reach a healthy, vital eighty with all our marbles intact.

Bernard Preston

Bernard Preston is a semi-retired chiropractor, author of six published books and passionate about healthy choice foods, green living and something of a solar guru.

Health nut neurosis

» » Health nut neurosis

Did you find this page interesting? How about forwarding it to a friend, or book and food junkie. Or, better still, Face Book or Twitter it. 

Ignore: EU law insists even though we do not use cookies that we place the following on our site. “Advertisers use cookies to personalise content and ads, to provide social media features and to analyse our traffic. They also share information from your device with their social media, advertising and analytics partners.”


56 Groenekloof Rd,

Hilton, KZN

South Africa


What's this site about?

Bernard Preston books

A family affair by Bernard Preston comes after the trilogy that starts with Frog in my Throat.

Consulting a chiropractor

Femoral nerve AP Xray from one of Bernard Preston's books.

Bernie's healthy choice foods

Cooking green beans Bernard Preston passion

Bernie's bread

Bread machine loaf by Bernard Preston

Bernie's garden

green beans and granadillas Bernard Preston

Bernie's bees

Bees workforce in Bernard Preston's garden

Bernie's chickens

Chickens for free range eggs.

Bernie's solar

Residential solar panels at Bernard Preston's home

Bernie's rainwater harvest

Harvesting rainwater to a reservoir in the garden means a steady supply that is unpolluted by environmental toxins.