Health nut neurosis

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

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

  1. I'm sick and want to be well, so I will make the changes that have to be made. That is the pragmatist speaking.
  2. Drat, I am sick, but I just cannot or won't make those changes to become fit again. The denialist is at work.
  3. I'm sick, and there is nothing to be done. The depressive can be the most difficult.

There's a fourth, which is less common, but very significant; the neurotic person.

We are all nuts.

This page was last updated by Bernard Preston on 16th July, 2021.

The 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; no one can gainsay it. I'm fatigued, sore or get dizzy if I eat this, or do not have that vitamin, or mineral pill,; then I get these horrible cramps or some other symptom.

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

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 something else; anti-social behaviour.

Health nut neurosis

Health nut neurosis describes how an over-riding passion about nutritious 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 have hurt my back and I should not sit; I have got diarrhoea, or I am running a fever.

But always it's for a period and the sensible, legitimate withdrawal is characterized by a return to normal interaction with society, usually within days or weeks.

It is indeed a domain fraught with difficulties.

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

Would you on occasion have a slice of white toast? I wouldn't; it is completely tasteless and boring.

I personally will not eat at a McDonald's restaurant. Am I neurotic? To a degree, perhaps yes; and I abhor margarine. Or, at least I do my level best to avoid it. 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 of hard liquor, 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 becoming disabled, or dying, or suffering unnecessarily from great pain.

Sometimes we feed off our illness though; oddly, it seems occasionally to fulfill a hidden need. The obese person, who knows they are in for great pain, perhaps a total knee replacement, and huge cost but simply can't ring in the changes that are needed. It makes no sense.

Those changes might to some of us seem simple enough. Stop smoking or die; is it easy? Certainly not. Start walking daily or lose a foot from your diabetes. Eat foods rich in lutein or anticipate getting macular degeneration.

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 have made a call to move steadily towards abundant 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 is the message for me), enjoy a white roll occasionally and have a beer periodically without guilt or apprehension; but steadily move towards the wellness living tips you read about here at this site. That is 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 cleanly.

Like all diseases, there's often a fine line between what is an illness and wholeness, 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 sensibly; that's good. But tomorrow you find yourself with an extreme preoccupation with avoiding foods perceived to be bad for you; that could be gluten, meat, or dairy. Or something else entirely that is your own particular aversion.

Provided that perception of good food 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 because of an imbalance in amino acids, for example, or a deficiency of say vitamin B12.

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? What about gluten?

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 sensible. 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?


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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. They love the patient suffering from health nut neurosis.

Is there a doctor, or health food adviser, benefiting unduly from your diet? Is there someone selling sickness to you?

On a personal note

I myself will not drink colas, or eat white bread and margarine. I'm reluctant to eat cookies and chocolate cake. Does that mean I am on the verge of orthorexia nervosa? Am I suffering from health nut neurosis? It's a fine line.

The only one of the six considerations above that might affect me 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, though you might want to add the time spent enjoying these wonderful foods.

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

Speaking of nuts

Nuts should certainly be up there in your list of important foods; for example there is strong research of the correlation between walnuts and blood pressure.

Bernard Preston

Bernard Preston is a semi-retired DC, author of six published books and passionate about tasty choice foods, green living, and something of a solar guru to boot. He often wonders if he is on the verge of suffering from health nut neurosis. 

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