Saturday, April 6, 2013

The Lost Art of Orthorexia

Speaking of all this food, my friend Marina pointed out that I have comics on the subject that are topical again. I’d totally forgotten about them, and my old comic blog, but I think it’s time to give them another airing.

I have great fondness for these drawings. I made them almost 5 years ago, as I was settling into Philly, and getting over the worst of my food-anxiety through cathartic cartooning. Sometimes you encounter something you made in the past with a disturbing bolt of recognition, and all you can think is, "Yup, that's what it was like, all right. That's me."

About the time I finished these, I ran across an old acquaintance in the New York Times. It's always strange when that happens, particularly when two unrelated people you know are mentioned in the same article. One was a boutique nutritionist I had been to in Massachusetts, and the other was Dr. Steven Bratman, the father of my long-lost childhood best friend, Claire. As a naturopathic doctor in the late 80s, Steven was always a hippie on the cutting edge, and now he was getting famous for naming a brand-new post-millennial eating disorder: “Orthorexia,” the unhealthy obsession with eating only pure and healthy foods.

What is the deal with eating disorders and irony? The wealthiest countries are the ones who starve themselves, the most put-together perfectionists vomit all over themselves, and the single-minded pursuit of physical health destroys your physical health, through that tricky back door of your brain. I got really excited that the guy who mowed mazes into his yard and directed an epic first-grade production of “The Wizard of Oz" in his living room had now identified an eating disorder I'd struggled with for years. I thought about contacting him and showing him how I'd illustrated his disease, but I never did. He probably would've liked to hear from me, but it was one of those plans whose moment passes, and the next health problem distracts you from.

One childhood memory the good doctor probably doesn't know about: Claire and I were both raised in strictly health-conscious households, where sugar was a rare and special event. Therefore, sugar was all we wanted. Whenever we were given sweets, by strangers or on "treat nights” by our parents, we would squirrel them away in our rooms. I used to draw maps to where the candy was hidden on sticky notes, then hide the maps in my closet. My discipline was military; I never ate the candy. Every few months, when we'd stockpiled enough, I would sneak it out in a basket covered with My Little Ponies, and Claire and I would have a wild sugar-orgy of a slumber party. It was probably the most disgusting form of sugar we could ingest: rock-hard gummy bears, graying chocolate, stale Halloween candy and sugar cubes and Easter decorations. I don't remember the copious vomiting, but when I saw Claire for the last time, when we were teenagers, she assured me that copious vomiting was an integral part of the experience. I remember these mostly as really fun nights.

Here are the comics:


  1. Love the comics!! The bug eyes make me laugh. My sister and a lot of people in her circles have orthorexia, and I used to, too. Happy not to be in that phase now. :)

  2. Hey AJ,

    I meant to get back to you yesterday, when I got your first message. I spent a lot of time reading your blog, and I'm incredibly impressed by your story. You've been through so much, more than I have with this illness, for sure, and you are able to stay calm and positive and write about it with disarming honesty. If you want to make Internet friend, please keep in touch. I'm glad that you seem to be progressing towards health; so am I.

    Take care,


  3. Hi Lee,

    Thanks! I read through your whole blog and was really impressed by your humour. I totally lack dry humour in my writing... maybe I can learn from you. It would be awesome to stay in touch. I'm pretty much done with Facebook, but I'm going to get on Google Plus when I manage to figure it out. :)