Orthorexia Nervosa is a term that was coined in 1996 by San Francisco-based physician Steven Bratman, to describe the obsession with eating foods that one considers healthy.
Since then, he has been involved with raising awareness around the issue, which became known to a much wider audience in 2015, when popular blogger Jordan Younger (The Balanced Blonde) revealed she was fighting with orthorexia, making headlines in fitness and lifestyle magazines. In her book, Breaking Vegan: One Woman's Journey from Veganism, Extreme Dieting, and Orthorexia to a More Balanced Life, she unfolds her experience and recovery with hopes to inspire others.
Today, orthorexia is widely considered an eating disorder. Health experts are debating its full clinical diagnosis and formal recognition.
Designer Marina Mellado investigated the topic as part of her Masters project, collaborating with Bratman and Stella Stathi in London. Neurogastronomy is a three-step tableware project, designed to support patients fighting against orthorexia. In contrast to other eating disorders, orthorexia is a paradox: the patient is convinced that their health conscious eating habits are correct. But, in fact, their confidence in ‘healthy eating’ results in malnutrition – with a wide range of consequences, including death in the worst cases. For example, an escalation from vegan to raw-vegan, to fruitarian, to an ‘apples-only’ diet would almost certainly cause severe impairment of bodily functionality. The opponents therapists battle are a tough: a radical sense of guilt and impurity, paired with self-imposed and deeply-rooted idealistic norms.
Marina saw a design opportunity in supporting the therapists in their long and delicate step-by-step journey. Her project, “[…] supports Cognitive Behavioural Therapy of this psychological condition by using high sensorial outputs and neurological procedures. By instilling subtle changes in objects, they challenge the users’ thoughts by allowing them to mirror their feelings and letting them resensitize the body to certain habits.”
The design components are a dish, a cutlery set and drinking pots, designed as a journey through three stages of awareness. The dish provides the user with control of the way they want to see their food, stimulating the ventromedial cortex and opening up conversation between the psychotherapist and the patient, facilitating the therapy process. The cutlery set intensifies flavours through retro-nasal olfaction. At this point, 75% of the therapy process is completed. Lastly, the drinking pots leverage on instant thinking and activate orthonasal smell, evolved to assign a short-term value to food.
“The language of each object has been carefully designed to be consistent with the universal nature of tableware. The pieces are subtlety modified with the intention of avoiding alarm or un-familiar feelings.”
- Marina Mellado