'Carborexics': Crash Diet for the Planet

Extreme environmental behavior may be bad for one's mental health.

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A carbon footprint can be way harder to shrink than a waistline, but apparently obsessive dieters come in all shades. The New York Times coined a new green word last weekend (joining "locavore" and "flexitarian" on the list) with its article describing " carborexics." The term describes people so obsessed with shrinking their carbon footprint that they go to extremes, like hoarding trash or, in the case of Sharon Astyk, making their children sleep huddled in the same bed to conserve heat. Anita Lavine washed and reused the same plastic bag every day for a year, even when it contained soiled diapers.

To some mental health professionals, the compulsion to live green in the extreme can suggest a kind of disorder.

"If you can't have something in your house that isn't green or organic, if you can't eat at a relative's house because they don't serve organic food, if you're criticizing friends because they're not living up to your standards of green, that's a problem," said Elizabeth Carll, a psychologist in Huntington, N.Y., who specializes in anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorders.

Certainly there is no recognized syndrome in mental health related to the compulsion toward living a green life. But Dr. Jack Hirschowitz, a psychiatrist in private practice in Manhattan and a professor at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, said that certain carborexic behaviors might raise a red flag.

"The critical factor in determining whether something has reached the level of a disorder is if dysfunction is involved," he said. "Is it getting in the way of your ability to do a good job at work? Is it taking precedence over everything else in your relationships?"

Public relations firm Porter Novelli has a less clinical phrase to describe carborexics—they're "dark green." Or in the eyes of some of you, just plain crazy. What do you think: Is carborexia a mental condition or a noble way of living?

mental health

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