Friday, 26 February 2016

When Eating Healthy Turns Into Eating Disorder

Ben Sit,
Registered Dietitian at The Sports Clinic.

With the New Year now behind us, it’s time to take a second look at those resolutions targeting improvements in diet and lifestyle.  For the past decade, healthy eating has been a real trend and in the beginning, as a dietitian, I couldn’t have been more excited!  Unfortunately the focus on healthy eating took a turn for the worse when more and more healthcare practitioners identified increases in Orthorexia Nervosa, a medical condition where people reach the point of obsession with foods that they consider to be healthy. The condition may also be amplified by the complete avoidance of foods that an individual considers “unhealthy”.  While discovery of this condition is recent, I have seen it many times in my own practice and my professional colleagues agree that the numbers are climbing drastically.  There are many theories out there on why this is happening.

One contributing factor to the rise of this condition may be the broad expansion of Social Media.  Everyone seems to be an expert in nutrition to the point where “Instagram Models,” Fitness Models and Personal Trainers are giving out nutrition tips that are wildly unfounded in research or logic.

Societies have always established a poor connection with how someone’s body looks and their knowledge of nutrition.  An individual’s success in reaching their own body objective (“… six foot four and full of muscles”) does not typically lend credence to their expertise in the science of nutrition.  In the competitive Physique world there is a real juxtaposition between a focus on heathy eating and activity when compared to practices that sometimes involve anabolic steroids and other pharmaceutical methods used to achieve the target body aesthetic.  Healthy?  Perhaps not.

A second thought for the rise in Orthorexia Nervosa is the simultaneous rise of fad diets and the popularity of detox cleanses.  Paleo diets, Self-Diagnosed Gluten-Free, Veganism and Juicing are extremely strict ways of eating that have created a black-and-white culture of foods and their health value.  While not attacking these eating styles I bring this up to highlight a point; restrictive eating became much more popular and accepted with these diets and has been greatly fueled through social media and the internet. 

My third and final thought is the rise of extreme body image issues that have been exacerbated, once again, by social media and highly unrealistic expectations.  Advertising, fashion, music videos, peer pressure and even the fitness industry all combine to create an unsafe environment for anyone struggling with body image issues.  At times people turn to “healthy eating” as a means of taking control over these issues, to the point of obsession.  These pressures increasingly apply to a younger and more impressionable demographic, to the point where the obsession is used as a vehicle to express individuality.

I’m glad there’s increased interest in healthy eating and healthy living, but   I’m also pleased that there are more and more people speaking out about the dangers of implementation. 

True health is a balancing act.  Target a healthy and active lifestyle, but don’t obsess over an occasional side of fries or glass of wine.  You can champion locally grown food without insisting that everything you eat is sourced within 100 km.  You can target less red meat in your diet without necessarily becoming vegan.  Find the balance that works for you as an individual.  Step away from media and peer pressures and enjoy the happiness of achieving your own definition of health.

Eat well!

... Ben

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