The term ‘clean eating’ is an ever-increasing presence in social media and healthy eating blogs which has been around for a number of years now. Yet it is only recently that we have begun to understand how attaching morals to food can actually be harmful and lead to a negative relationship with food. In addition, people are becoming increasingly frustrated with the complicated and contradictory nature of healthy eating advice. The internet today is a vast maze of opposing information, opinions and advice regarding health and diet, which makes it frustrating, confusing and downright overwhelming for people to know how they should be eating.
“This then causes people to develop a detrimental relationship with food, in which food is the enemy and something to be suspicious and cautious towards. This is not a good way of life.”
Everyone seems to have a differing opinion of which foods fall under the elusive category of ‘clean’. Differing advice advocates eating only raw foods, going vegan, paleo, gluten free, sugar free, or eating low/no carbs. The fact is that all versions of ‘clean eating’ are actually various forms of fad diets, which place restrictions on certain foods or whole food groups. Like all diets, they are difficult to maintain on a long-term basis and often fail to be nutritionally complete. ‘Clean eating’ diets also result in people feeling like a failure for breaking the ‘rules’, which can lead to a cycle of restriction and binge eating, leading to shame and secrecy. This then causes people to develop a detrimental relationship with food, in which food is the enemy and something to be suspicious and cautious towards.
This is not a good way of life.
Orthorexia is a condition whereby a person is driven to eat in a way that they deem as being right or pure. It differs greatly from anorexia nervosa, in that the person does not wish to lose weight, but instead wishes to be ‘healthy’. While the goal to be healthy should herald a positive mindset, when taken to an obsessive level it can be not only harmful, but fatal. People who suffer from orthorexia begin to restrict more and more foods deemed ‘not healthy’. Slowly the list of foods which are acceptable can dwindle to a handful of things, such as carrot sticks and tuna. The person with orthorexia is convinced that they need to avoid transgressing at all costs, in order to ‘perfect’ their diet, as only then will they avoid sickness or illness or ageing, or whatever they fear eating the ‘wrong’ foods will lead to.
“While there is nothing wrong with wanting to have a healthy and nutritious diet, it is good to be mindful that overly obsessing on these things can have a negative impact on both our mental and physical health.”
It is important to be aware of the warning signs of orthorexia, which include:
spending multiple hours per day thinking about food,
restricting certain foods or food groups despite the absence of any allergy or intolerance,
experiencing feelings of great stress and anxiety when transgressing from eating foods deemed as ‘healthy’.
While there is nothing wrong with wanting to have a healthy and nutritious diet, it is good to be mindful that overly obsessing on these things can have a negative impact on both our mental and physical health. Orthorexia culminates in a self-punishing relationship with food, in which the person’s emotional sanity and wellbeing is controlled by the foods around them.
Social media has made food and being healthy over-complicated. We need to get back to the basics on how we view food. We should be eating a variety of foods each day which are as close to their natural form as possible. This means that the less processing, refining and adding of other ingredients and chemicals to our food, the more ‘alive’ it will be, and the more intact of nutrients, minerals and enzymes. It is alarming how many patients I see who are afraid of real foods and tend to avoid them from confusion, while consuming copious amounts of processed foods from a packet. All fruits and vegetables contain health benefits and should be included in our diet every day, whether we prefer them raw, steamed, baked or stir-fried.
“Social media has made food and being healthy over-complicated. We need to get back to the basics on how we view food.”
The more variety and colour we include in our diet each day, the more nutrients we will be giving our bodies. It’s important to include foods from all of the food groups, as each contains different nutrients and trace elements we need to thrive. Of course, there are reasons that some people may choose to cut out certain foods or food groups, such as adhering to a vegetarian diet on moral grounds, or avoiding gluten or dairy because of an intolerance. When necessary to cut out certain foods, it’s important to replace any missing nutrients. It’s also important to be aware that following someone you admire on social media who recommends eating a specific way, doesn’t mean you should change your diet. Do the research on people whose dietary advice you read. Are they actually accredited as a dietitian or nutritionist? Do they have another motive for trying to promote this way of eating such as being sponsored by a company or branding?
“We need to learn to be friends to ourselves and our bodies, to listen to our internal cues regarding hunger and fullness, and allow ourselves to have that piece of cake from time to time.”
To summarise, being healthy should mean eating a balanced and nutritious diet, while also enjoying life, being grateful for what we have and cultivating a positive relationship with food and eating. We need to learn to be friends to ourselves and our bodies, to listen to our internal cues regarding hunger and fullness, and allow ourselves to have that piece of cake from time to time. Food and eating should be a positive and nurturing part of our daily life, and not something that leaves us feeling anxious and fearful. If you are feeling conflicted and confused about what you should be eating for your health, it may be a good idea to see a registered dietitian who can sit down with you and offer dietary assessment and one-on-one support.
About the author:
Michelle Allen is an Adelaide-based Accredited Dietitian/Nutritionist. She is very passionate about the importance of good food and nutrition in order to nurture, nourish and care for our body, mind and spirit. She has a strong desire to make a positive difference in people’s lives and to use her knowledge of nutrition and its impact on health, particularly in the area of chronic disease. Michelle’s decision to become a dietitian was due to her love of good food, health, well being and wanting to strive to become as educated as possible to make a positive impact on people's lives.
Her philosophy is to get back to basics and incorporate plant-based wholefoods in as close to their original form as possible, full of freshness, colour and taste. Good food is not only important for the body, but the heart and mind. It's also such an important part of our daily lives, family, relationships and traditions,
so let’s give it the importance it deserves!