Junkfood Science: Food is good to eat

September 07, 2007

Food is good to eat

This news isn’t new, but may be a helpful and healthful reminder as young people head back to school and become inundated by “healthy eating” and “healthy weight” messages in their school cafeterias, math and science classes, gym periods, recess, and even on their report cards.

School kids are being taught that healthy eating means watching what they eat and eating low-fat, low-calorie, low-salt and sugar-free foods, primarily fruits and vegetables. “Bad” foods are to be enjoyed in moderation. But, as child development experts know, young people (and even those not so young) are overwhelmed by these nuances and are black and white thinkers, so concepts of moderation don’t compute. The healthy eating behaviors they’re being taught are indistinguishable from dieting behaviors, so it’s not surprising that increasing young people can’t tell the difference and are suffering the problems that come with these unnatural relationships with food and concerns over their bodies and health.

This story from the UK may be a valuable reminder for parents wanting to help their children and teens, and themselves, navigate today’s obsessions with the ‘right’ way to eat:

Are you Obsessed with Healthy Eating?

When does eating healthily become an unhealthy obsession? ... Think about it – fixating on the quality of our diets, and those of the people around us, has become a modern-day obsession. But for some, that obsession can become a disease, the new eating disorder, orthorexia nervosa. Coined relatively recently by U.S. doctor Steven Bratman, it means “fixation on righteous eating," and like other eating disorders it causes massive emotional distress and becomes such a strong factor that it can impact badly on all aspects of your life, including your relationships, social life, work and of course, your physical health.

People with orthorexia are unable to eat anything without first calculating its health properties – Is it organic? Is it raw? Is it fat free? Is it vegan? Is it free of artificial colourants? The list, of course, depends on your own definition of healthy food... Orthorexia has nothing to do with wanting to be slim. And unlike other eating disorders, it affects men and women equally. People with orthorexia don’t think they are fat, they just want to feel natural, “pure,” perfect and in control by eating healthily. Extremely healthily. It seems so harmless, but orthorexia is nothing to scoff at, and there’s nothing healthy about becoming so obsessed with the quality of the food you put in your mouth that often you [restrict food choices or] put nothing in at all. Orthorexia can lead to starvation, malnutrition and wasting away to extremes similar to anorexia, and in turn the same scary health risks.

The article describes the health risks, as well the warning signs that you or a loved one may be running into trouble and be in need of help. Many of the danger signs are, sadly, becoming commonplace in our culture and the media, such as continual worry about the quality of food and seeing most food as dangerous and only natural foods as good or safe.

Helping our children enjoy ["enjoy" being the operative word] a wide variety of foods without fear or guilt is a healthful gift that will last them a lifetime.

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