When Does Dieting or “Better Health” Become Destructive? Part II

By Gina V. on 11/29/2005
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RollerLast week I submitted a post with the title, “When Does Dieting or “Better Health” Become Destructive?, not really intending it to be a two-part post. But I’ve spent the past week thinking about the comment posted by Jenny (“I have often been worried that my own attitude towards food could easily turn into something obsessive…”), and I think examining the ideas about food, our bodies and eating in light of what Green Mountain stands for would be useful. Green Mountain offers women a healthy weight loss programme that empowers women to take charge of their health, their lives.

First, something about intent or context. When you see articles published on this blog that describe the destructive effects of dieting on self-esteem, body image, confidence and overall health, it’s with the intent to show that recommendations to “diet to lose weight” (which is interpreted as “lose weight by any means”) due to an arbitrary and increasingly discredited measure such as BMI rarely, if ever, produces the desired result. Unless, that is, the desired result is a more hostile relationship with your body, less muscle mass, and the first dip in what will be come a rollercoaster ride of lows and highs of body weight.

Secondly, we try to bring a context to the idea of the pendulum swings of attitude that dieters inculcate as they begin to think about food and their body in terms of “good” and “bad” (“I only ate “good” food today, therefore I am “good”) and spotlight the subtle insanity that is foisted onto women, things that start as concepts, grow to opinions, and become mega-sized “facts” after a while (“I have to eat NOTHING to lose weight,” “I can’t exercise because I can’t do it perfectly” “If I do everything perfect, everything and everyone will fall into place and THEN I’ll have time to worry about myself”).

Everyone has read one day how food item x can be a great source of y, and then picked up the papers the next day to find out that food item x might just kill you. Rather than inform or shed light on the situation, these two seemingly conflicting reports as you hear them in their sound bite formula, most likely come from the same “scientific” study, and probably have nothing to do with you!

For example, food x might be a great source of something that you don’t need AND it might be dangerous for those that live 14,000 feet above sealevel. So unless you’re willing to subscribe to the professional journals where this information is sound bite-itized from, you’ll never really know what to make out of this, so you ignore it, which is really the right thing to do. But a side effect of that is that you do nothing about your health behaviors that will make a difference (such as reducing stress, having a balanced meal that makes you feel good when you finish, and going for a walk) because you have been implanted with the idea that “none of this matters, I might as well ignore the whole thing.” This is my beef (pun intended) with the latest and greatest “breakthroughs” that we hear about – it leads to inertia and disempowerment.

It would grieve me greatly if any information that I posted would lead to the same feelings – this is about empowerment, feeling that you are the captain of your own ship! Not the same old fat farm or weight loss boot camp or the Biggest Loser weight loss approach of all-or-nothing dieting. The attached article is about what happens when healthy eating – or the obsession with it – becomes unhealthy…the purpose is not to scare you away from whole grains, fruits and vegetables, but to help you see that without moderation, the quest for “health” can become just another unhealthy swing of that pendulum.

If these posts DO make you question negative beliefs about yourself, or help you to stop being lead astray by media reports, or feel less scared about the “obesity crisis,” then I’m very pleased! I’d like to hear from you about your feelings – if you feel more uncertain about what you’re doing after reading this, empowered, overwhelmed, whatever.

Now if you’re sufficiently prepared, you can read on about the latest side-effect of “healthy eating” – orthorexia as described in this article, “Parents’ health food fads ‘make children ill’”

Parents’ health food fads ‘make children ill’
by FIONA MACRAE, Daily Mail

09:02am 14th October 2005

Children pushed into health fixations by parents

Diet-obsessed parents are bringing up children with a dangerous

fixation with healthy eating, experts have warned. Youngsters are

being pushed into eating only the ‘purest’ foods, creating eating

disorders in children as young as nine.

Eating disorder expert Dr Steve Bratman said a growing number of

youngsters are eating such a limited amount of sugar, fat, salt and

artificial additives that they are in danger of seriously damaging

their health.

Slavishly following such a strict diet, deficient in vital nutrients

and vitamins, can lead to stomach upsets, headaches, skin problems and

irritable bowel syndrome. In the most severe cases, sufferers can end

up starving themselves to death. Last year, Dr Bratman, who coined the

term orthorexia, warned that British adults were suffering from the

condition.

Now, the Colorado-based doctor, who runs an orthorexia website, has

revealed he is receiving growing numbers of e-mails from British children.

He believes many of the youngsters are picking up their fixation from

their health-obsessed parents.

Dr Bratman told The Big Issue Magazine: “Sometimes it is clearly a

parent who has given them the idea but at other times it is the

culture at large. “I get a lot of e-mails from kids in the UK and the

level of writing in these e-mails frequently astonishes me. Some of

them are terribly painful to read.

“The youngest was nine but the most painful was written by a

12-year-old. Generally they contact me without their parents’ knowledge.

“Interest in healthy food as opposed to a healthy or attractive weight

creates an overreaction. The most important message is that extremes

are unhealthy.” He added that orthorexia is different to anorexia, in

which victims are desperate to lose weight no matter how thin they become.

“Like other eating disorders, the issue is with obsession,” he said.

“But what is unusual about orthorexia is that it is an obsession about

improving your health.”

Dietary experts believe an obsession-with diet in wider society -

exemplified by the popularity of TV series such as Fat Families and

You Are What You Eat – is at the heart of the problem.

Deanne Jade, of the National Eating Disorders Centre, said: “There is

a lot of anxiety about weight and the drip-feed of messages about

foods and health may mean children develop a distorted relationship

with food and later develop an orthorexic way of eating.

“We are living in the kind of society where we are asked to take

control of ourselves – diet is always being evaluated due to this

pressure.

“I think children now are growing up very much at risk of orthorexia.”

 

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