Sunday, 15 May 2016

Healthy food, healthy mind?

It's been a while since I spoke about food on this blog so this post is probably very overdue, and also sparked by a recent conversation with my friend Nicole, and the post written by Ruby Tandoh (which you can read here).

Before I start, I am all for living a healthy lifestyle. I love vegan and plant based dishes, fruits, vegetables, nut butters and wholegrains. I love smoothies or porridge for breakfast, courgetti noodles or baked sweet potato for dinner. I love cacao and dark chocolate or banana with nut butter. However, I also love creme eggs, reese's peanut butter cups, hot chocolate and stone baked pizza, and no I don't really feel bad for eating the latter.

Unless you are living under a rock, you are probably very aware of the wellness, clean eating, raw, gluten free [insert any other similar term here] food craze which has dominated society for a good few years now. I'm sure we've all heard of Deliciously Ella, Madeleine Shaw, the Hemsley sisters and Amelia Freer - just a few of the leading 'wellness' experts. Now, whilst I do love trying some of their recipes, even I have to acknowledge that this way of eating is yet again, another restrictive fad.

Following a 'wellness' diet, usually focuses on following a plant based diet. Blending, spiralizing, juicing.. we know the drill. And you know what, it is actually really great for your body. Eating this way will probably give you a sh*t tonne of energy and yes, you'll probably lose weight if you're going from a fast food laden lifestyle to this.

HOWEVER, is this really good for our brains? Is following a inflexible lifestyle which restricts you to certain foods, really something that should be advocated?

You've all heard of anorexia and bulimia, right? Well what about Orthorexia? I know I've mentioned it before but Orthorexia is defined as this..

Obsessive focus on “healthy” eating, as defined by a dietary theory or set of beliefs whose specific details may vary; marked by exaggerated emotional distress in relationship to food choices perceived as unhealthy; weight loss may ensue, but this is conceptualized as an aspect of ideal health rather than as the primary goal.  As evidenced by the following:
  1. Compulsive behavior and/or mental preoccupation regarding affirmative and restrictive dietary practices believed by the individual to promote optimum health.
  2. Violation of self-imposed dietary rules causes exaggerated fear of disease, sense of personal impurity and/or negative physical sensations, accompanied by anxiety and shame. 
  3. Dietary restrictions escalate over time, and may come to include elimination of entire food groups and involve progressively more frequent and/or severe “cleanses” (partial fasts) regarded as purifying or detoxifying. This escalation commonly leads to weight loss, but the desire to lose weight is absent, hidden or subordinated to ideation about healthy food.
So basically, Orthorexia is the preoccupation with 'healthy' or 'clean foods'. 

Does that not sound a little bit like the wellness and clean eating phenomena? 

I'm not saying that we can blame the rise in eating disorders entirely on this phenomena, but it certainly wouldn't surprise me if the two were linked in some way. Restricting anything usually leads to the rise in guilt and shame, if we go and break those rules or restrictions. Guilt and shame then leads to anxiety, body hating, self loathing etc.. you get the idea. By naming certain foods 'clean' we are then assuming that everything else is dirty or bad which again causes more guilt! But actually, these 'clean' foods aren't always necessarily better for us.

For example, a pet hate of mine at the moment is the current gluten free fad that people have rapidly jumped onto. Gluten free bread, pasta, cakes etc are brilliant IF YOU ACTUALLY HAVE COELIAC DISEASE. For the rest of us, we don't need to cut this out of our diets at all. In fact, opting for something that is gluten free, probably means opting for something with more chemicals because how else do you think they create a similar flavour?!

I think the thing with being healthy and well, actually depends on the individual. Healthy minds don't come from clean eating, they come from being able to eat what you want and know when you've had enough. They come from being able to sit around the dinner table with your family, laughing and joking about the day instead of inspecting exactly what's on your plate. What's healthy for you, probably isn't healthy for me, and you know what? That's 100% OK. We are all individual with different bodies and needs, different likes and dislikes. 

So, if clean eating, raw or gluten free isn't for you - well, I think that's more than OK, don't you?


Sorcha MacK said...

I think the best way to be healthy really is what you want in moderation and moving as much as you can. Simple but works.

Unknown said...

This post is brilliant! I actually have history with eating disorders and I suffered orthorexia myself a few years back, I definitely agree that being too focused on wellness is destructive - balance is definitely key!

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