March 3, 2018

Where's the Line Between Eating Clean and Eating Disorder?

At first glance, this is a lovely health promotion message. It's
only when we get into labelling food "good" or "bad" that it
can turn sinister.  Labelling foods this way may not appear
harmful, but can, as I'm seeing in many young people, lead
to a disordered relationship with food.  There is no such thing
as a bad food.  Unless we start seeing trends in eating dirt or
unfiltered swamp water as a way to health. That's just nasty.
 I had the most delightful conversation with someone this week who was all about the fitness training (muscle building) and whole foods "clean" eating.  She was in her teens and reported that a parent had gotten her interested in high intensity training when she was 13 (another post for another time).  Although she loved training she was finding that the more she focused on her nutrition, the less she ate (and the more she obsessed about it).

Her calorie counting was taking over her day while her fear of putting anything "bad" into her mouth was causing much anxiety and getting in the way of her living a normal life.  I was pretty impressed by the amount of self-awareness she had for such a young person (and one so immersed in the fitness culture).  When I had asked her to define what a "bad" food meant to her she listed all processed, high sugar, and refined carbohydrates; like any good health promoter.  Her list of "good" foods included whole and healthy foods like vegetables, legumes, fish, and the like.  Seriously? Who was I to argue?

So there I am in agreement with her list, but strongly opposed to labelling foods as good or bad, while trying to envision that line in the sand, once crossed, can lead us into disordered eating and even eating disorders.  Is it even possible to place such a focused on eating "cleanly" while keeping a healthy sense of self and body intact? Speaking from my own experience, I know I have crossed that line many times and had to pull my self back (and my head out of my ass) to avoid going down that very slippery slope.
Here's a Pinterest clip I found the other day.  You look
at the foods in the background and they look perfectly
healthy.  Yet the signage is all about losing fat fast.  Unless
the focus is on health (versus losing fat) you are playing
with fire..and will only find those missing pounds again
once you reject the diet...which is inevitable.  

I check out Pinterest and all I see are half naked, tanned, and ripped bodies touting will power and self control (and even suggesting that fat can cry) and these role models for health and fitness are influencing young people to 'eat clean".  So if "eating clean" comes with a look and a lifestyle, perhaps this health promotion message should also come with a warning (like on a packs of smokes).

Caution: A concentrated focus on healthy eating can lead to eating disorders, exercise addiction, and a nasty body image.

Or maybe I'm making a mountain out of a mole hill?

That's all I got.

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