From Keto and Clean Eating to Veganism and Raw Food diets, there is a new eating “regime” for every day of the week. I can’t go anywhere now without overhearing a conversation about keto, juicing, or whole foods eating. Everyone has a diet and everyone feels the need to talk about it. I have spent over 12 years reading every book on every new way of eating and have even integrated some recipes and foods into my own way of eating as a way to reduce my risk of chronic diseases (and for me and my family line….dementia). I understand the research and appreciate the new ways of understanding about food as a medicine in many ways. BUT…are all of these diets just another fancy word for eating disorder?
As a counsellor working with people challenged with disordered eating, my practice is growing in leaps and bounds as 1 or 2 new clients come in each week to gain insights into their eating habits, their body image, or their unhealthy relationship with food. For each new person I meet, I become more aware that eating disorders are like shape shifters; they are different for everyone, but similar in so many ways. This week, one client started our talk with a very impactful statement that I have thought about ever since. She said, “any way of eating that is limited to certain foods and excludes others is an eating disorder. This includes veganism, vegetarianism, and keto.”
That statement hit me like a bolt of electricity. She was right. No matter how you define a particular pattern of eating, if the diet demonizes one food over another, or has a list of strict food rules we must follow, or labels us as vegetarians, it’s an open door to establishing a troubled relationship with our food. We brand ourselves as “keto” or “vegan” or whatever and tend to strongly identify with how we eat. Moreover, when we identify so strongly with our eating habits, we also tend to judge those who don’t follow the same rules. Food, as I’ve noted before, is religion to many when, in reality, food is just food. Nothing more and nothing less. We eat it, we feed our bodies with it, we poop out the stuff we don’t need and we move on (in theory anyway).
I declared myself a vegetarian at the age of 12 when I watched a family friend funnel meat through a meat grinder. That was it. I was done with meat. After a while, I became anemic and wasn’t getting what I needed in my diet so I slowly went back to adding a bit of meat here and there. Then I became adverse to bread, pasta, rice and then sugar, alcohol, and processed food. Standing back, you may think that’s great! What a healthy way of eating. Overtime, however, it just got irritating. I love wine, I love bread, I enjoy a plate of pasta now and then. By placing restrictive rules on myself, I wasn’t allowing myself to enjoy these foods – and in moderation – these foods are friendly (although after saying that, there’s nothing wrong with eating a whole loaf of freshly made bread over a weekend…no judgement).
I’ve worked as a personal fitness trainer and kinesiologist in gyms for 25 years. I’ve worked in health promotion education leading courses on nutritional psychology and I’ve drank the cool-aid (albeit sugar free) many times over. Now that I’m working in clinical psychology, I am able to see how our exercise and eating regimes are more sinister than they are health affirming. We need to celebrate the Twinkie on occasion (okay, maybe not a Twinkie if that grosses you out, but you get the idea). We need to enjoy a mess of nachos with friends as a good health practice (research suggests that social connection is paramount to a long and healthy life…and I suggest nachos are a good way to support that).
Finally, I’ll leave you with a comment someone made to me as I was complaining about the lack of interest in my binge eating support group and intuitive eating book club programs I’m offering. She suggested that perhaps disordered eating has become so normalized now, that people don’t see it as a problem.
….and that just made me sad…so I had a piece of carrot cake (not that I’m advocating for emotional eating…just sayin’)