As a dietitian, I have seen and heard all sorts of eating tales. I’ve read over thousands of food records, have interviewed patients about their eating habits and food choices, and because of my profession, I am a keen observer of body shaming and disordered eating.
After attending my annual food and nutrition conference (presented by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics in Atlanta this year), I’m even more comfortable with the saying “diets don’t work.” In fact, according to a session presented by Dr. Michelle Neyman Morris and Dr. Dawn Clifford, while nutrition education is important, sole focus on weight management programs may inadvertently promote weight cycling, disordered eating, body dissatisfaction and weight stigma, all while failing to address health.
The associated guilt that comes with eating is a trend that I continue to see grow. I see people who may be “exercising off” their food, or restricting certain foods, or only allowing treats on special “cheat days.” Professionally many of my colleagues and I see this as disordered eating and have concern that these behaviors among a family send the wrong messages to young children.
The fact that childhood obesity continues to be a growing public health problem in our country has perhaps encouraged more restrictive behavior. Research shows, however, that restricting a child’s choices does not lead to long-term healthy behaviors.
Children need to learn how to eat intuitively and should be able to enjoy treats without guilt. Eventually they will self-monitor and may need guidance, as well as be encouraged to get more outdoor play and physical exercise but not over-restriction.
There is a fine line between balancing eating and activity versus feeling that you have to “burn up” every calorie you eat. Children will mimic their parents and probably notice more than you may think.
If a child hears a parent associate eating certain foods with guilt, then he or she may also begin to make those associations. If a child sees a parent hide a candy wrapper, then a child may also feel she needs to sneak treats. When there is an exaggerated focus on food, the outcome may not be what you expect.
So as the holiday season approaches, try to set your own food hangups aside and focus more on the celebration with food, and less on the foods individually. Don’t think about what’s “good” or “bad” or “so unhealthy.”
Celebrate. Enjoy the butter. Enjoy the rolls. Enjoy the sugar-spiked sweet potatoes. Don’t undermine the joy of eating with thoughts of “walking it off later with 10,000 steps.”
Just sit down and eat. Eat more on one day and lighter on another. Engage in physical activity that you enjoy. Savor the days.
Rosanne Rust, a local registered dietitian and author, can be contacted on Facebook by searching Rust Nutrition, on Twitter @rustnutrition, by emailing her at email@example.com or on her blog at chewthefacts.com. Her latest book, “DASH Diet For Dummies,” is now available.
Checking to see if you suffer from 'orthorexia'
“Orthorexia” is a fairly new term that refers to a fixation on eating proper food. It may begin with innocence — simply an attempt to improve health.
Since dietary change is difficult (consider that most are combating a lifetime of bad habits or embarking on a diet that is radically different than the one from their childhood) very few people are able to maintain drastic diets. If they can maintain these new habits, it’s often done with an obsession over what, how much and when they eat, and these thoughts take up a large portion of their daily life.
This life may consist of constant effort to “resist temptation,” self-praise for success or self-condemnation for “cheating.” An orthorexic may even think they are superior to others who eat a “less pure” diet. Unlike anorexia nervosa, a person with orthorexia does not desire to be thin, but to adhere to a perfect, “clean” or pure diet.
Certainly there is nothing wrong with eating a healthy diet! But if you find you answer yes to some of these questions, you may consider talking to a counselor about it:
- Does choosing the right foods interfere with your ability to socialize (attend parties, luncheons, etc.)?
- If foods served at a social gathering aren’t part of your eating plan, do you avoid eating altogether?
- Have you skipped going out to dinner with friends in fear of not being able to eat the “right” foods?
- Do you feel a lot of anxiety over eating and food choices?
- Do you follow a strict daily eating routine?