Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Is there a line between conscientious eating and disordered eating?

Advance warning: I’m going to get serious for a minute here – so bear with me. Also know that I’m not trying to offend anyone or incite an argument – and these thoughts don't stem from a particular blog, person or event - I just want to get other people’s views. So dive in…

Many of us are trying to make the move to a more conscientious way of eating—whether that be lower-fat, more natural, more sustainable, etc. I’m one of those people. Over the last 5 years, I’ve gone from eating an unbalanced diet filled with lots of carbs and packaged foods to a more balanced diet—making a concerted effort to eat fruits and vegetables every day (yes, before - there were days when I didn't), eating more whole grains and making more things from scratch, etc.

While there are many people on this path to healthier eating, you’ll find that some people are more lackadaisical about their beliefs (like me—I will admit to occasionally eat candy bars and other “crap”) than others. I have found, mainly through reading blogs, that some people are much more committed to their ideals, eschewing anything that doesn’t conform to their established eating patterns.  

If you think about it, food is one of the few things we can have tight control over these days. We can’t control the weather, the traffic, the actions of our bosses, etc.—but we can control what we put into our mouths. In reality, this can translate into many types of eating—only eating certain brands of prepackaged diet foods, only eating organic foods, avoiding animal products, etc. There’s even a growing movement of people who choose to exercise this control starting at the source—by growing and/or raising their own food.

One thing you have to wonder about is how people make decisions to drastically change the way they eat. Is it based on how they feel, what someone told them or what they read online? How reliable was that information? I, for one, eat in a way that makes sense to me on a scientific and physiological level. For example, I'm very aware that it's difficult for humans to get all of the amino acids they need from a strictly vegetarian diet (not to say that it can't be done - it just takes work), so I choose to eat animal proteins. Also, if I eat something and it makes me feel crappy, I’m probably not going to eat it again.
I’m not saying my way is the right way. I heartily believe there is no one right way. But is there a wrong way? You often hear people rail on the fast-food-eating crowd, seemingly making the call that this is an inherently wrong way to eat no matter who you are. I personally don't know too many people who would argue against that. The less often talked about side of the coin that I wonder about is when someone takes a seemingly good thing like controlling what he or she eats to an extreme (for example, limiting his or her diet to the point that he or she doesn’t get the nutrients his or her body needs)...
So the questions I've been asking lately are:
Where is the line is between having ideals about healthy eating (whatever that means to you) and becoming so controlling or obsessive about it that it becomes disordered? Is there even such a line? And it is a mental health problem (as a true “eating disorder” is) or is it just an issue of control?
Would you step in and say something to a loved one if you saw him or her going down this road? Or would you step back and allow them to exercise their right to control their life and what they eat?

In my view - yes, there is such a line. I think it gets crossed when one's health, work or important relationships suffer from the choices a person is making. Whether it's a mental disorder, probably not "officially," but if it's an obsession - it could be borderline. Whether I'd bring it up to a loved one, I can't say for sure. I think I would, but I'm also big on free choice...

Anyone else have any thoughts on this? I'd love to hear them!!

9 comments:

N.D. said...

great post ! I think when thinking about food is #1 priority that it could be a problem. That being said, food is up there on my list of important things but isn't ruling my life. Sometimes though, I will not want to go to a certain restaurant bc I know I cant eat healthy. I had disordered eating in college- food was my LIFE. counting calories, food log. Now I think I just want to eat as healthy as possible and make smart choices.

I always wonder about trying new things that are supposedly good for you. i just try to stick to as close to the ground as poss.I like this post!

ValleyWriter said...

I agree - avoiding some things because they're not healthy doesn't seem like a big deal - but letting food run every part of your life could be an issue.
I like the way you put your philosophy on eating - "stick as close tot he ground as possible" - good one!

Der Spielmacher said...

Love it !!
yes, true that food can sometimes causes disease.Like diabetes or anything, but I believe that it's just a matter of how we manage the pattern of eating,hey?? :)

http://wasisthescreamingsilence.blogspot.com

Facing50Blog.com said...

Wow what a post! I used to be completely obsessed by what I ate and healthy eating. I went on diets, I came off them. I tried all types of 'healthy diet' I even trained to be a nutritionist. One of the good things about being older is that I've calmed down on that subject but try to eat balanced meals. A French woman told me that the secret to good eating is to eat until you no longer appreciate what you are eating (ie can savour it and enjoy it) That seems to work for me now. Unless I have a large bowl of pasta and then I can eat for the UK!
Thank you for dropping by today and I hope you have collected the Awesome Blog award to put on your lovely blog.

"Prof. Kitty" said...

Have you heard of orthorexia? It's an eating disorder typified by obsession with having only the healthiest foods. I think I've dabbled in it a few times and it felt like a real thing--like my brain was overtaken by some strict grumpy spirit of "health" that made me exercise a lot and eat only from a prescribed list, etc. It did go away each time, because in the end eating that way was boring and unsatisfying. Whether you'd say something? Has it been more than 6 months? That's how long it took me to get bored and start eating more moderately again. It's an arbitrary number though. If this really is a disorder, maybe the person needs help. If it's more of a "fad," then the type of person that likes fads might move on to a new fad by him/herself. ...? You were also wondering how these things start, I wonder that too. Maybe a resolution to be healthy that went overboard? Or looking in the mirror at the wrong angle and being just appalled? I def. believe in a food-mood connection too--desiring to be ascetic in the food world might match some self-effacing desires elsewhere in life.

Rita said...

What an interesting post. I have to admit I spent most of my life trying to feed my family and eating healthy;counting calories, watching the cholestrol; I studied the charts and the pyramids. But I can honetly say I don't think it stopped me from still keeping it all in perpective.I did my beat to make my food interesting. I edned up with 4 boys who love to eat and cook the healthy way.

ValleyWriter said...

Prof. Kitty - You make several interesting points. I never considered rigidness/austerity in diet corresponding to other issues in one's life... "Food for thought" for sure!

David L Macaulay said...

Interesting post. I think there is a line. But why is it that all teh bad things taste the best?

Lin Ann said...

I think it's important to be a conscious eater, and agree it could become obsessive. We try our best to be conscious about our food choices, I think it's important to teach my children about real food, since it seems to be harder and harder to find in stores these days! But I don't mind a few processed snacks here and there or a pizza, etc. As long as it's not every meal, breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks that's processed. I think it's unfortunate that too many people are eating that way and the demand creates poor food manufacturing. And while I do my best to feed my family healthy meals, I don't impose it on anyone else. Great post!