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October 05, 2005

Taking Healthy Eating Too Far

Telling someone they can enjoy something just because it tastes good may sound like heresy coming from a registered dietitian. But that’s usually because people have a misconception about the definition of healthy eating.

Sure, healthy eating means getting enough of the right nutrients and not too much of the things that have been linked to disease. But that’s over time – it doesn’t mean that every morsel of food we put in our mouths has to meet some nutritional ideal. The idea of pleasure too often gets lost when we’re thinking about healthy eating. If you look at it closely, you might agree that it’s impossible to be healthy if you’re unhappy. We can’t separate mind and body, and if we’re unhappy, our physical self knows it. Likewise when we’re eating something we don’t like just because “it’s good for us.” We’re not satisfied and often end up eating more than we really need in search of satisfaction. Or we eat the ‘good stuff,’ then move on to the stuff we really like, overeating in the process.

Dr. Steven Bratman coined the term ‘orthorexia nervosa’ several years ago to describe someone who is overly concerned with healthy eating. Although it’s not a recognized eating disorder, it could certainly fit within the definition of disordered eating (a description that fits most chronic dieters, too). Simply put, an orthorexic has clearly defined ‘good’ and ‘bad’ foods and feels virtuous when eating the ‘good’ and like a failure when eating the ‘bad.’ Sounds like a typical dieter, doesn’t it? The difference is that the orthorexic is not necessarily concerned with the quantity of food eaten – so it’s not about weight per se – it’s the quality of the food that’s the obsession. Lest this seem like a rather harmless and potentially even beneficial obsession, it can be taken too far. Dr. Bratman shares details in his book Health Food Junkies. The same obsession can be taken too far when healthy weights are the issue, too.

Whether we’re interested in eating healthfully just for the health of it, or we think it will help us achieve and maintain a healthy weight, it’s worthwhile to remember that balance is key for either goal. Balance just not in the types of food we eat, but in the reasons we choose the things we eat, and the things we do.

Here’s to happy, healthy eating!

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Posted by Marsha on October 5, 2005 | Permalink


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