Nov 5, 2015

Posted by in Featured, My Viewpoints | 0 Comments

Food and Diets: Stop Falling into Fads

As someone who is a quarter Italian, with a full-blooded Italian grandmother who loves to cook (I still don’t know how I’m not fat just from walking into her house…), I have a deep appreciation for food. I like to sit down for a meal, and tend to savor it. I don’t just shovel the food in my mouth and get back to whatever it was I had been doing previously, I actually take time to taste what I’m eating, and appreciate it. It comes with the territory of an Italian family, because you really eat at those gatherings while chatting. Meals last 2+ hours, and if you don’t have food on your plate people will ask if you’re hungry. Food’s kind of a big thing in my life.

My friend Gwen will tell you, too, that I’m easily lured to her house by the promise of baked goods. Even though I’m perfectly capable of baking my own stuff (and I’m pretty competent at it too), there’s definitely something nice to having other people make stuff you can eat. So when she says she’s making something delicious, I usually follow my nose (and tastebuds) over to her place and share in the yummies… as she ropes me into whatever scheme she was using the food as bait for (I just don’t learn). Hahaha.

This being the case though, I tend to get a bit opinionated when I see people on fad diets. For the record, I have no issues with people who are on diets that really need to be. You have Celiac? Yeah, definitely go gluten free. You have an allergy to shell fish? Yup, you shouldn’t eat that shrimp then. High iron content in your blood? I totally get why you’re avoiding red meat. No, what I get upset with are these people who diet for all the wrong reasons, and then do so unsafely.

Turns out, there’s a name for this: Orthorexia. I didn’t realize there was a name for it either, until I read this article. It’s not something we can actually diagnose yet, but it took years for anorexia to make it to diagnosable as well. Orthorexia, for those who are opting not to read the article yet, is where the morality of your food choices outweigh the health benefits. It’s where you’re dieting for the sake of doing it, instead of for your health, and in the process are becoming unhealthy. And because it’s a disorder, that means that the compulsion is so strong to continue the diet that you do so despite your body giving you any number of warning signs that you need to stop.

I know I’ve definitely seen and chatted with people who were heading toward this path of fad dieting. These are the people who go vegan for the animals. Who cut gluten out of their diet without actually understanding what gluten is and does. They go totally organic, to the point that if they can’t get it organic they don’t eat it (even if their selection is slim and doesn’t cover all their basic needs). These are your juice cleansers (to the extreme) and Paleo folks. They’re all the people who see the latest health-nut advice and follow it blindly, without doing any research nor understanding warning signs that the diet might not be for them. These people are a danger to themselves.

These diets do work for some people, this much I know, and that’s fantastic. If a diet works for you and it makes you feel good, then go for it. For a lot of people though, this is just the “in” thing, and they’re doing more harm than good to themselves.

I fully understand what it means to need to have a special diet in order to remain healthy. I have IBS (irritable bowel syndrome), which gives me all sorts of terrible stomach cramps and keeps me in a constant fear of shitting my pants if I eat the wrong thing. I have a strange list of dietary no-nos that confuse a lot of people, and I’ve been accused of making things up before as well because of it. So I’m well-aware of how diets can be perceived. Even with IBS though, I’ve never had to resort to an extreme diet for very long. Once, just once, for a month and a half I had to avoid dairy completely to let my gut fix itself, and that’s it. Aside from that I’ve never had to do anything too extreme.

People tell me all the time that I should cut gluten out completely, because I’ll feel worlds better. Or, they tell me that I need more fiber; or anything, really. People have a lot of opinions about what diet would be best for me, and I tend to just smile and politely turn them down. The reason being that I’ve already found a diet that works well for me. It’s called eating healthy and in balance.

Now, I know this might be a scary concept to some, but there really is a way to eat healthy without cutting anything out of your diet completely. The trick is to listen to your body, and be diligent about what you eat to make sure you’re getting a variety of different foods and that you’re not leaving yourself to starve. I’m not just talking literal starving to death, either. I’m also talking about starving your body of specific nutrients as well.

Think about this for a bit. The number one problem we faced crossing the ocean to settle new lands was scurvy: a vitamin C deficiency that would kill you. When we were combating scurvy during the winter months in colonial America, one of the ways they found to stave it off was boiling pine needles into a tea, or making beer out of them. Yeah, you wouldn’t normally think of making drinks from trees, but it solved the problem.

Scurvy’s just one example of a deficiency. Now think about all the different vitamins out there, and minerals that we tend to need to consume on a daily basis. Just read a multi-vitamin to see. Do you know where all those come from? All over the food groups would be the correct answer. So as soon as you start cutting an entire food group out for no legitimate health reason, you’re potentially starving your body of something it needs. Yeah, you could take that multi-vitamin to try and fix that issue, but it’s not going to be as good as getting your vitamins from food. If it were, then people would be a lot healthier, and you’d see more of a push from doctors to take multi-vitamins.

I always tell people that the real key is to listen to your own needs. If you’re craving something, you probably need to eat it. If you really have moral issues, then do some research to find a food source in your area you can trust that helps assuage those feelings. I mention this, because I know many people become vegetarians/vegans because of animal cruelty. I have two feelings on that matter:

  1. You’ll do more for the animals if you become an activist, not a vegetarian/vegan. Too many people are still eating meat, and will continue to do so, to make your diet choice a viable form of activism.
  2. Not all animals are subjected to the conditions you’re morally against, or are slaughtered inhumanely. You will do more by supporting places that do right by their animals then by boycotting meat all together. Read up on Factory Farming and you’ll see what I mean.

Now, I’m not suggesting you get right back out there and pig-out on whatever you want either. Balance, as I said, is the key.

You don’t have to eat a lot of meat to be healthy. Think about it, in colonial times a family might have meat once a week. Meat was a luxury, and therefore not consumed at most meals. You also don’t need a ton of milk, nor do you need to count how many calories are in your carrot sticks.

No, you need to strike a good balance and listen to your body. Everyone is different, so this balance will vary from person to person. Just because I don’t eat a lot of meat doesn’t mean my neighbor can do the same. Doesn’t invalidate either of our diets though, just because they’re different. And we’ll probably still manage to both not be obese. But I firmly believe that the real reason we have an obesity issue in America, is because we have a filler-chemical issue in many of our foods, and because we’re taught from a young age to suppress our instincts on when to stop eating in order to finish what’s on our plates.

If you just pay attention to what you’re eating, and keep the garbage in moderation instead of constant, you’ll lead a much healthier life. If you learn to live on smaller portions, you’ll find that you feel better I believe, and you’ll be able to worry about calories less, too. After all, do you really need 8oz of steak plus a potato and beans and whatever else is on your plate? No, you can probably get away with an eighth of that steak and be just fine.

I’m not a nutritionist by any means, but I do know that fad diets don’t work. The main reason being that they only teach you how to diet, and not how to eat. As soon as you stop the diet, all the weight comes back and you’re suddenly back to square one. No, I firmly believe that establishing healthy eating habits that work for you is the best way to go. And that the habits have to be based on your actual needs, not your moral desires.

If you’re truly concerned and want to make a dieting change, then I’d recommend seeking out the counsel of a licensed nutritionist to help you do it right, and safely. Don’t just rely on a self-help book from your library, or ol’ Bob down the road who says he’s got it all figured out. There’s an entire profession dedicated to nutrition for a reason, ask them for their knowledge. That’s why they went to school after all. You’ll be glad you did, too, instead of just fad-dieting. It’ll actually leave you feeling healthier and energized, instead of just a temporary buzz before the crash. Trust me on this, it’s worth it.

And I’m not saying you can’t do a fad diet either, without becoming unhealthy. Some people are very successfully vegan, or gluten-free, etc. However, they’ve done a lot of research into it, and are making sure to do it properly so they don’t become sick. So if you’re heading that direction, do it smartly. Otherwise, the consequences will be ones you don’t care to deal with. 😉

Happy fooding!

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