What is a 'healthy diet'? I have heard many answers to this seemingly simple question - pale, gluten free, dairy free, vegetarian, vegan, no processed foods, no sugar - this list could go on and on. Every person seems to have his/her own [very strong] opinion, and in the world of holistic health these specialty diets are on the rise. I have heard practitioners tell every patient that walks through their door to cut something from their diet, because it is 'unhealthy.' I have heard people say there can't be a side effect to healthy heating. What if I said that for some people a 'healthy diet' is life threatening? Today people can read about thousands of different diets on the Internet; some get recommendations from friends or their trusted health practitioners. With all of these diets telling people what not to eat, what is left that the CAN eat? Let me tell you from personal experience, it's not much.
While I was in acupuncture school, I learned that:
- Non-organic foods had cancer causing pesticides, so I ate only organic.
- Dairy caused dampness in the body; it would make me sluggish & tired, and it would cause my digestive system to clog, so I cut out dairy products
. - Gluten caused inflammation, which is another cause for many diseases including cancer and fibromyalgia, so I became gluten free.
- Sugar was the cause of many rashes and also caused dampness within the body, so sugar be gone!
- Raw foods were going to cause my digestive system to work extra hard, and I 'knew' that I had to have a pretty weak digestive system, so I made sure all of my foods were cooked before consumption.
- Fruit was out because of the sugar and being raw.
Hangry became the definition of my life. I became angry at the world and started loosing my temper with the people closest to me. Turns out, anger wasn't really the issue; I simply was not eating enough to sustain myself. According to the USDA, I was consuming about 1,000 calories less than a sedentary person of my age should be consuming, and I was not a sedentary person. I had an eating disorder. No, I did not throw up after I ate, I did not think I was particularly fat, and I was not obsessed with caloric intake. I would later be diagnosed with what was called orthorexia nervosa, which is still in the category "Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (EDNOS)" according to the DCM4
According to the National Eating Disorder Association, orthorexia nervosa can be defined by "a fixation on healthy eating." Specialists in eating disorders are starting to see the symptoms show up more and more. Unlike other more commonly known eating disorders, orthorexia nervosa is not an obsession with weight, body image, or calorie intake. It is instead characterized by obsessively cutting out foods. In many ways orthorexia is closely related to Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), having to follow a daily ritual, in this case revolving around food consumption. But unlike OCD, patients with orthorexia are very proud of what they can accomplish with food and try to push friends into the same diet choices. Although some people with orthorexia do eat enough calories, diets are so rigid that it is impossible for a person to eat a diverse diet. This can lead to malnutrition, heart arrhythmias, heart attacks, or osteopenia and osteoporosis just like any other eating disorder.
It took several years and a lot of effort, but I finally started talking about my eating disorder with the people around me. After telling my acupuncturist about it though, she only looked at me for a split second and asked me if "I had ever considered cutting dairy out of my diet, because it might help me with my runny nose." I was furious, had she even listened to me? That was when I decided that I needed to speak out and speak up. Over years of therapy, including an intensive outpatient program at an eating disorder facility, I am eating intuitively and am always striving for a balanced diet. I no longer cut out foods just because they might be 'bad' for me. I still struggle from time to time, but I have never been healthier or happier!
I am now out of school and in the real world working with patients. I still believe that for some people different foods can cause negative side effect. For some people the reactions are severe and for others the reactions are more of a mild discomfort. For those people I cutting foods be beneficial, unless food cutting becomes an addiction.
I still eat what people would believe to be a 'healthy' diet, but if I want a piece of chocolate or some potato chips I will have a small handful. This is called intuitive eating, and that is what a balanced diet is based on.