In today’s society, the dangers associated with eating unhealthy foods have become well-known; obesity, heart disease, and diabetes are just a few of the ailments we believe can avoid if we simply eat healthier. Though there are disagreements among dieticians with regards to the definition of unhealthy foods versus healthy foods, or “bad” foods versus “good” foods, there is general consensus that we should avoid eating calories, trans fats, carbohydrates, sugars, and sodium. The media and countless weight loss programs and books in the United States further drive the point home to the American public on a regular basis. The results of this increased health-consciousness in America are many and far-reaching: McDonald’s has replaced white bread with wheat bread for many of its burgers, organic food products are more commonly found in supermarkets, and health food products have gained acceptance and popularity, to name a few. In fact, many Americans pursue healthy eating habits aggressively, believing it to be the complete solution for a healthier life.
Not all of these trends are great news, however. Though there is no doubt that we must try to eat healthy, especially as fast food restaurants and food deserts are becoming ever more prevalent, it is more important for us to have balanced diets. In a recent article in the New York Times, the importance of balanced diets is underlined by newfound information about eating disorders.
In the article entitled: “What’s Eating Our Kids? Fears About ‘Bad’ Foods”, Abby Ellin reports that children in the United States may be acquiring eating disorders as a result of their obsessions with healthy foods. Lisa Dorfman is a registered dietitian who often sees children who are terrified of foods that are deemed “bad” by their parents. “It’s almost a fear of dying, a fear of illness, like a delusional view of foods in general,” she says. “I see kids whose parents have hypnotized them. I have 5-year-olds that speak like 40-year-olds. They can’t eat an Oreo cookie without being concerned about trans fats.” A growing number of dieticians, doctors, and specialists worry that some parents are overzealously trying to inculcate good eating habits in their children, micromanaging their diets and causing them to have high levels of anxiety and stress related to food. This anxiety is not dissimilar to the anxiety that causes the eating disorders of anorexia or bulimia. Dr. Steven Bratman terms this new issue, the obsession with health foods, as orthorexia.
Dr. Leslie Sanders of the Atlantic Health Overlook Hospital in Summit, N.J. has also seen a rise in the number of children who are fixated on the way they eat. She says: “Some educators categorize food into ‘good’ and ‘bad.’ The kids come home and say ‘Don’t eat French fries’ instead of talking about moderation.”
Moderation in eating habits is the most important way to reduce the risk of illnesses associated with food. In class, we have learned that malnutrition cannot be solved by simply giving people more calories; people require a variety of foods in order to live well. Similarly, obesity cannot be solved by simply cutting out fats, calories, sodium, sugar, and carbohydrates. Though there has been no formal study that links orthorexias with deadly eating disorders, this article very effectively associates the importance of moderation in our eating habits and the extent of psychological and physical impact that food has on our well-being. We cannot argue against the importance of eating healthy foods, but we can do so in a more balanced way that encourages bodily strength along with emotional happiness.