Health and wellness are hot right now, and for good reason. It's great that healthier ways of eating have come into public consciousness, and that many, many people around the world are making lifestyle changes to adopt better routines of self-care.
With the general health buzz in the media, a lot of individuals are also gravitating toward particular dietary trends, including specific popular diets such as paleo, vegan, raw, macrobiotic, gluten free and beyond. By choosing among these popular diets, many people hope to achieve weight loss, but in general and most importantly, to live healthier lives.
But what gets lost in the mixed messages we all receive about how we should look, what we should eat and which foods are the healthiest is that the best way to become healthy is to understand what's right for your own body.
When approaching a new diet, it's best to understand your personal goals and consult with your doctor on the healthiest way to achieve those goals. When we become obsessed with diet, it can lead to unhealthy behaviors. Research shows 35% of normal diets progress to pathological eating and of those, 20-25% develop eating disorders.
In the United States, 20 million women and 10 million men will suffer from an eating disorder in their lifetime. One unhealthy eating trend that is becoming more common is orthorexia, which is the fixation on eating only healthy or pure foods.
Choosing a kale salad for lunch instead of a hamburger can arguably be called "healthier" choice. So how do you know if your quest to eat healthy has turned into an unhealthy obsession? Here are five basic warning signs to look for:
1. You often feel guilty about food choices.
If you eat something you consider "unhealthy" that isn't the norm in your diet, that is A-OK. You shouldn't become so consumed with guilt that you plan how you will correct your "cheating" through diet restrictions or exercise.
Unfortunately, this is a behavior that becomes a habit for many people, revealing that they may have taken "healthy eating" to an unhealthy extent. Having certain foods in moderation is actually good for you, even if these foods may be culturally-demonized as "unhealthy" or not in the scope of "clean eating." In fact, allowing yourself variety in your diet will allow you to stay on track with being healthy.
2. You eliminate food groups.
Eliminating entire food groups may deprive your body of important nutrients it needs and make your body crave the eliminated food, thus often resulting in binge eating. When you are striving to become healthier, it can be effective to limit certain categories like deep-fried foods, foods with a lot of sugar or highly processed, packaged snacks. But you shouldn't eliminate an entire food group without talking to your doctor first.
3. You're controlled by food.
You shouldn't have to spend hours of time, or inordinate amounts of mental energy (often involving anxiety) determining what to eat or how to prepare your food.
Also: make sure to enjoy social interactions, which often include eating and drinking in some form. You shouldn't miss social engagements because you're worried about the food they will serve or because it will mean you'll miss going to the gym.
4. You're critical of the way other people eat (or at least hyper-conscious of it).
When you're out to dinner, maybe you find yourself being judgmental of what your friend is ordering for his/her meal, or perhaps just find yourself distractingly focused on it.
The truth is that you can't control what anyone else puts in their body. Not everyone is going to eat healthy, or in the same way as you do. And that's OK. You shouldn't become critical or feel superior to those that don't eat only pure or healthy foods, or generally feel distressed if someone chooses to eat different foods than you generally. It's important to maintain healthy relationships with others even if they don't share the same thinking around eating that you do.
5. You're exhibiting depressive behaviors.
Many people do not realize that eating disorders are mental health disorders that require treatment. 50% of those that suffer from an eating disorder also have depression. If you've been sleeping too much or too little, can't concentrate, feel hopeless, have lost your appetite or can't stop eating, or have lost interest in daily activities, it's time to seek help for depression.
You need to find what works best for your own body to stay healthy, which includes listening to your body and understanding if you are turning to food because you are hungry or because of the way you are feeling.
Only one in 10 of those who suffer from an eating disorder seek treatment. Seeking help when you feel your relationship with food could improve is a great first step to becoming healthier.
This week (February 22-28) is National Eating Disorder Awareness Week, an annual campaign that brings attention to people with eating disorders and their families. The National Eating Disorder Association and Screening for Mental Health, Inc. are offering free, anonymous online eating disorder self-assessments.