Dietary Neurosis

by Gretchen Morfogen

When I was growing up, very little, if my memory serves me correctly, was discussed about healthy eating, dieting or fad diets. We played outside, rode bikes anywhere we wanted, ate whatever and managed to grow up relatively healthy. Nowadays, that is so far from cognizance, you can’t hear a commercial, read a magazine, listen to the news, without some reference to food, dieting, “healthy eating”, diet related diseases, childhood obesity, diabetes etc. It is a national epidemic and many of these ailments stem from nothing other than a sedentary lifestyle, and poor nutrition.

The first recollection of marketable diet products was probably diet soft drinks. Low sugar or (chemical)sugar substitute, then low cholesterol (eggs were the enemy)*, low salt food products followed, then high carb, low carb, no carb, low salt, fat-free, trans fats, saturated fats, gluten free, lactose free and on and on…. This crazy train of food fads is heavily marketed by the companies that count on your naïveté to spend money thinking any of these will make you healthier or feel better. The biggest problem is, no matter what they’ve added removed or modified- it’s still all processed food and couldn’t be unhealthier. Some of these afflictions- are real and can be debilitating but the fixation stems from people who only “think” they have a problem- gives them something to fuss about.

We’re all held hostage by the convenience of packaged, processed foods because it has become part of our culture. Unfortunately with the other issues our lives have evolved into (busy, distracted, deskbound and inactive) prevent us from recognizing the absolute benefits of whole, nutritious, unprocessed foods. It takes time effort and energy to assimilate this lifestyle into being. More and more people are taking the responsibility of assuring themselves and their family’s better nutrition by ridding their pantries, refrigerators and freezers of poorly produced processed consumables.
On the flip side we’ve also manifested a generation the food obsessed. Individuals tuned into the food fads via media bombardment that can take its toll on an individual’s health. This preoccupation with food creates a behavior in many people that is leading to new eating disorders. Adult selective eating and orthorexia have emerged as the new food neurosis.

Adult picky eaters are people who only eat certain things and often suffer adverse health consequences. For example: adult picky eaters tend to gravitate towards bland white food; cheese pizzas, plain pasta, french fries etc. they stick to like textured foods. They limit themselves to an extremely narrow range of foods. Unlike those who suffer from anorexia nervosa or bulimia, adult picky eaters are seemingly not worried about calorie counts or body image. But so far, researchers don’t know if adult picky eaters just haven’t outgrown childhood patterns or if their eating habits are a new twist on obsessive compulsive disorder. Some may be “supertasters,” with an abnormally acute sense of taste that turns them off certain foods. Many seem to relate unpleasant childhood associations with food.

Orthorexia is Latin for “correct eating.” Here, too, the focus isn’t on losing weight. Instead, sufferers increasingly restrict their diets to foods they consider pure, natural and healthful. Some researchers say that orthorexia may combine a touch of obsessive compulsive disorder with anxiety and warn that severely limited “healthy” diets may lead to anorexia nervosa, the most severe – and potentially life-threatening eating disorder. Those affected may start by eliminating processed foods, anything with artificial colorings or flavorings as well as foods that have come into contact with pesticides. Orthorexics may also avoid caffeine, alcohol, sugar, salt, wheat and dairy foods. Some limit themselves to raw foods.

The health consequences of limiting your diet to only a few foods whether you’re a picky eater or have a long list of foods you deem unhealthy – can lead to potentially dangerous nutritional deficiencies. At its most extreme, a diet limited to only a few foods perceived to be healthy is described as orthorexia nervosa and can lead to the same emaciation and health risks seen with anorexia nervosa.

Another potential downside can be social isolation. Being an adult picky eater can take an enormous social toll. Out of embarrassment, they avoid dining with friends or co-workers. Going to extremes in an effort to eat only healthy foods can also be socially isolating and can undermine personal relationships.

However, if there is money to be made you can bet the food companies and chain restaurants are going to jump on the bandwagon and market it for profit regardless of its effect on ones true health. Many of the health care issues doctors are dealing with could be better treated if pharmaceuticals weren’t used as the only solution. I have never heard a physician say – add more dark leafy greens and unsaturated oils to your diet, reduce the amount of sugar and fat- here take a pill. That, for many people is easier than consuming healthful nutrient dense foods and is also an unfortunate cultural malady that is plaguing our health care system- but don’t get me started on that….
But again, educate yourself. So much about living and eating healthy is common sense; listen to your innate sensibilities and make the right choices.

* It is my opinion the eggs are one of the most perfect foods!