This weekend I was on a panel about diets and the gut. I felt like a lone wolf among claims that invoked food fear and disordered behavior. Audience members heard — ingesting gluten is toxic for everyone, about one size fits all diets lacking scientific evidence, and the solution to hunger on a restrictive diet is more water and chewing gum. Cringe! My balanced, conservative approach didn’t seem loud enough in a sea of overlapping proclamations and the demonization of grains.
Luckily, Cayla Panitz, LPC and I had an opportunity to present about disordered eating and honoring one’s personal experience during a break out session. A good portion of the panel listeners attended. All but one woman approached us after the talk asking for more resources and thanking us for addressing the importance of one’s relationship to food. Even more, they had stories to share of adults in their own life suffering because of restrictive eating and elimination diets.
A balanced approach to eating was refreshing after a day of fear mongering, and it reminded me of just how important Cayla and I’s message is. In a world of food fear, often without scientific evidence, many believe certain foods are toxic or the answer to their salvation. These are messages that promote disordered behavior. Artificially suppressing hunger with water and chewing gum IS disordered! As is detoxing after eating Skittles (yep! this was implied). Disordered behavior is dangerous and promotes a poor quality of life.
Let me share examples of disordered eating. Use these to be a more conscientious consumer of nutrition and lifestyle messages to keep yourself healthy:
* Following rigid food rules. Falling “off plan” or breaking a rule leads to guilt and internalized shame. Food restrictions limit variety and can negatively impact health due to the malnourishment that comes from cutting out whole food groups. How can you have a healthy gut, if you are not nourished?
* Compensatory behavior. This means making up for food transgressions with colonics, laxatives or purging, juice fast, cleanses and/or obligatory exercise.
* Binge behavior. A very common response to food eliminations; when you can’t have something, you begin to obsess about it and in a moment of “weakness” it leads to overeating or binge eating. Why not eat the whole pizza when starting tomorrow you will never eat it again?
* Negative body image that gets in the way of living one’s life to the fullest.
* Food anxiety or food worry. This produces unnecessary stress on the body, and can cause you to feel paralyzed when faced with food decisions. Food fears tend to get in the way of social connection by forcing you to refuse to eat out with others for apprehension of not controlling the diet.
The Eating Attitudes Test (EAT 26) provides a screening to determine disordered eating behavior. Your results will let you know if you need to be seen by an eating disorder trained professional.
Paul Rozin, a social scientist from the University of Pennsylvania says it best:
The negative impact of worry and stress over healthy eating may have a more profound effect on health than the actual food consumed. Stress triggers a biological chemical assault on our bodies, which is harmful to our health.
I realize some people who follow the legalistic plans prescribed by the panel members improve their gut, and dietary protocols can be necessary; however, not at the cost of psychological and biological well-being. As a provider I will continue to value a person’s relationship with food over any diet protocol or dogma.