In the Western world, food has never been more abundant, it’s hip to be healthy and we have all gone a little ‘clean living’ crazy. Yet, there has never been more emphasis on exclusionary diets, coupled with confusion about what we actually should be eating. Popular regimes touted by celebrity endorsers suggest we eliminate entire food groups to improve the way we look and feel. They did and it worked for them, ergo it will work for everyone - right? Unfortunately not.
The idea that there is one particular lifestyle that is the ‘healthiest’ or ‘cleanest’ approach is ludicrous. Popular exclusionary diets such as paleo, raw vegan and sugar-free are all conflicting in their fundamental theory and protocols. So which one is right? There are some valuable principles within each of these diets and, for some people, they may be a way of life, but for anyone to suggest they have found a ‘one size fits all’ approach is very misleading.
Exclusionary food trends are not only alarming from a nutritional perspective, they can also socially isolating. "No I won’t have any of your birthday cake, it contains sugar/flour/eggs/dairy/general evilness." This is not what I consider to be living life to the full, and surely that what we’re all here to do? Of course, intolerances and allergies are very real and some people must make these necessary restrictions. But many people are eliminating food groups as a mechanism for dietary control.
Orthorexia is a relatively new term, which literally means “fixation on righteous eating”. In the case of an Orthorexic, a fixation on the ‘goodness’ of certain foods develops. They begin to link their identity and self-esteem to the purity of their diet. Feelings of superiority are attached to the ability to maintain a strict adhesion to dietary controls and punishing lows follow any perceived slip up. The problem with popular exclusionary diets is that they lead people to be fearful of food. Choices are narrowed down to what feels safe or perceived as ‘clean’. It is easy to see the correlation between this sort of disordered eating and the rise of Orthorexia Nervosa.
We live in a world of bikini selfies and hashtags, where anyone can position themself as a role model and proclaim ‘this is the healthiest way to live’. Yes, we must eat consciously but we also must eat intuitively. Listen to your body - what does it tell you it needs? If you are not sure, speak to a professional who will consider your constitution and personal circumstances in helping you find your tailored health plan.
The food that we choose to consume is the single most powerful tool we have in our quest for health. To really live optimally we can’t see food as good and evil; we can’t fear it. Food is our medicine, to be shared and most importantly enjoyed. We must empower ourselves to make good choices most of the time and block out the rest of the noise. Focus on finding an approach to your health that is manageable and sustainable long-term. This will mean something different to everyone. Look for balance and variety and joy in the food you consume.