Charlotte Butter talks nutrition and dieting in the twenty-first century.
In today’s world, we are constantly bombarded with new information about how to stay healthy and live longer. Of course, it can be overwhelming and even scary when we are told that new research has found that the risk of contracting a particular disease or illness can be increased by eating foods that we thought were good for us. Worryingly, this can lead to becoming obsessed with their diet and lifestyle. If we took every single piece of new health advice that we are given we wouldn’t eat anything at all.
It seems that the majority of foods have been subjected to scrutiny at some point. With more and more of us following some sort of restrictive diet, it is clear that people are trying to take on the health advice that we are given more than ever before. The problem is that a restrictive diet could end up becoming something more serious, something much more dangerous to our health than any of the foods advertised to us as those we should avoid.
Whether people are following a diet that is gluten-free, fat-free, sugar-free, meat free, dairy free or a combination of all of these things, restrictive diets are on the rise and despite the growing hype around them they may not be as healthy as we think.
Following a lifestyle which involves an element of control over which foods can and cannot be eaten has become trendy and is particularly popular among teenagers and young adults.
At this age, we are easily influenced by trends, and although it is encouraging to see young people eating more fruit, vegetables and other nutritious foods, diets like these can sometimes lead to serious problems such as eating disorders.
Personally, I do lead a dairy and meat free diet, so I am not trying to completely discourage people from leading a lifestyle like this; there are many benefits! However, I do think that it is important to really understand the reasons why you are eating the foods you do and cutting out certain food groups.
For me, it is because dairy gives me a stomach ache and I don’t enjoy the taste of most types of meat. Although, I know that if I did want to reintroduce these foods into my diet then I would not feel guilty or like I was “losing control” over my eating behaviours. Unfortunately, for some people, this is not the case. It is easy to get caught up in a spiral of “healthy” eating, so much so that it is no longer healthy eating and is, in fact, bordering on an eating disorder. Classic traits of Anorexia Nervosa include obsessiveness, labelling certain (usually low calorie) foods as being “safe” and being unsatisfied with one’s body size and shape. These traits could easily apply to someone following some sort of restrictive diet.
For example, someone who feels they need to lose weight may decide to cut out dairy from their diet (it is an easy way to disqualify those late night ice cream binges, the triple cheese pizzas and that irresistible creamy dessert). This automatically means that they label any dairy foods as being off-limits and this could potentially spiral into an obsession with gradually eliminating different types of food from their diet.
So, if you choose to follow a restrictive diet, you should be doing it for the right reasons- to improve your physical and mental wellbeing, or for health reasons such as the removal of stomach pains and bloating.
If we realise that there is no positive effect on our wellbeing when cutting out certain food groups then maybe we should consider starting to eat a more varied, balanced diet again. It can be dangerous to get caught up in a whirlwind of cutting out more foods, especially if the sole reason for this is to lose weight or to follow a trend.
As a rule of thumb, it is best to eat what makes you feel good, not just temporarily (like binging on chocolate would do), but in the long run as well. Nutritious, balanced meals and snacks are really the best option and with so many nutrient-rich and delicious foods out there, it is easy to fall in love with eating a healthy but varied (and delicious!) diet.