I of course have a life outside of fitness. My kids have lots of activities, and I have interests that have nothing to do with food and exercise. I spend time doing things that should have nothing to do with food. I spend time with people who are not fitness and nutrition enthusiasts. There should be a respite from the constant diet talk.
But there isn’t.
At my daughter’s music rehearsal I overhear a conversation between two moms, one of whom is telling the other not to feed her kids soy because of it’s hormone disrupting qualities.
Two other moms are discussing ways to eliminate wheat from their daughters’ diets out of concern for their weight. A third chimes in with a comment about the ‘toxic’ effects of sugar and cautions the others to watch their kids’ fruit intake too, in addition to wheat.
The belief that grains cause everything from acne to Alzheimers is all the rage in my social circle, even among people who aren’t nutrition enthusiasts. Friends ask me daily for my take on the latest book/diet/movie/food villain. People who have always been healthy and active are suddenly telling me about their ‘sugar addiction’ and the extreme measures they are taking to combat it (usually involving extremely restrictive diets and expensive supplements). They tell me about the shame they feel for liking to eat sweet things. They believe it is pathological. They are anxious.
Others have eliminated all animal products from their diets, citing ‘evidence’ that dairy and meat cause cancer, heart disease and obesity. They pepper my facebook feed with animal rights propaganda thinly disguised as ‘healthy eating tips’ (no, I’m not saying animal welfare is bad. But lets call a spade a spade. Animal welfare is an important topic, lets TALK about it! Lets not euphamize it as a health or nutrition issue. It muddies the waters and makes everyone look a little silly).
Almost everyone I know has mysteriously developed an allergy or intolerance to some food or another over the last few years.
Whenever I or a friend mentions something we eat, invariably at least one person chimes in with why that food is toxic and we should avoid it.
Everywhere I go, conversation revolves around food, the latest diet book, the latest study they heard about on the news (which in virtually every case has been mangled and misrepresented by the media), the latest food ‘documentary’ (I put documentary in quotes because every food documentary I’ve seen has a strong ideological subtext that has less to do with health than it does politics). My kids come home from school with ideas about food they’ve picked up from their friends – that being vegetarian makes you thin, that gluten gives them stomachaches, that girls aren’t supposed to eat very much food (but boys are), that milk is mucus, it goes on and on.
And this doesn’t even begin to touch on what I hear in the gym. Women discussing the juice ‘cleanse’ they are doing to ‘jumpstart their metabolism’, while they work out for hours in heavy vinyl suits that make them ‘sweat the fat out’. Bros in the weight room swapping tips on eliminating every source of carbs from their diets (including vegetables). Strangers on the internet telling other people to forego chemotherapy in favor of a raw vegan cleanse to treat their cancer. People everywhere eliminating entire food and macronutrient groups because they heard those things are the cause of obesity. People eating sticks of butter. People eating nothing but fruit. People eating nothing but milk. People eating nothing but potatoes. People eating nothing because they are afraid of everything.
And the few voices who still speak up for moderation, balance and sustainability (like the Healthy Hausfrau,James Fell, the Fat Nutritionist, the Angry Dieter, myself and others) are angrily accused of ‘promoting obesity’ and giving people ‘excuses to be lazy’. There is no room in the New Diet Order for balance, reason, moderation and sustainability. Extremism, sacrifice, and the anxious pursuit of perfection are the name of the game and it seems like EVERYONE is playing now. Even the kids.
I’ve discussed the disordered undertones of much of the Diet Industry’s rhetoric before (see links at the end of the post if you want to read more). Many of the behaviors that today’s diet books and food trends promote are straight out of the DSM Diagnostic Criteria for Eating Disorders. Preoccupation with food and eating, making excuses for not eating, elimination of large categories of food, rigid food rules and rituals, guilt and shame associated with food and eating (have you SEEN some of the ‘fitspo’ memes about food? *shudders*), avoidance of social activities because of anxiety about food, isolating oneself from friends and loved ones because of dietary ideology, the list goes on. These are not normal or healthy behaviors, they are hallmarks of disordered eating, and they are PROMOTED in diet books and blogs and between friends, with distressing and escalating regularity.
I used to do some of these things. And then a couple years ago I began to see how it was negatively impacting my quality of life and my relationships. And then I started seeing how ubiquitous it was in the fitness and diet industries, and I started talking about it. And now, it’s everywhere. EVERYWHERE. PTA meetings. Music lessons. Makeup tutorials on youtube. Childrens’ shows. It’s inescapable.
We are, as a culture, developing a collective eating disorder. What started as a desire to improve the quality of our diets has turned into a national obsession. We are spiraling down a rabbit hole of fear, anxiety, and myopic fixation on every nuance and detail of our diets (and the diets of others).
Public health recommendations are good and solid. Get regular exercise and adequate sleep. Eat more fruits and vegetables. Pay some attention to calories – try not to eat too few or too many. Don’t eat excessive amounts of any one food, and limit (not eliminate) added salt and sugar. Eat a wide variety of foods. Eat in a way you enjoy and can sustain in the long term. Eat more whole grains, legumes, and nuts and seeds. Credible public health organizations do NOT promote extreme diets, macronutrient restriction, cleanses and detoxes, elimination of entire food groups, myopic fixation on one food or food group as good or evil, any specific body type or aesthetic, or absolute purity and perfection. *Got a medical condition? You may have nutritional needs not addressed by public health recommendations. Work with your medical professional to identify and address your specific medical nutritional needs. People with medical conditions should not rely on blogs, facebook memes or diet books for medical care, but rather work with a trusted medical professional who is familiar with their condition and medical history.
Balance and moderation are the opposite of what is happening in our food and diet culture right now. We are spiraling into extremism and obsession. If an individual exhibited some of the thinking and behavior processes that are becoming trendy, people who love them would become concerned for their health and well-being. They would probably qualify for eating disorder treatment.
Maybe we need to start giving some thought to where this trend is heading.