Saturday 18 November 2017

Niamh Horan: Stop dumbing down eating disorders with diets and dolls

'That certain diets and unrealistic body standards are to blame for eating disorders couldn’t be further from the truth.'
'That certain diets and unrealistic body standards are to blame for eating disorders couldn’t be further from the truth.'
Niamh Horan

Niamh Horan

Just when we thought we had finally discovered a healthy approach to eating, they've gone and ruined it on us.

In case you haven't caught up - clean eating is now bad for you.

The concept of clean eating is simple: a focus on the quality and not quantity of food. It encouraged people to eat more vegetables and a little fruit and throw out food-like substances made with additives, colourings and trans-fats, while getting back to real, whole food.

No more counting calories, cutting portions or fretting over fat. As the godfather of the movement, nutritionist James Duigan, explained: Simply ditch the C.R.A.P - 'caffeine, refined sugar, alcohol and processed food'.

Something none of us can argue with right?

In an era where 80pc of adults will be overweight by 2020, the movement has been a breath of fresh air.

Yet it now joins a long list of social phenomena which have been blamed as the cause of eating disorders and anxieties around food, simply because a small section of the diet's followers have taken it to an extreme.

Barbie, the heroin chic catwalk look of the 1980s, Kate Moss and her decree that "nothing tastes as good as skinny feels", the models of Instagram and even the super-slim waistlines of Disney characters have all been blamed for causing eating disorders at one stage or another.

It's a superficial blame game that sends out a dangerous message.

It tells us that eating disorders are a lifestyle choice.

That they are about mainly young women caught up in a fixation on beauty and being thin.

That certain diets and unrealistic body standards are to blame for eating disorders couldn't be further from the truth.

Men and women have always had issues around food.

More than 600 years ago, St Catherine of Siena engaged in self-starvation as a way of gaining purity, while Mary Queen of Scots also denied herself food.

In today's world, anorexia exists in places like rural Africa, places that have never been exposed to the media and there are also cases of the illness in blind people.

In its most extreme form, eating disorders are a severe mental illness. In its milder instances, issues around food for a lot of us are a way to cope with feelings.

People eat to calm nerves, reduce stress, fill a void, and escape uncomfortable feelings of loneliness, unhappiness and anxiety. Reducing it to the argument that it is caused by the latest eating trend is simply wrong.

But it makes a better newspaper display to use pictures of Victoria's Secret models beside our quest to be thin rather than to tackle the real issue: that most of us are really either running from or trying to satiate our feelings when we use food to control our emotions.

If we continue blaming someone or something for our problems we will never know why they come our way.

I have every celebrity nutritional book on my shelf. The very first purchase, James Duigan: Clean and Lean, is the simplest and my favourite. Last year the nutritionist came to Dublin to give a talk and sign his books. When I heard he was in the Marker Hotel I grabbed it off the shelf and went down to see him.

It was at the end of a long day of signings when the last of hundreds of girls were trickling out the door. I went up with a list of questions about the dos and don'ts of the diet.

How much dark chocolate can we really afford to eat and should I keep the oil off my salad? I asked him to sign it with his best bit of dieting advice.When I got outside I opened it and scrawled in pen read: "Be kind to yourself."

And I thought, now there's a man who knows a thing or two about a healthy approach to food.

Sunday Independent

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