Everyone resolves to eat healthy in the new year, but can you take it too far? Dr. Emily Cooper from the Diabesity Institute answers questions on when healthy eating becomes unhealthy.
KING 5: You often say that it’s not always health that we should focus on when it comes to food. Why is that?
Dr. Cooper: People often categorize food as good or bad or as a cure or a disease promotor, as a fat gainer or fat burner. But we don’t often think about the importance of enjoying food.
Scientists have discovered that when our food experience is pleasurable, it benefits our metabolic function and even improves the amount of nutrients we absorb.
The way we present food to children influences their enjoyment of that food. When a parent tells their child they should eat broccoli because it’s good for them, the child probably won’t perceive the broccoli as being as enjoyable, as if it were presented as a delicious, yummy food choice. When children perceive a food as pleasurable, they continue to incorporate it throughout their life.
Q: What about the trend towards “eating clean”? We assume that this means healthy, but is it?
A: So many people are choosing to avoid chemicals and pesticides and opting for organic. Focusing on high-quality food is a healthy concept, but sometimes entire food groups are eliminated on the basis that this will help “achieve a new level of health and wellness.” This very idea of “clean eating” can be easily taken to extreme.
Common targets that are often eliminated are gluten and dairy. Eliminating gluten can cause increased exposure to arsenic from rice-based products, which are a common substitute. Eliminating dairy can reduce calcium and vitamin D intake, potentially affecting bone density. So even though you think you are being healthier, you may not be.
Q: How does someone know if they are taking healthy eating too far?
A: Most people begin these patterns by trying to make healthier choices, but some may find themselves overthinking food and fearful of eating anything that they perceive as not pure or healthy. It’s possible to wind up with a full-blown eating disorder called orthorexia, characterized by increasing dietary restrictions and viewing certain foods as virtuous and good and others as morally wrong or bad.
Common signs are being rigidly tied to dietary preferences, being preoccupied with food planning and thoughts, feeling isolated, and fearful of eating outside of the rigid parameters even when undernourished and unhappy.
Q: How do we keep that balance?
A: Enjoying food and being flexible is critical for overall health. While nutritious eating is great and we all aim for that, just don’t forget how important it is to find pleasure in eating too and to be flexible if “perfect’ food is not available.