Myth of eating
Paulette Crowley separates fact from fiction.
eating a diet based on [environmental] sustainability, and eating foods that are locally grown and produced. They might be choosing organic, or avoiding foods that have preservatives, additives or binders added to them as well.”
For some, a yoghurt could be included as part of a whole food diet, but others might think it should be made from scratch with milk from the farm gate.
Eliminating sugar is often part of a clean diet, which could mean banning refined white table sugar but including things like agave syrup or coconut sugar. “These may be perceived as clean but they still operate in the body the same way,” Berrill says.
For Karen, the obsession with clean food meant eating at cafes or with friends was not feasible. “I had to know exactly what was in my food, how it was prepared and the nutritional content, otherwise I wouldn’t and couldn’t eat it,” Karen says. “I tried to bring my own food but it annoyed my friends, and cafe owners didn’t like it.”
Living up to her self-imposed rules became impossible, and led to furtive binge-eating sessions on so-called “dirty” foods. Sausage rolls, icecream, licorice allsorts and takeaway fried chicken were among the banned foods Karen scoffed on the sly. “They were basically all the foods I thought were evil. When I was in clean eating mode, I hated them, and raved about how bad they were. But I was secretly craving them, and gave in to them more and more. I was obsessed.”
Too embarrassed to discuss the problem with family or friends, she visited her doctor. “I didn’t trust the medical profession, as I didn’t believe they knew anything about nutrition. But I was desperate.”
Her GP referred her to an eating disorder specialist, and she began to accept she had developed orthorexia nervosa, an obsession with eating foods that are perceived as healthy.
After 15 months of treatment with a doctor/dietitian/ psychologist team, she’s stopped the destructive cycle of “clean food” followed by binges on “dirty food”.
Chatting over a lunch of a creamy egg salad, fresh tomatoes from the garden and crispy ciabatta with butter, Karen now relishes eating all foods without guilt or anxiety. “I felt like a complete failure if I couldn’t live up to my own standards. I had an all-or-nothing attitude, and now realise I was in an addiction mode: whatever I did, I couldn’t stop.”
Cancelling her own social media clean eating pages, and “unliking” the 40-50 wellness bloggers she followed was essential for Karen’s new healthy relationship with food. “The absolutes have to go: if there are no rules to break, then I can’t break them. I still want to be healthy – I mean, who doesn’t? – but I don’t want to be ruled by food any more. I want to enjoy everything.”
With her “food recovery” on track, her formerly non-existent social life has flourished. “I have reignited friendships with people who I had alienated myself from, because I hated the way they ate. Now, I make it a point to share food with people as much as possible. It’s a beautiful thing to bond over a meal.”
Taking the fear out of food is key to having a positive relationship with it, Berrill says. “I’m a firm believer that healthy eating is more than just eating healthy food. We don’t need to resort to extremes in order to be healthy. All foods can be part of a healthy diet. We need more of some and less of others, and we need to be looking at what is best for our overall health within that.”
Guilt and shame have no place when you sit down to a meal, she says.
“Think of the bigger picture: food is more than just fuel. Yes, it’s there to provide nourishment for our bodies but food also has this psychological component: it’s part of our memories, social gatherings... We want to make sure people enjoy food while maintaining optimal health.”
Karen says: “I think women, especially, are so messed up about food – there’s always someone preaching at us, telling us how to eat and bombarding us with scary facts about bad and good foods. “It’s all such bullshit. We have known for years that diets don’t work for weight loss and it’s time for us to realise that any type of food fads and bandwagons have the potential to really mess you up.
“Turning off all the ‘noise’ from so-called nutrition experts, who are just nutters, really, and listening to my body is the best thing I’ve ever done.”