When Healthy Eating Goes Too Far

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Last week on the treadmill, I was reading the latest issue of Self Magazine. In this issue, Janelle Brown wrote a wonderful piece on the danger of detox diets called, ‘The Scary New Skinny’.

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Brown wrote about the latest diet trends that have L.A. women jumping on board. Unlike socially unacceptable trends like starvation diets, liposuction, or dangerous diet pills, these new diet trends are portrayed in a socially acceptable and healthy manner.

Women have always had a huge amount of pressure to be thin, only now, women have this pressure AND we have a new pressure to be healthy while we do it! Many of the previous extreme weight loss methods are frowned upon so women have been seeking healthier ways to lose weight.

But are some of these new trends really healthy?

Brown calls this the ‘healthy skinny’ movement where friends no longer have to admit in shame that they are on a diet, but can be proud to say that they are following a ‘health regime’ instead.

Is it really any different?

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So what are some of these diet trends?

  • Spiritual Cleanses

While Spiritual Cleanses have been around for ever, they are a growing trend in LA. Many women are claiming that they are on a vision quest or are connecting with their spirit by fasting. These cleanses involve often sustaining on nothing but liquids such as the master cleanse.

  • Raw vegetable cleanses

Izo Cleanze and BluePrintCleanse deliver juices to their customer’s doors each day. For many, this is the only thing that touches their lips for 3 weeks or longer.

  • Colonics

Colonics have become quite popular in recent years with more and more people getting them done to ‘flush’ out their body of toxins. If performed regularly, colonics can kill the good bacteria in our intestinal tract that protect us from infection. They can also disrupt nerve and muscle function in the bowel, leaving some patients unable to go to the washroom without a colonic.

  • Extreme Calorie restriction diets

Howard Flaks (M.D.) from Beverly Hills advises his patients to consume only 800-1000 calories a day, under medical supervision. Personally, I am quite shocked that a doctor would advise his patients to consume such a low number of calories. Many of us know how badly restrictive diets can backfire too- they can slow our metabolism and make our body cling to every calorie we consume. Not to mention, feeling extremely lethargic, moody, and lackluster hair, skin, and nails. That is so not hot!

  • Raw Food Diets

Aimee Popovich, a 39-year old mom and homemaker residing in LA, went on a raw food diet where everything she ate was raw. She said she felt great for the first year and a half, but after that time period she started to notice strange things happening to her body. For instance, she had to urinate often and she had a lot of anxiety. Five months later, she woke up in bed very dizzy and she had a seizure, stopped breathing, and passed out. When she finally came to in the hospital 2 days later, she was told that she was undernourished, devoid of vital minerals, and suffering from kidney failure and brain swelling due to a severe electrolyte imbalance. She also suffered from hyponatremia which is having excess water in the blood and can result in dangerously low blood levels of sodium.

There is even a medical term to classify individuals that have an obsession with health. Steven Bratman, an alternative medicine specialist coined the term "Orthorexia" for such a condition. Orthorexia denotes an eating disorder classified by an excessive focus on eating healthy foods. In rare cases, this focus may turn into a fixation so extreme that it can lead to severe malnutrition or even death.

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MY TAKE:

I absolutely loved this article in Self Magazine because I think it touches on a central issue that many women are struggling with right now. As women, we are not only expected to be thin, beautiful, and successful, but we are now expected to be healthy while we do it. Like anything else, it can get taken too far. No matter how healthy someone eats, if they are underweight and/or suffering medical consequences, then it is not healthy. In my nutrition courses, I was told time and time again that our bodies are experts at riding our body of toxins and we don’t need detox diets and cleanses.

I have never had a colonic, done a cleanse, or ate a raw food diet. For me, these things just seem too extreme. That is not to say that they don’t work for others and they can be done in a safe manner with proper education and supervision. I think this is what was lacking in the article, it failed to mention that some of these things can be done safely.

However, I do love how I feel when when I drink a green monster or when I eat a mostly unprocessed diet. I don’t see this as an extreme thing in my life, because I feel better than I ever have, my skin and hair glows, and my doctor tells me that my medical tests come back with flying colours. On the other hand, if I was noticing ill-effects from my diet, I would definitely re-evaluate it. For me, balance is key. I like to eat chips or sweet treats like the rest of ‘em, and I know that keeping a balanced approach keeps me feeling my best.

What are your thoughts?

Are you or someone you know obsessed with eating healthy or do you think that orthorexia is the new ‘socially acceptable’ eating disorder?

Have you or would you ever do a detox? Are detoxes and cleanses ok for a short amount of time?

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{ 66 comments… read them below or add one }

Kelly Turner July 14, 2009

im not going to lie, and everyone yells at me for this- but i think food blogging is being obsessed with healthy eating. posting absolutely everything you eat every day, even if it is healthy in choice, isnt healthy in practice. No one should be so preoccupied with something so small. and yes i think food is something small- everyone has to eat to fuel their bodies- it shouldnt be something to spend so much time on

food blogging as in people that post everything they eat everyday- not occasional healthy recipes. I have to make that distinction.

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J.L. July 14, 2009

cleanse!?! that’s why god invented fiber. now that’s a true cleanse. tee hee.

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Katherine Feeney July 14, 2009

I have to say I am so thrilled that there was an article like this in Self Magazine! I have read a lot about this and touched on all diets through my studies at school. It is so cool that this appeared in a magazine that will be read my so many people!

:)

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Amy July 14, 2009

I have to echo the thoughts of others when they that food blogs are a little obsessive, and I myself, I have compared myself many times to the foods/exercises posted on certain blogs.

Yes, I write a quasi foodie/fitness blog.
Yes, I exercise every day.

Am I obssessed? Not anymore. But I was. And I think it had a lot to do with my obsession on the obsessive food blogs.

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Angela (Oh She Glows) July 14, 2009

It is so clear that everyone has such a unique position on this topic and I am really not surprised at all. Eating is SUCH a personal thing for many people and is not a one-size fits all menu (no pun intended!). I can understand that others can take offense to articles like this. I too thought that it was one-sided in the sense that it didn’t portray that there are many individuals who do achieve balanced health with certain approaches. It is very hard for others to judge what is right for another person. I know I have been criticized for following a vegan diet, and I will admit it, it sometimes makes my hair stand on end. No one likes to be judged, so I appreciate those who aren’t pointing fingers. We also must not forget that many people have moral, ethical, or religious reasons for the foods we eat too, so that has to be taken into account.
Clearly, there is no answer to this…and I think that is why it is so interesting to many of us! I’m sure we can and will debate this topic until we are blue in the face, but I am all for it because it challenges me to see things in a different light. I’m pretty sure I am hijacking my own comments section (….write a post Ange!) so I will let you all take it away for now.

Coco- I also meant to add that I didn’t take offense to anyone’s comments who disagree with my opinions or the content of the article. :)~A

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Holly July 14, 2009

Kelly Turner- I couldn’t agree more. However, I have been reading said blogs for over a year…they can become addicting, which I feel is quite unhealthy as well.

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April July 14, 2009

http://skwigg.com/id8.html

I first learned I had orthorexia when I took this quiz on Skwigg’s site.

I love this post and your take on it. I think with the “raw” food thing they are saying that celebs are doing this for weight loss and NOT to change their entire lifestyle like many of the foodie bloggers.

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Rachel July 14, 2009

Just a side note about liposuction – I think it’s important to realise that it’s NOT a fat-loss tool or surgery. It’s designed for people who are at their healthy weight and exercise regularly who can’t get rid of pockets of fat – think breast reductions. It’s definitely NOT on the same page as something like diet pills or starvation diets.

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Cait (Cait's Plate) July 14, 2009

Angela – I ADORE this. And I couldn’t agree with your review more!

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Jenn (Eating Bender) July 14, 2009

I read this article and thought it was really great that they were calling attention to this topic. Obviously, the comments that have been generated here are proof of this point! I’m sure it could have been written differently and/or presented more points of view, but overall I just am very glad that they brought it to the “mainstream” (as mainstream as SELF can get, haha) and I hope it inspires further discussions like this one!

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Kathy (Moving Beyond Perfection) July 14, 2009

I just wanted to add a comment- I do not think all food bloggers post every single morsel they eat, and thus I think blogging, as with everything else in life, is what a person MAKES of it. If a food blogger becomes highly obsessive with eating super super clean and posting everything on their blog, then they should ask themselves if they are doing the right thing by writing a blog. Only they will know how they are feeling when they are living their everyday lives. And on the other hand, I believe there are many food bloggers with great, balanced outlooks towards life. Food blogging does not necessarily have to be a negative, obsessive type of activity! Just my 2 cents.

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Rebeca July 14, 2009

I read that article as well. It really came at the RIGHT time for me. Too often things sound so ‘healthy’ that we just jump on it and forget that just because it’s healthy for person A does not mean it’s healthy for YOU. That’s not to say let’s go out for pizza and burgers every night, but if that means that you want a slice and a large side salad- GO FOR IT… it’s still “healthy”

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Marcia July 14, 2009

I guess I have to disagree with Kelly Turner on food blogging being excessive. And I do like reading food blogs.

I don’t see food blogging being any different than…say…keeping a food journal. I lost over 50 lbs on weight watchers…which requires you to write down every BLT (bite, lick, and taste). And while that method isn’t for everyone, it worked for me and plenty of others. More than anything, it’s being mindful of what you put in your mouth. You can’t lie to yourself about being a healthy eater if you see it in black and white. So journaling, blogging, using fitday or sparkpeople or weight watchers…it’s all the same to me. But with pictures.

I write a food blog and I talk about food and exercise. Ya know, once a week because I do have a full time job and a kid and a husband.

I LOVE reading KathEats and a few others too…I like seeing healthy, well-balanced meals, and I find it to be motivating. And I like getting good ideas to get me out of my ruts. (I had to thank Kath for getting me back into oatmeal).

Blogging about food for some just means they are really “into” food and nutrition. If you’re not, that’s okay. Everyone has interests that go along a spectrum.

I like volleyball, for example. You invite me to play, I will. You invite me to watch a local tournament…probably, depending on whether it’s nap time. You want me to watch a “classic” beach game from the 90′s on TV…probably not.

Same with running. I like to run. I like to run 5k’s, the occasional 10k, but I won’t, for example, run 4×400′s to improve my pace, nor will I sign up to run a marathon.

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Meredith (Pursuing Balance) July 14, 2009

I had the same thoughts as you while reading that article. I definitely think that labeling a diet as “cleansing” can give people the wrong idea . . . are other ways of eating “dirtying”? It’s easy to fall into these unhealthy obsessions.

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Swayze July 14, 2009

What exactly does the article mean by “raw food diet.” There are many, many different ways to go raw. I assume that it’s referring to raw vegan, but even still there are many versions.

The typical raw vegan diet that focuses on low calorie vegetable matter and high-fat foods like avocados, nuts and oils is indeed unhealthy and extreme.

On the other hand, a healthy raw vegan diet of mostly sweet fruits, along with tender greens and non-sweet fruits with limited fat is the appropriate diet for humans.

Swayze :)

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Sarah July 14, 2009

I find it so interesting when food bloggers get offended or upset when they are accused of being obsessed with food (or healthy food). If you wrote a 3X daily blog with photographs about any topic, most people would describe you as being pretty obsessed with whatever the content of your blog was whether it be fashion, photography, politics, etc.

I understand the negative reactions from food bloggers are because being obsessed with food is often equated with being unhealthy or anorexic. If you take away those implications though (and I think you should because the majority of food bloggers are perfectly healthy) then I think saying food blogs are pretty obsessed or very interested in food is a fair statement. How can you photograph, write about, think about, etc. something so much and then only describe your interest in it as moderate?

I hope this doesn’t sound offensive. I read food blogs so I’m a little obsessed with food myself! And I know that reading and writing them isn’t all about the food, it’s about the community, entertainment, education, etc. But in terms of the food, is the food blogging community (bloggers are readers alike) aren’t obsessed with food, then who is?

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Susan July 14, 2009

I’ve always felt that SOME people who do raw diets/detox/cleanses are struggling with disordered eating. I saw it personally with a friend who went on extreme diets, stating “ethical” reasons behind them. But it was quite apparent she suffered from an eating disorder and was just channeling it through some of these “healthy” diets. Obviously, there are less extreme ways of doing this. And I’m all for incorporating some of their principles into how I think about eating. It’s definitely a good topic, kudos to Self for covering it.

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Shelby July 14, 2009

I think you have to do what is right for you. Raw food is not for everyone. I know that my body doesn’t function well without carbs like sprouted breads or whole grains. I’m med-high raw now and it works for ME!

When I first started into my ED…I went on a water diet for a whole week. I maybe had a couple glasses of juice during that week but not many. Then the next week it was only fruits and veggies. *shudders* I can’t even believe I did that to my body. Y

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Amanda @ Panda Lunch July 15, 2009

I read this article and was just shocked and saddened at the things these actresses put themselves through to be “healthy” and thin like one in particular mentioned that she had just gotten pregnant and was allowing bananas and sweet potatoes back into her diet!!

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Katrina (gluten free gidget) July 15, 2009

You would not believe how many people come into the health food store where I work looking for cleanses and detox pills and teas. It is kind of sad. Just eat whole, healthy foods is what I want to yell at them! Luckily, our vitamin specialist straight up tells them detoxes are not what they should be focusing on.

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Michelle hisae July 15, 2009

I was introduced to the term orthorexia when reading Michael pollan’s book, In Defense of Food. It really intrigued me and I completely agree that it’s a legitimate disease. Even with food blogs, I see an obsession with healthy eating, though not to say everyone takes it to an unhealthy point. Scientists are adapting to he times, and I think orthorexia is a perfect example of an evolved disease. Thanks for the great discussion!!

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April July 15, 2009

I just wanted to commend food bloggers. I’m glad to see they are eating and enjoying their lives. Not sitting at home, not going out because they don’t want to mess up their diet.

I don’t think it’s an obsession of health really for some. They are eating wholesome foods and giving others ideas. Now if I see a blog where someone is skipping breakfast, eating a bowl of lettuce and an apple for dinner I may be concerned. The amounts of carbs that are consumed is wonderful! The hey I ate pizza today so i’ll eat a salad for lunch tomorrow is what this world needs to see! It’s about balance and not gung ho on my meat diet for this week and then stop and gain more weight.

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Marcia July 15, 2009

I still don’t see blogging 3x a day on food as obsessive, if you are a food blogger. I am thinking mainly of people like Jenna, Kath, Angie, and others where…it’s their job. They make money from their websites. They have bakeries. They are studying to be nutritionists.

I don’t consider myself obsessed with semiconductor process engineering, though I spend 40+ hours a week doing it…I get paid for it. I like it, but how is it obsessive?

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College Degrees July 24, 2009

It’s crazy the things people will do to their bodies to be skinny. But people shouldn’t have to go through all these extremes. The key like you said is balance. Some people just aren’t meant to be a size 2, everyone’s body structure is different.

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AGS December 17, 2009

Just read this, as I had a little downtime to reread past posts.

I happened to read that article. What strikes me as particularly interesting is that people fast to lose weight. For religious reasons, there are points in the calendar that I abstain from solid foods for a period of time. But it has nothing to do with losing weight or some personal quest or trying to get a vision (though, hey — if I happen to have an epiphany, I’m all for that! ;)).

Many religions have points in their calendars when people do not eat, but I see that as OK, particularly as you are drawn together in community. It is distressing that a standard religious practice is being confused with some silly goal to lose 5 pounds. Good grief.

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Jane September 13, 2012

The “raw lady” in the article, Aimee, is in my family. She was not trying to lose weight, I would say it was more of a health obsession or OCD. She ate a lot of kale, other green veggies, and made a lot of juices. She even ate raw desserts. She is educated, and book smart, so she read all about it. She had her son on only the diet and her breast-milk since he was born and he was pale and weak and is now behind in school. He never had a choice. I know this article is old but I just came across it. I’m sure many of you do this to be healthy or trendy, but this seems like a disorder most of the time. Get some fresh caught salmon and eat it with some vegetables, rice, and a glass of wine. You won’t die from it. Get a life beyond eating this, reading this, and blogging this. Other people read this, emulate the trend or use it to justify their eating disorder and/or OCD, etc. and almost die. Smoking weed is less harmful then what many of you are doing to yourselves; yet many raw/vegans maintain their self-righteousness and promote a lifestyle that was created for giraffes, or people with specific food allergies. This is another “innocent thing”, like refusing to vaccinate your kids, that hurts people, creates children to physically suffer, and just doesn’t make sense scientifically. It is actually denying common sense. If anyone reads this feel free to ask questions, chew me out or tell me your opinion. I’ll listen. If you chew me out or debate me I’ll answer you and… most likely, I’ll send you a rebuttal.

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