nutrition is important but should never be obsessed over
Can you enjoy a bowl of ice-cream without the guilt? Do you drink red wine instead of white because it contains more antioxidants? How often do you eat something just because you like the taste of it without thinking about how much good it is doing you?
Vanessa Cullen, from Victoria, is a triathlete who counts calories and micronutrients. "I eat clean, no alcohol, gluten, lactose and refined-sugar free, no processed carbs of any kind (except energy gels during long rides), no junk food and low sodium. I don't ever crave or want any junk foods because I have replaced them all, such as blended frozen banana instead of ice-cream and carob powder with blackstrap molasses instead of chocolate." Cullen says her regime works for her and she has no intention of changing it.
Has the fun gone out of food?
Like Cullen more of us are planning our meals around the nutrients they contain, rather than eating for pleasure. Every day it seems like there is is a new superfood to include or a new diet to follow. Paleo, juice-cleansing, sugar detox or eating clean are just some of the fad diets promising to make us healthy.
But with the rise in nutritionism and slavishly following the latest so-called healthy eating trends, are we becoming increasingly miserable and forgetting that food is something to be enjoyed?
Jada Pinkett Smith is one celebrity who admits she does not eat for pleasure. She told Essencemagazine that her grandmother had taught her "you don't eat for taste, you eat for nourishment".
Clinical psychologist Louise Adams from Self Essentials, a leading specialist psychology clinic in Sydney, treats many women who eat to be healthy rather than for the enjoyment of eating.
"I see women who are obsessed with health and that health message is thrown at us all the time. Absolutely everything we eat must be healthy otherwise we are bad people."
There is so much information out there and everyone is an expert on food, Adams says. From celebrity chefs to mothers posting pictures of their children's lunch boxes on social media, "there is an obsession with health".
But an obsession with healthy food is as dangerous as any eating disorder, says Adams, whose mission is educating women to have a balanced and relaxed approach to food.
"Orthorexia is the term that is increasingly being given to this phenomenon — an increasing obsession with health. It presents exactly the same as an eating disorder but the primary motivation isn't getting thinner, it is being as healthy as possible. It is an ironic obsession with health. People lose insight and can't see that their fixation is unhealthy. Obsession and inflexibility are not healthy."
The orthorexic feels a sense of moral superiority over other people, Adams adds. "Orthorexics are those people posting everything they eat on Facebook — it never has any sugar in it and is made from rice bran and coconut. They are at the gym and are often employed there.
"Posting photos of healthy food breeds comparison and inadequacy," she says. "Please stop posting what you eat on Facebook. It's not inspiring healthiness and it's not particularly interesting."
We need to remember that we eat for other reasons apart from being healthy, Adams says. "We eat because the food is delicious or because it is a celebration or lots of other reasons. It is not an absolute fixation on health. We also know that depriving ourselves will set us up for wanting it more."
Instead she advises mindful eating. "Listen to your body. Eat when you are hungry. Stop when you are full and eat what you feel like, rather than following eating rules. Rules are not the answer."
Aside from the emotional toll of obsessing over healthy food, experts know that for some people adhering to so-called healthy diets such as paleo or raw food, may be excluding whole food groups and missing out on important nutrients.
Some people are confused and miserable because they don't know what to eat to be healthy, agrees Clare Collins, a spokeswoman for the Dietitians Association of Australia. "They become obsessed because they haven't accessed the right advice so their diets become more and more restrictive.
"There are a lot of people out there who are self-styled experts, they have been on television so they are now an expert on nutrition," Collins says.
"If you are totally confused, you don't know who to believe, I think the best thing to do would be to spend the money and go and get a personal consultation with an accredited practising dietitian."
Accredited practising dietitians (APDs) are university-qualified professionals who have the qualifications and skills to provide expert nutrition and dietary advice.
"Many of the self-styled experts reject the body of scientific research or evidence that well-trained people have. I think people can be reassured that the National Health and Medical Research Council and the Australian health department does have people's genuine health and wellness at heart when it comes to what advice the government endorses as healthy eating," Collins says. "A lot of people totally discount the evidence behind the national recommended eating plan."