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Encouraging healthy eating within society whilst being mindful of people who are struggling with disordered eating.

Elle Anthony Jan 18, 2022
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There is a definite drive towards 'healthy eating' in our current climate. While I understand this is important to encourage positive health, it is proving to be of detriment to those who are struggling with eating disorders such as anorexia.
Certain macronutrients are often demonised in society (fats, carbohydrates) and with so much advertising normalising restrictive diets, it is making recovery from disordered eating so much harder.
The traffic light system has been approved to many consumable products to warn consumers that certain things may be 'too high' in specific ingredients. Labels such as 'ONLY 99 calories' are chucked on packets. 'clean-eating' has become a buzzword. Words such as 'skinny' are being integrated into brand names or product advertising as a way to increase their sales.
While this can be helpful for a proportion of society, it can also be hugely unhelpful for another. Anorexia has the highest mortality rate of any mental health disorder and I feel this is further being driven by the fat-phobic culture we appear to now be living in. It is things like the traffic light system and calorie labelling on menus which only pushes this deadly illness further, and allows people struggling with restrictive eating to move further into the depths of it.
For someone who is trying to gain weight, to know that they are being advised to eat more than the recommended serving size can pose huge amounts of trauma to that individual. Often, the foods which are labelled as 'unhealthy', 'bad' or 'naughty' are full of nutrients that a malnourished individual so desperately needs to improve their health. With the majority of society seemingly trying to avoid these foods or seeing them as having no part in a healthy diet, it can be excruciatingly confusing and painful for an underweight individual to have to eat them (as they may be required to do in treatment centres).
My question is, how can we encourage 'healthy' eating in a way that does not make those who are already vulnerable to disordered eating even more vulnerable? How can we find a happy medium that carefully educates those who may be overweight whilst not providing information that can be quite easily abused?
Since Covid-19, the number of reported people struggling with eating disorders has increased dramatically, causing huge amounts of stress on eating disorder services. My worry is that through continuing to promote calorie restriction as being a positive thing, it is also causing huge, negative impacts on people who are susceptible to vulnerabilities around food.
I have been wondering for a long time whether there is a way that this can be managed, but it seems like very complex.
Creative contributions

Teach double standards to kids:)

Darko Savic
Darko Savic Jan 19, 2022
When we talk about food I tell my kids that those who are growing or working/training hard need more energy and will benefit from carbs. In contrast, people who lead a sedentary life and adults, in general, need less food. They see this in practice - I give them ice cream while I refrain from eating it. When asked why I explain what the difference is between a small human whose cells are rapidly dividing and an adult whose cells are only renewing.
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Elle Anthony2 years ago
Thanks for your input. I agree that this is a great way to instil a healthy attitude towards food/diet in children from an early age. However, I am wondering how we can be sensitive towards those who have already been negatively impacted by implementations such as calorie labelling and have developed deep rooted issues and sensitivity around this language.
Once someone is in the depths of disordered eating, it is highly unlikely that they will be able to coherently take on this information and apply it to themselves. While I think it can be very beneficial and important to inform people of food content, it is highly apparent that this can be quite easily abused and used to drive negative behaviours and detrimental outcomes.
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Promote healthy eating and acceptance at the same time

Michaela D
Michaela D Jan 19, 2022
I agree that this topic is multifactorial and very complex. On the one hand, you want to promote healthy eating but without increasing eating disorders, like anorexia, or increasing guilt in people who have eating disorders in general.
It is important for people to realize that with diet and weight management there's no one size fits all. Some people will benefit from less fat, sugar, carbs, meat, you name it. Some people benefit by tracking calories, others benefit by going with their (gut) feeling. People can try different things and see what works for them.
It is essential for everyone to know what is healthy but also that not everyone fits in the "golden standards". This way people would be more accepting and less judgemental to themselves and others. That would decrease guilt and stress that reinforce eating disorders.
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Elle Anthony2 years ago
I share your opinion in that there is definitely not a "one size fits all" rule. I understand that it is helpful to have general guidelines for promoting health through diet and exercise, but I also feel that there is a strong bias towards recommendations which encourage the restriction of certain foods/macronutrients, and promote exercise.
Please do not assume I am against many of these recommendations; far from. I believe that regular exercise can play an important part in a healthy lifestyle. However, an acknowledgement of the fact that not everyone is going to benefit from the same input (i.e. following a specific diet or doing a certain amount of exercise per week) would be encouraging.
I think that many ideas which have been implemented in recent years to help encourage healthy lifestyles have also made things harder for certain populations. For example, while smart watches can prompt someone to "get up and move", they can also trigger those who 'should' be resting to move, or bring up feelings of guilt if they can find the willpower to ignore these notifcations.
How do we start encouraging more gentle and neutral language surrounding food and exercise? How do we discourage people from calling certain foods "bad" or labelling themselves as "naughty" if they are to eat something that is deemed as being unhealthy? How do we stop viewing people as "lazy" if they haven't exercised for a few days? Similarly to your views, I believe that once we are more inclusive of everyone's individual needs, life will feel a little easier to navigate for those who are struggling with an eating disorder/exercise addiction.
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Ban related labels which are there for marketing purposes

Povilas S
Povilas S Jan 19, 2022
You mentioned advertising labels as being part of the problem. There is a difference between labels or any product information stating facts (number of carbohydrates, fats, calories, etc.) and ones trying to encourage people to buy it. LOW FAT! = "good, healthy, buy it"; "10 g fat per 100 g product" = factual information. If we, as a society are to agree that the health of the individuals is more important than the income of the corporations, we can agree on baning labels that are obviously done for marketing purposes and work by psychological mechanisms.
One can argue, that such labels as bolded LOW FAT can also be helpful considering the individual's health since they help find the right product faster (the product that the person was anyway looking for in the first place). If someone is looking for a low calory product to regulate their weight for health purposes, it's simply easier to find if the label is right in your face compared to searching the info amongst data labels on the back of the product. However, considering the problem raised in this session, the solution we are aiming for is a certain balance and I think it can be achieved by not advertising things neither one nor another way (especially not to advertise them in a specific manner when the main purpose is to gain money).
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Elle Anthony2 years ago
I am very much in agreement with your comments - thank you. Clearly, one of the issues for people with experiencing an eating disorder is that their "eating disordered mind" will be driven to seek out these products (especially if they are not yet in active recovery). Therefore, they will no doubt be inflenced and enticed into buying these products over the full-fat/higher calorie options which would be more beneficial for them.
My worry is that due to the nature of this mental health disorder, many sufferers will find it incredibly hard to fight against these compulsions such as buying "healthy" foods or engaging in exercise programmes. Perhaps it would be helpful to try and consider ways in which vulnerable people such as these can be protected from exposure to this kind of information which they are often not in a position to engage with in a way that is appropriate to themselves.
Treatment centres and health professionals work extensively to support their patients in navigating this minefield and to deter them from becoming more unwell, but for those who are not engaging in treatment, it seems a very complicated issue to manage, and one that can lead to terrible and often life threatening consequences.
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The (Im)Possible Dream

Danny Weir
Danny Weir Jan 19, 2022
If there's one thing we've learned during the age of marketing and advertising it's that we can't rely on companies to do the "right" thing. Money over everything has long been the motto of the corporations that dominate our supermarket and high street shelves up and down every aisle. Food labelling has developed into a sort of fashion branding, items designed to catch our eye and make us buy. For sure, better policing of packaging/labelling would be a dream, but relying on that to be enforced any time soon is a potentially futile exercise.
We, as a society, have to start thinking about things differently and voting with our pound notes. Don't get me wrong, that's easier said than done, but as awareness grows for eating disorders it becomes more of a possibility that people start to make decisions based on what they know they need rather than what the big players force us to want. Now, more than ever, is the time to start making these conscious changes and it will require some bravery from consumers and companies alike. Think about the newly increased availability of vegan products in supermarkets, 20 years ago this would have seemed an impossibility.
So how is it going to work? Education. Government. Consumer power. We need to educate ourselves on our actual dietary needs and become aware that it's not a one-size-fits-all deal. We need a government who is going to put its people first and not succumb to the power of money. We need to boycott the lying and truth-bending companies who are only after our cash. Then, we might just have a chance.
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Elle Anthony2 years ago
Sadly, I think you're right... Society appears to have built some strong foundations upon which the idea of 'healthy eating' now sits upon. I believe it will require bravery and constant determination to break down this construct.
I am noticing small changes here and there... from magazine articles that challenge the demonisation of sugar, to promising Instragram hashtags such as '#ditchthescales'. People are starting to notice the negative impact that certain language around food is creating. Individuals who have fought to overcome eating disorders are using their rage against consumerist societies to make a stand. I trust that through this movement, we will find a happy medium somewhere between discouraging obesity and promoting malnourishment, both of which are equally vulnerable to serious, life threatening consequences.
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