Why healthy eating can become unhealthy

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A healthy diet is one that is balanced. Balanced meaning, everything in moderation and if any of you know me, you will hear me saying the word 'moderation' frequently. A healthy 'balanced' diet can include a piece of cake, a piece of cake CAN be eaten and you can still be 'healthy', the key is moderation and moderating the amount of foods that are high in sugar and high in fat.  Typically the foods that are seen as unhealthy are those that are high in sugar and high in fat, packed full of calories and have very little nutritional benefit (i.e contain no or very little vitamin or minerals), they often fill you up for 10 minutes or so, giving you a big sugar rush, then leave you hungry and wanting more... a little bit of a tease if you ask me.

Orthorexia. Have you heard this term being used before? 

Orthorexia is a termed used to describe the condition that includes obsessive preoccupation with pursuing a healthy diet. Often an emotional rollercoaster and self punishing relationship with food, characterised by a restrictive diet, ritual eating patterns and rigid avoidance of foods believed to be unhealthy or impure. Orthorexia can start out as a innocent goal of eating healthy, but in some cases can become side tracked and steered down a path of being fixated on food purity and food quality. This can lead to food choices and dietary intake becoming so severely restrictive that the individual can become deficient and lacking in some essential micro and macro nutrients that their health suffers, but also impacts on relationships and quality of life . Due to lack of empirical data, orthorexic is not yet recognised as a psychiatric disorder. 

However, orthorexia is a term that some of us can identify with in some format, for example, have you ever felt guilty about splurging on something 'naughty' after trying to follow a healthy diet?How many of you walk around and around the supermarket, fixated on calories, protein and fat contents of food items and spending endless hours food prepping? Or have any of you felt excluded from social occasions because the event includes food not on your diet plan?

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I have created 5 little tips to help you embrace what i feel is a healthy diet: 

1. EVERYTHING IN MODERATION  

Sometimes 100% healthy is in fact not healthy. This can sound confusing, so lets break it down. 

Heres an example; how many of us started using lots more coconut oil after a new health trend began? We would find ourselves adding 1 or more tsps of coconut oil to meal preparations or even added into our coffees, because coconut oil is healthy right?!? 
But did any of us think about the additional calories we were adding without even acknowledging it. Coconut oil's health benefits are associated with MCTs - being medium chained fatty acids. Short and medium chain fatty acids are more easily digested than long chained fatty acids. MCTs are unique as they are transported straight to the liver for faster absorption. But with this being said, despite the differences in absorption, coconut oil is still a fat source and gram for gram, 1 gram of fat contains around 9 kcal, which is two times the energy of carbohydrate or protein 

2. EAT WHOLE FOODS

A whole food is a food item containing one ingredient. For example an apple,  a potato, a carrot, a chicken or a tuna fish etc. Whole foods are minimally processed and do not contain artificial ingredients. They are nutrient-dense, rich in vitamins, minerals and other important compounds that are functionally important. A processed food contains more than one ingredient, for example a packet of crisps, jelly babies, a doughnut or a pizza slice. Generally packaged food items have an ingredients list longer than one item. Processed food items typically have added sugars, preservatives, dyes and “bad” fats such as saturated and trans fats to help increase shelf life, palatability or to bind ingredients. As soon as food is processed it starts to lose nutrients. The more processed, the less nutrients it has. That doesn’t mean you should only eat raw food.

This great picture from http://nutritionrefined.com helps reiterate my point 

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3. VARIETY IS THE SPICE OF LIFE

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Rather than cutting out foods, we should encourage eating a variety of foods. The more variety of foods we consume, the greater the chance we have of ingesting a range of different vitamins, minerals and macronutrients (proteins, carbohydrates and fats) and each one plays an important role in health. Whether it being eating the colour of the rainbow in fruit and vegetables, eating a mixture of animal and plant protein or eating a range of healthy fats (omega -3 rich and omega -6 rich foods). 

4. FILL YOUR PLATE WITH VEGGIES

Actively trying to fill 1/2 your dinner plate with vegetables, will help increase the consumption of nutrient-dense foods, packed full of vitamins, minerals and fibre helping you feel fuller for longer. 

Exploring and trying new vegetables such as beetroot, tomatoes, broccoli, cabbage, peppers, carrots, cauliflower, celery, cucumber, aubergine, leafy greens, etc. helps to add flavour to savoury dishes and increases their nutrient and water content. Starchy vegetables such as potatoes, sweet potatoes and squashes for example are high-quality carbohydrates rich in vitamins, minerals, and fiber, but also high in calories and lower in water.

Try to consume as many different kinds of vegetables as possible, paying particular attention to their colour. Different colours mean different nutrients.

5. NO MEAL IS A 'CHEAT' MEAL 

“If I eat healthy for X amount of days, then Saturday night I can have my cheat meal of pizza/chocolate/ice cream/etc. because I’ll have earned it.”

I seriously loather the term "cheat meal"

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Your state of mind is closely related to your gut. Emotion and food are highly linked. The term "cheat meal" gives the impression that a healthy diet is a chore or an abnormal task and that all other foods are seen as treat, a guilt ridden indulgence, an escape from the 'diet'.  Food and emotion are so closely linked that terming some foods as a cheat creates a negative picture and can cause an uproar of emotions when your diet doesn't go to plan.  Embrace a bit of balance, try and live by the 80:20 guideline. Eating mainly nutrient-dense foods 80% of the time, then you can indulge in less nutrient dense foods 20% time - allowing you to have your cake and eat it. Enjoying life balance by having the best of both worlds and not having to hide away from social situations because they don't adhere to your strict diet. The 80:20 rule can also help reduce feelings of guilt because you've strayed away from your diet and eaten some biscuits with your coffee or had a pizza night in with your friends. 

References
Koven, N. S., & Abry, A. W. (2015). The clinical basis of orthorexia nervosa: emerging perspectives. Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment11, 385–394. http://doi.org/10.2147/NDT.S61665

 

Lindsay Bensonhealthy, diet, tips