Food: “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly”
Monday, 22 March 2021
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By Aya Z.
There are a few things that truly are crucial for life. One of those things is nutrition. Food is absolutely essential to an individual’s health, whether it be mental or physical. Food has a major impact on the body and the mind. Those impacts range from good to bad. It is said that the stomach is our second brain and the same way we worry about mental health, we should worry about gut health. In this article, myths and stigmas will be debunked, awareness will be invoked, and hopefully every reader will learn something new.
We are all raised on the all-too-simple fact that junk food is bad. This is true to a certain extent. Let us first define junk food: “Junk food” generally refers to foods that contribute lots of calories but little nutritional value (https://www.webmd.com/diet/features/junk-food-facts#1). One often thinks of foods like pizza or burgers. However, that is when the definition of “junk food” becomes misconstrued. The connotation of, for example, pizza being a bad kind of food is problematic. A pizza, in its simplest form, provides carbs from the crust, fibre from the sauce, some fats from the cheese, and if you’re feeling special, protein from a meat of your choice and vitamins from veggie toppings. Does this comply with the villainized “junk food” we talk about? Absolutely not – it is actually quite a balanced food. The confusion comes in when one is talking about fast food pizza. True junk food is the food drenched in oils, food colouring, and preservatives. However, we should still have ‘junk’ food… in moderation. Junk food is bad when you eat too much. In excessive amounts, true junk food can cause higher risk of obesity, depression, digestive issues, heart disease and stroke, type 2 diabetes, cancer, and even early death. The best way to go about food is to be intuitive and mindful. If you crave brownies, have a brownie – but just one. Make it a habit to honour your cravings and recognize when you are full. It is often best to kickstart this habit with the 80:20 method; 80% balanced and healthy food and 20% whatever you want.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, we have “superfoods” and fad diets. They are the health foods like chia seeds, avocadoes, quinoa, kale and the diets like keto, paleo, the 5:2, etc. You often hear of their miraculous effects and of how life-changing they are. Just like connotation that all “junk foods” are automatically unhealthy, this connotation can be harmful. As mentioned previously, moderation is key. These superfoods and diets are prominent in what is depicted as “perfect” and “healthy” eating – often unsustainable eating, however. While these foods are high in nutritional value, they are brought to popularity as fads, trends that come and go. These fads often nurture obsessing over the content of your food and demonize junk food even more. Superfoods are often marketed as miracle foods for weight loss and things of that nature. However, there is no food on the planet that actually causes weight loss. There is always mass misinformation in terms of superfoods because they are often marketing ploys. These foods often create the notion that they are the only means of being healthy. The same way people get addicted to fast food, people become addicted to “healthy” food. This is when the notion of “healthy” food becomes not so healthy. In worst cases, people develop an eating disorder called orthorexia. Orthorexia is the obsessive behaviour of only eating “healthy” food. Most people don’t get to this stage; however, most are sucked into diet culture. Diet culture is sugar-coated orthorexia inflicted by influencers and models. Teens and even children on social media listen to their advice on being “healthy” and “fit”. They often use clickbait terms like “beach bod”, “weight loss”, etc. to advertise placebo practices and absurd life hacks like drinking apple cider vinegar and lemon water. (PS: All literature up to this day do not back up any of the claims that the previously mentioned concoctions promote weight loss or even help with digestion. All claims approving it are anecdotal, the science still hasn’t confirmed anything.) Is eating healthy food bad? Not at all, you need to eat healthy food. Is health food obsession bad? Yes. Eat moderately, mindfully, and intuitively. If you don’t feel like having a green avocado chia “health miracle” smoothie, you don’t have to. You should eat whatever you want, mindfully.
With all the previously mentioned info in mind, you can assume food can be stressful for a lot of people. Food and social factors cause eating disorders. Eating disorders are very serious. Eating disorders have the most fatalities per year than any other mental health issue. They are terribly tiring and often take a very long time to overcome. They include Anorexia Nervosa, Binge Eating Disorder, Other Specified Feeding and Eating Disorders (OSFED), Bulimia, Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID), Rumination Disorder, and Unspecified Feeding or Eating Disorder (UFED). Food should be one of the least worrying things. However, this is not the case for everyone. In a society where we have so much access to information and influencers, it is very easy to be sucked into this cycle. We are shown daily what the “ideal body” looks like. This idea differs from person to person but, predominantly, it is the curvy and very thin body for girls and the tall and muscular for boys. These bodies are often unobtainable, whether it be due to genetics or the other means of obtaining them. Impressionable children and teens do not realize this. Due to the praise these influencers and models get for their bodies, an innocent and impressionable growing teen becomes insecure and thinks, “Why don’t I look like that?” and then further, “How can I look like that?”. The fact of the matter is that beauty comes in all shapes and sizes, within healthy measures. You do not need to look like Victoria’s Secret or Calvin Klein models. You truly don’t. The notion that you do often leads to insecurity and, worse, eating disorders. Eating disorder symptoms, generally summarized, consist of restricting food, obsessing over calories, over-exercising, induced vomiting, obsessing over nutritional value, and binging on food. Sometimes it’s one symptom, sometimes it’s a few, and sometimes it’s all of them. Eating disorders cause problems like loss of bone and muscle mass, fatigue, disruption of gastrointestinal function, heart complications,
disruption in the endocrine system (girls sometimes lose their period), and often it goes hand in
hand with depression.
Food is great. Managing it simply should not be this complicated and for many people it isn’t. Unfortunately, for others, sometimes it is complicated and, moreover, life-threatening. As someone with an eating disorder and now recovering, I urge you to accept and love yourself the way you are. Yes, Kendall Jenner is beautiful, but so are you. You need not compare, no matter how much society and social media tells you to. I faced multiple health complications as a result of my eating disorder; My immunity was compromised, I developed joint problems, and could not get my period anymore. Emotionally, I was drained but simultaneously and constantly preoccupied with my food intake and the quality of my intake. It is exhausting and more importantly, not worth it in the slightest. Today, I’m trying to get used to eating specific foods again but, some days, I face problems eating food in general. Recovery is not linear nor is it immediate. If a friend is feeling insecure, reassure them and remind them they don’t need to be. If you know someone struggling with an eating disorder, please help them and ask them to get help. I’ve encountered individuals that deny the seriousness of eating disorders. This is inconsiderate; Please be considerate of people struggling and refrain from using triggering phrases like, “Why don’t you just eat?”, “You don’t look like you have an eating disorder”, “You’ve eaten so much/little!”, etc… Especially in a country like Lebanon, where even depression is misunderstood, you need to be aware and educated. In conclusion, food truly is great and trusting your body is the only sustainable diet in the world.
Sources to further educate yourself on eating disorders or reach out for help: