My last post touched on a topic beyond the scope of this blog and my book (non-hungry cravings); and in this post, I’ll address another broad topic that is not specific to bulimia/BED; but has many implications for binge eaters. That topic is: what does “healthy” eating mean?
First of all, I am not a nutrition expert, and I do not claim to have all the answers on what to eat to maintain optimal health. Like I said in my book, I’ve been recovered for a long time but I still don’t have what I’d call a perfect diet. I don’t think learning to eat an ideal diet is part of recovery, but instead it is a life improvement goal not specific to an eating disorder. I mentioned in the book that I had hoped to make more improvements to my diet in the future; and even since publishing it at the end of 2010, I believe I have. I don’t think I eat as many processed foods as when I was writing, I try to cook more, and the majority of what I eat is “real” food (although due to lack of money, the food I eat isn’t usually organic). I still would like to make more improvements in my family’s eating habits; but lately, I’ve come upon a stumbling block of trying to sort out what is healthy and what is not.
I sometimes feel that if you name any food, there is some expert who could label it unhealthy. We’ve all heard that sugar/processed foods aren’t healthy; that’s common knowledge by now (although I believe nothing should be labeled “bad” or “off limits” and everything in moderation is okay). However, there seems to be more and more foods being blacklisted based on some scientific study or anecdotal evidence. There are nutritional experts claiming that dairy, wheat, soy, meat, eggs, starches, fruit, anything that isn’t organic, certain oils and fats, coffee, and even all whole grains and legumes are detrimental to our health (more on whole grains/legumes and “paleo” eating in my next blog). To make matters even more confusing, there are usually experts on the other side saying those same foods are fine, or even very healthy for us. Then, expert opinions can change over time and new research can prove previous advice wrong.
I personally can get a bit overwhelmed by this, and I know I’m not alone. I have had a few health-conscious friends and family members echo this same sentiment lately, which is why I thought I’d touch on this subject in my blog. I think ultimately, we all have to decide what foods/eating habits work for us, regardless of what the popular consensus is, or what the latest nutritional research claims to prove. I think it’s great to learn about nutrition, but I also think it’s important to keep in mind that nutrition is highly individual and what might be healthy for one person might not be for another, because of food sensitivities/allergies or other physiological factors. Also, nutrition is not the only factor that plays into health, and we shouldn’t ignore the other factors. Stress reduction, and proper sleep are two examples that come to mind. For some, going through all the extra trouble to ensure a perfectly healthy diet can cause so much stress that it offsets any benefits of the healthy eating. Not all of us can manage to always eat organic, gluten/lactose/dairy/soy-free, grassfed everything; and if we tried, it might just be more trouble than it would be worth.
I think doing the best you can, based on what you believe is healthy for you, without letting it cause too much added stress is ideal. I have a wonderful friend who went back to school to get a master’s degree in health education and always has great advice on this topic. She told me recently that she thinks “balancing nutrition with sanity” is a good approach. I definitely agree that it’s important to have a balanced perspective when we try to sort through constantly changing and controversial nutritional advice.