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When Healthy Eating Becomes an Obsession

Everybody knows we should “eat healthy”, but just what that is can be … confusing at best. The thing it shouldn’t be is limiting—in nutrients and your social life.

The focus on quality and purity can deteriorate into orthorexia, a term coined in 1996 by physician Steven Bratman to describe a “fixation on righteous eating.” Like anorexia and bulimia, it can wreak serious damage on the health of someone trapped in the obsession.

Orthorexia is not a formally recognized psychiatric diagnosis or eating disorder, although most experts agree it blends elements of both. While an anorexic or bulimic person is fueled by a desire to lose weight, someone with orthorexia single-mindedly pursues health through food.

Some with the condition eat only raw or organic foods. Some may follow a strict vegan or fruitarian diet. And others may eliminate sugar, processed ingredients, artificial flavors and colors, or anything that contains additives.

As the list of unacceptable foods lengthens, going hungry rather than eating something “unhealthy” seems increasingly reasonable.

The risks are more than physical, as those with orthorexia tend to isolate themselves. Because they may eat only specific foods in specific situations, dining at restaurants with friends becomes impossible. And their world revolves around planning, purchasing, and eating meals.

When you take that to an extreme, when you lose your flexibility, you’re stressing the system—not supporting it. The most important factor is balance.


What Your Doctor Won’t Tell You

Overweight? Even doctors may be side stepping that topic. I’ve written a lot about Americans not knowing or admitting that they are overweight (see here and here).

Now new data shows doctors aren’t even telling them that they are overweight, which isn’t helping the situation.  Getting an honest assessment from a physician appeared to be a key factor in whether or not study participants considered themselves overweight. Almost 37% of people whose body mass index (BMI) indicated they were overweight and 19% of obese participants but didn’t report hearing that news from a physician didn’t think they had a weight problem.

By contrast, only 6% of overweight and 3% of obese participants reporting a weight-focused conversation with a physician thought they weren’t overweight.

While this is troubling, it makes sense. Consumer Reports found that diet and nutrition are among the weakest areas of most doctors’ education in medical school, and few pursue further training on their own.

So if you are oblivious to your weight and your physician doesn’t say anything, how are you supposed to know?


The Pains of Having a Job?

Health.com reports on a new study showing that some jobs are so demoralizing that they are actually worse for mental health than NOT working at all.

Maybe it is the nature of being in the PR industry, but with so many friends bouncing from one job to the next these days this data doesn’t really surprise me. You may be out of work and the first opportunity that crosses your path seems like a godsend. You may even be in a place that you just need to get out of. In the end, you make a rash decision that leads you to be unhappy.

A lot of this plays into what I wrote about a few weeks back. Bad bosses will make anybody unhappy and stress can actually stem from bad managers.

Don’t get me wrong, your work has to be challenging (in a good way), but if anything this study shows that we really have to be careful about weighing our options before jumping in feet first.

The full Health.com article can be read here.

Is reality TV weight loss actual reality?

I am a diehard fan of “The Biggest Loser,” have taken to watching “I Used to Be Fat” and on occasion catch “Heavy.”

I tend to be more motivated if I watch these before my workout or the day before, which many experts see as a positive across the board. However, some experts see these programs as an unhealthy influence. They are concerned the shows’ emphasis on body image can encourage eating disorders and other dangerous behaviors.

Lynn Grefe, chief executive of the National Eating Disorders Association, believes the attitude that everyone needs to lose weight is questionable. “There are people who are heavy, but remain healthier than people who are slim or who are ‘yo-yo’ dieters. Weight is an individual thing and weight loss is not the best option—or even necessary—for everyone.”

She feels that in order to be healthy it has to focus on lifestyle changes, especially because 95% of the people who diet will regain their weight within five years.

On the other hand, contestants on The Biggest Loser have really involved trainers and a team that emphasizes more than just dieting but also maintaining a healthful lifestyle and educating people. They push them to exercise, they have chefs teach them tricks (I learned this one a few weeks ago) and make it clear that the team is overseeing their weight loss.

So is TV weight loss reality? Losing 30 lbs in one week can result in heart problems, bone loss and electrolyte imbalances, but what non-contestant can even do that? If you are watching these shows you have to know that as a normal person work and life will get in the way. Or at least I hope they do.

So what is your opinion? Do these shows help or harm viewers?


To Pass the Salt or Not…That is the Question

The typical American diet is full of salt. Even if you don’t add salt to your dishes, hidden sodium lurks everywhere—in restaurant meals and packaged foods—can lead to heart disease, diabetes and weight gain. So should you completely cut it out?

If you’re a healthy, active woman, you may not have to limit your sodium intake—despite all the government warnings.

Here is a surprising fact sodium is critical to maintaining every cell in the body. It helps control your heart rate, aids digestion and keeps you hydrated during exercise, among other things.

The sodium in your bloodstream helps keep your muscles functioning optimally when you exercise. You lose the mineral when you sweat, though; the average person may perspire away about 500 milligrams of sodium during an hour-long workout.

Still too much salt can potentially reduce your calcium. Researchers have found that increasing your intake of potassium, calcium and magnesium helps to counteract the negative effects of sodium and balance your mineral levels.

Color Me Yummy!

March is National Nutrition Month®. The campaign is part of the American Dietetic Association’s effort to educate and focuses attention on the importance of making informed food choices, developing healthy eating and physical activity habits.  It was started back in the 70s as a week and has exploded to a month.

This year’s theme is “Eat Right with Color.” Meaning RDs are focusing on the benefits of pigment-related phytonutrients found in fruits and vegetables that supply them.

Ok enough background. If you want more click here.

I LOVE, with a capital L, eating color. If I don’t have enough color in my salad it just looks sad. Being a pescatarian I don’t get a lot of variety when it comes to my protein colors. Sure, my salmon is pink, but so are my tuna and shrimp.

So I turn to my heaping pile of fruits and veggies. There are times when I crave a fruit salad simply because you can have so much variety that is good for you. I am always the first person to jump into the crudités plate at a party. (See below for the RIGHT portion.)

The point is, when I go to the Union Square farmer’s market and see all the gorgeous radishes, rainbow carrots, apples and pears I get excited. I can’t wait for spring to return so that my colors come back.

Radishes from the farmer's market

Portion sizes

Fruits:  The food pyramid suggests two to four servings of fruit per day. An example of a serving size of fruit would be:

  • One medium apple, orange or banana
  • 1/2 cup of chopped, cooked or canned fruit
  • 3/4 cup of fruit juice

Vegetables: The food pyramid suggests three to five servings of vegetables per day. An example of a serving size of vegetables would be:

  • 1 cup of raw leafy vegetables
  • 1/2 cup of other vegetables, cooked or raw
  • 3/4 cup of vegetable juice