Eating disorders continue to affect many people around the UK. And with the prevalence of bloggers promoting so-called ‘clean-eating diets’, medical experts are warning that this could lead to even more people developing the illness.
Most think of anorexia and bulimia when they hear the term ‘eating disorder’, but a new form of eating disorder known as ‘orthorexia’ has become a major issue for many individuals. Orthorexia is described as a dangerous obsession with eating only ‘healthy’ foods. And while it sounds as though eating only healthy foods should not cause a problem, many experts believe that those with unhealthy food relationships are hiding their problems behind the mask of orthorexia.
Consultant nutritionist Fiona Hunter said that unqualified advice offered by those on social media platforms such as Instagram are allowing individuals to hide behind new terms including ‘healthy’ or ‘clean’ living. She added, “There’re so many people out there without the appropriate qualifications, pretty and slim wellness bloggers who have thousands of Instagram followers who hang onto their every word, who are giving advice based on no evidence at all. There’s a real concern that this helps young women mask an underlying eating disorder. It’s more acceptable to say ‘I don’t eat gluten’ than to say ‘I don’t want to eat that cake’.”
A large number of bloggers are advising followers to reduce the amount of dairy they consume, and according to Ms Hunter, this is ‘very worrying’. She said that unqualified bloggers do not understand the long-term consequences of the advice they are giving, adding that half of women in the UK over the age of fifty will develop osteoarthritis, which is a condition linked to calcium deficiency.
Ms Hunter said, “Any restrictive diet that cuts out a major food group, like dairy products or carbohydrates, means you run the risk of nutritional deficiencies.”
She said that those on these ‘clean living’ diets may feel good now, but in the long term, they could be damaging their bodies.
Royal Free Hospital eating disorder specialist, Dr Mark Berelowitz said that up to ninety per cent of the patients he sees are following ‘clean eating’ diets. These diets often exclude food groups such as gluten, dairy, meat, carbohydrates, and sugar. He said, “A typical case would be a 14-year-old girl who has been looking at these sites for a long time and subtly adjusting her eating, and is now very skinny.”
Dr Berelowitz agreed that for some people, such as overweight adults, restricting carbohydrates can be beneficial, but he pointed out that it could be dangerous for those who had an unhealthy relationship with food, especially teenagers. He added that clean eating “gives someone who is battling to hold on to their health a misplaced sense that they ought not to have that peanut-butter sandwich for a snack, and instead have some raw broccoli.”
He went on to say that a clean eating regimen is a marketing ploy that makes individuals think certain healthy foods are bad for them. He added, “People with eating disorders often worry about being greedy and the whole ‘clean’ thing is so anti-greedy.”
He criticised bloggers for causing stress to those who have low self-esteem and said many of his patients become obsessed with following the advice regarding clean eating. He said that bloggers should be doing more to educate young followers on healthy eating and the dangers of following these ‘clean eating’ regimens.
Although most people assume that eating disorders occur as a result of an intense desire to be thin, there is more to it than that. There are a number of factors that make an eating disorder more likely in some individuals than in others. It is important to remember, however, that not everyone who has the risk factors will develop an eating disorder.
Those with a family history of eating disorder or addiction may be more likely to suffer just as those who are under pressure to be a certain weight. This could include dancers, models, gymnasts, and athletes. Eating disorders are common among those who suffer from low self-esteem or those with mental health issues such as anxiety disorder.
While certain comments from others about weight or body shape can trigger an eating disorder, it is usually those with other risk factors who will be affected. A throwaway comment may not affect one person, but it could trigger a devastating chain of events in someone who already suffers from self-esteem issues.
There are other factors that can lead to eating disorders in some people, such as a traumatic event. The death of a loved one or past traumatic experiences such as emotional or sexual abuse can be underlying causes of eating disorders in some people.
What is becoming apparent, though, is that the obsession with clean living is providing those with obvious eating disorders a way to mask their illnesses.
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