Is healthy eating doing us more harm than good?

Do you worry about how much healthy food you’re eating?

Yes, you read that correctly!

Not bad food, good food!

My relationship with food is far from healthy but as I sat reading yet another magazine article that warned me of the dangers of my tuna pasta salad and skinny latte, I realised that I was feeling stressed about some of the choices I make.

It didn’t then surprise me to read that there’s been a significant rise in a new eating phobia.

A phobia of not eating healthily enough. It’s called orthorexia.

Yes, Eating healthily can actually be bad for you (mentally that is)!

Eating the right foods is important to me, we have three meals a day, but I also have a terribly sweet tooth and turn to sugary snacks for both comfort and a treat. I’m constantly worrying about foods we do and do not eat.

Since we lost Abi in 2013, and then having a baby a year later, my diet (as in food intake, not diet plan) has been all over the place. It’s frustrating, as in 2012 I’d got to the best place in my fitness and health, and had finally developed good habits, but when a tragedy took the rug from under me I crawled back under the comfort-eating blanket (when your healthy child dies suddenly, you kind of stop giving a stuff about restricting yourself!).

I want to get back on track with healthy eating but battling grief emotions and with so much conflicting advice in the press, I get easily confused what to do for the best. Then I read about orthorexia and it made perfect sense to me.

We are born worriers
Worrying is what we do. In ages gone by we were quite rightly scared of big threats to our lives – sabre tooth tigers, famine or the plague – except these days the reality of the fear isn’t quite the same as the very real fears of the past. It seems there is always something to be afraid of, and this isn’t helped by consumerism or clever media tactics.


Source: Which magazine

I’ve found I’ve been stressing about food in a way I never used to before. I stand in the supermarket and am overwhelmed by the choice. Hmm, didn’t I read an article that too much fruit sugar is bad for you? Better not go crazy on the smoothies then, but what else will the kids eat? And, apparently fats are good for you now, so should I buy butter instead of this low-fat spread?

My seven-year-old son is a typical fruit-phobic boy – he’ll eat a banana but that’s it (and that’s despite me feeding him fresh food concoctions from weaning). So I buy him fruit smoothies as a way to get something into him that’s half healthy, but apparently they are so ‘bad’ for him that I might as well feed him full fat cola!

Are we over-juicing the issue?
The buzzwords at the moment are ‘eating clean’ and ‘juicing’. Juicing sounds ideal. Simply blitz up all those fruits and vegetables into one big drink to get your healthy food fix. Pictures of delicious-looking juices are all over social media and many of my friends swear by it. But what’s happening is that people are doing it a bit too much which means they are missing out on the important fibre intake.

Is there any way to eat right these days?!

I try to buy fairly healthy foods, we have basic meals of meat and veg, but I have this feeling that I’m not doing enough, that I should be doing more – mushing funny seeds into their foods, trying exotic dishes or forcefeeding them pulp! My children are fussy in different ways, so cooking one balanced meal we all like is near impossible unless it’s a roast dinner.

Even though we all eat well and are healthy, I’m left feeling a bit of a crap parent and probably a bit orthorexic! It might sound extreme but that’s how my over-anxious brain works at times and with the constant steam of information online and in the news, I know I’m not the only one.

The scares don’t end with food…
I read an article the other day which claimed that Wi-Fi was being banned in schools as it was making the kids ill and potentially killing them!

Wi-Fi is pretty much as important as food in our house (yes, a sorry state to be in, I agree. It was when we had a power cut a few months ago and my children were complaining about not being able to get on Instagram or watch TV – rather than eat dinner – that I realised just how so!).

Wi-Fi is everywhere! My children are going to get brain tumours because I let them use tablets or phones, or do their homework online. I’ve breastfed my baby for 14 months browsing on my phone half of the time. Help! They will need to invent a new phobia for this one – wifiobia. Where mothers are sending their children to school in lead helmets and breastfeeding in lead aprons.

Surely it’s all about balance…?
I sent my hubby to the shop at the weekend to buy ingredients for a roast dinner. He chose the meat okay, but apart from potatoes, he bought carrots. Carrots! I complained and told him he’d get scurvy if he didn’t eat more veg.

His reply?

I haven’t had scurvy yet have I?”

I couldn’t argue with him. In 40 years he has done very well on some basic fruit and veg in his diet – no weird seeds or spreads or liquids. He definitely does not have five a day. But he’s not an overeater, likes an occasional beer and has a liking for Kettle crisps, he doesn’t exercise much these days, but he’s pretty fit and healthy, and ultimately happy in his own skin.

I know eating healthily is a big concern as the nation’s waistlines increase and pressures on our NHS rise dealing with related problems. It’s a big issue that won’t go away on its own. Sugar is a big problem for me, and I know I’d feel much better (and have fewer fillings) if I didn’t eat so much of it … but, like salt, it’s in everything so I find it very hard to cut out.

I can’t help thinking we need to have simpler messages, clearer labelling and more wholesome food which is affordable – rather than creating new fads and introducing new fears.

Many people need to follow certain diets to help control various conditions, but all of us are just looking to feed our families a tasty, balanced meal in between juggling a million other things.

An apple still costs as much as a chocolate bar, and people on tight budgets opt for processed foods because they are so cheap or quick to cook. We also should focus on our mental wellbeing more, as half the problem stems around the need to fill a void when we are struggling to keep on top of things.

Life is too short to live on extreme diets, stressing about every morsel, but then life really will be short if we don’t look after ourselves!

What do you think? Are you a clean eater? Do you worry that your diet isn’t good enough? Or do you eat what you want when you want? I’d love to know.

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12 thoughts on “Is healthy eating doing us more harm than good?

  1. I can SO relate to this! I’ve given up reading about sugar, because frankly we all have to eat! Like you, I have a fruit-phobic child (well, two of them to be honest), so every day she has a smoothie, a glass of apple juice and a glass of orange juice. And she’s still alive! And active! And a healthy weight!
    Our generation grew up without seeds mushed into our food and we’d never heard of five a day. TBH, the 1970s and 80s diets were pretty ‘unhealthy’ (although the portions were probably smaller) and we’re all still alive!
    I have issues with hand washing and sanitising and am trying to wean myself off that too. I blame the media – too much information is bad for a worrier!

  2. Thanks Sarah, glad to know I’m not alone! I almost feel guilty for revealing how ‘bad’ our diet is. People seem to judge each other so much these days. Handwashing is also a thing I’ve loosened up on – that is using antibacterial soaps. We never had them growing up and our immunities were much stronger. Apparently many of them are banned in the US.

  3. Oh absolutely. Fads and foods being good for you/bad for you depending on what day you read certain papers just creates endless confusion. Most foods that people perceive as ‘healthy alternatives’ such as ones advertised as being low in fat are really bad of course because they’re full of sugar which turns to fat just the same as anything else! I think people want quick fixes.

    I have a phobia about being without wifi – awful isn’t it?

    So many other scares too – mobile phones, deodorants…think most of it is just to fill up space in 24 hour news media. xxx

    • Ha! Yes Leigh that’s very true! I think the supermarkets are to blame too as they promote both types of food. And yes we all want a quick fix! And I changed my deodorant recently too!

  4. You really capture the essence of it. Eat healthy, in general, but don’t get obsessive about it! Yes food matters, but only to a limited extent; there is so much more to life. Besides, speaking not only as the inventor of “orthorexia,” but as a very involved parent (and now grandparent), the things you most worry about doing wrong with your kids turn out, in retrospect, to have been trivial! Steven Bratman, MD, MPH

    • Absolutely Steven! And thank you. I feel honoured to meet the man who discovered this phobia. One of my saddest memories is a friend who was obsessed with losing weight, she joined diet clubs and counted points. She died of cancer five years later, painfully thin at the end. I used to think of all the times she denied herself a treat and sat at her desk eating peas! It wouldn’t have changed her outcome. Thank you for sharing.

  5. My lovely husband had orthorexia not long after we met. He lost 20% of his body weight and both of have lots of remainjng anxieties around food and supermarkets. (To do with sourcing, fair trade, organic, seasonality, pesticides, additives etc etc). I have managed to find a bit of balance by trying to shop local “yes, they’re imported Kenyan beans in November but it came from my local small small grocer” etc. And actually a period of skintness last year did help me to Get The Fuck Over Myself and just go to Aldi. But I can walk through a supermarket and find reasons not to buy a thing!

    When my kids ask me what is the healthiest food I say “a little bit of everything!”

  6. So glad you wrote this, it’s something that has been bothering me for a while now. I do think we’re all so overly obsessed with what food stuffs we take in on a daily basis. I have friends who are this way inclined and it’s so boring! I can’t keep up with all the changes that come our way on an almost weekly basis – good fats, bad fats, too much sugar, not even healthy sugar. Argh! x

  7. yes absolutely I agree! It’s hard to know what is healthy nowadays! I personally use the rule that the more a food is in it’s natural state the better it is… i.e. not processed, overcooked etc. I definitely worry about what my children eat and it’s so hard when all they want is cake and pasta! I still think smoothies are good if you make them yourself… especially if you can hide things like spinach or avocado in them… #brilliantblogposts

  8. Pingback: Healthy Eating vs. Orthorexia | Orthorexia

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