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The Perfect Diet? Phrases that Make Eating Disorder Dieticians Wince

“With the ‘wellness world’ forever growing, pursuit of the ‘healthiest’ diet is at an all-time high. Yet along the way, it seems that just about every food group has been vilified, eating styles criticized and weird concoctions seen as the ‘holy grail’. The nutrition world has become a minefield.”

So says Rebecca Jennings, nutritional therapist at the Priory Group’s Arthur House, a newly-opened residential eating disorder service in Wimbledon. The service aims to save the NHS thousands of pounds by preventing patients from relapsing after hospital treatment.

It offers a range of psychological therapies, delivered by a team with extensive experience, to help prevent the ‘triggers’ which see up to 40% of those suffering from anorexia relapse.

Therapies include dialectal behaviour therapy (DBT) and cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), which have been found to be hugely effective in achieving change. Group therapy will also look at the role of social media in driving destructive eating patterns.

So here, Rebecca explains why – especially on social media – we need to stop tossing around words and phrases that make no nutritional sense, and talk sensibly, and logically, about food.

She says; “We need to eat to survive and yes, while it is great to be mindful of how we nourish ourselves, we also need to have a good relationship with food. Being healthy encompasses so many different things – including our physical and mental state – so how we feel, talk and think about food is important.

So here’s the bad advice you should forget:

Snacking is bad for you

The idea that we have no ‘willpower’ to last between meals is crazy. But so is the idea that we’re unhealthy if we do snack. We all have different metabolisms and we all have different lifestyles. Generally, if our bodies are sending us a signal of hunger between meals, it’s because we’re hungry. If we don’t honour our hunger when it’s present, it will come back later on with a bigger vendetta – for example, not snacking at work because it’s ‘unhealthy’ might mean eating twice the normal portion at dinner because you’re over hungry. I think we need to reframe how we think about snacking. Rather than pick small high-calorie foods
to snack on, use it as an opportunity to include a couple of food groups you might not have had much of throughout the day. So try and marry up 2-3 macronutrients; for example – A yoghurt pot and an apple, or a couple of oatcakes with some peanut butter. Not that there’s any harm in grabbing some biscuits occasionally either.

Importantly, for some people, snacking is the only way to achieve their required calorie intake, and maintain their blood sugar levels, as naturally our bodies are only able to do this for 3-4 hours.

Carbohydrates are ‘good’ or ‘bad’

The concept of calling foods ‘good’ and ‘bad’ is incredibly dated. It also sets us up to feel guilty or shameful around food when we’ve eaten something that we’ve labelled ‘bad’. It can create a desire to over consume on those foods. Yes, there are some carbohydrates that offer a greater nutritional profile than others, but they all have a place in the diet. The ones that are more nutrient dense and are high in fibre, so keep us feeling satisfied for longer, are carbohydrates such as whole grain rice, pasta, potatoes and wholemeal bread. However food and eating is all about context, and there’s no way you can compare a packet of crisps to a serving of rice. The type of carbohydrate that is suitable will also depend on what it’s being accompanied with. For example, you might choose brown rice in a stir fry to offer a nutty taste, whereas when making a curry you might choose white rice to complement the coconut sweetness.

Veganism is the healthiest diet to follow

There is often an association made between veganism and health, however, like all popular diet trends, it doesn’t guarantee the diet is high in nutrient-dense foods or that it is the best way to eat. Every vegan diet will require supplementation, as there are some nutrients that an individual will be unable to achieve through a vegan diet alone. These are nutrients such as iodine, Vitamin B12, Vitamin D, Omega 3 and calcium. A vegan diet will also have to be incredibly well planned, as nutrients are harder to obtain through plant based sources alone and a vegan diet will require lots of thought around cooking methods and matching certain foods together.

Naturally when following a vegan diet, meals are centred on vegetables, beans and pulses, whole grains and nuts. These are incredibly nutritious foods, tending to be higher in fibre which keeps the body feeling fuller for longer. However, a vegan diet can also still include, biscuits, vegan ice cream, vegan cake, crisps etc. None of these are inherently bad in moderation, but it can be easy for the majority of a vegan diet to be made up of less nutritious food (just as it is on a non-vegan diet).

Some individuals might not be suited to a vegan diet, for example pregnant women or people struggling with eating disorders.”

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