Tuesday, August 27, 2013

"Clean Eating" Personal Trainers Promote Orthorexia

This about sums up my feelings on the matter,
and it's nice when someone agrees for a change!
You'd be surprised how many people
 in the business would argue this point.
This was supposed to be a more amusing type of post that was going to be titled "recent arguments with industry cretins", but it turned out... well, as you see.

What's amusing to me is the amount of "what we do is best, nothing else works and if you think it does you need to get with the times" type of people in this industry, and how they can't actually back up their position when challenged. And quite ironically, they usually end up getting shitty and telling you "you think your way is the only way!"... which is ironic because that's actually what they were saying and all you really asked was "well how come all these other people have been successful without doing all that stuff that you think is make or break?"

I wrote an article yesterday where I said there are some things that just don't work, but there are also all sorts of many and varied approaches that can produce a result, depending on how specific your goal is. Obviously stuff that just doesn't work is a bad idea, but some of the stuff that will work might not be the best idea either if it is excessively restrictive and promotes a disordered way of thinking and an unhealthy relationship with food.

Now as far as excessively restrictive "very low calorie" diets go, we all know these don't work. Unfortunately lots of people are still trying to starve themselves thin with this approach but within the industry it has lead to a rejection of the "Calories In / Calories Out" model amongst certain groups. Depending on who you're talking to... the issue is either that carbs make people fat, or just "bad carbs" (there's a difference apparently), or it is processed food that is doing the damage and people need to "eat clean" or eat "paleo" in the style of stone age ancestors. Total calories is certainly not the issue though, according to some.

The end result of all of this is that as well as having more and more super-mega-hyper-obese people out there (in my opinion) as a direct result of yo-yoing on and off these extreme low calorie or zero carb diets, we've also got a huge increase in instances of eating disorders such as orthorexia and binge eating disorder. One goes hand in hand with the other. The proponents of so called "clean eating" demonise various food choices, and in particular anything that one might eat purely for enjoyment and not strictly because it is the best possible choice from a micronutritional standpoint.

Now... obviously yes, in an ideal world everyone would develop a passion for cooking delicious and nutritious meals from scratch, they'd be eating more fresh vegetables and so on. But to suggest that a new weight loss client needs to completely change their eating habits like this overnight shows a total lack of any empathy. It is an entirely unrealistic expectation. More to the point, it is unnecessary as well.

Rather than this, the more moderate and more empathic recommendation would be to use "Flexible Dieting" principles. In short, this means we determine an appropriate range of calories that we would expect to be suitable to maintain a healthy goal weight, and we also set target ranges for the ratio of fats to protein to carbohydrates. We encourage the inclusion of fresh produce such as fruits and vegetables to ensure adequate intake of important vitamins and minerals... and we are set. Within these guidelines it is quite easy for any client to meet their nutritional requirements with their choice of foods, including some purely for enjoyment or indulgence. Nothing is off limits.

This is important and beneficial for a variety of reasons. Since the client is able to make their own choices of foods, we have greater consistency of adherence. Since nothing is off limits, the client can honestly report their daily intake without omitting anything that the trainer has demonised as a "bad" food that they shouldn't be eating. They are not developing a disordered relationship with food due to feelings of guilt or failure associated with eating for enjoyment, as nothing is off limits. Through all of this, the client becomes empowered and develops a stronger belief in their ability to meet their nutritional requirements in order to achieve their goal weight and body type.

It is as close to a perfect strategy as you are ever likely to get. However, that still aint good enough for some of the "clean eating" people, who honestly seem to believe that including any amount of processed / high carb / low nutrient density / so called "junk" food rules out any chance of losing weight and ensures poor health. In any amount.

As far as I am concerned, that line of thinking IS orthorexia and it is about the last thing anyone (especially professionals in this industry) should be promoting. It is just as... perhaps even more harmful than the "eat less and less and less" approaches of the past.

Now here's the thing. You don't actually need to argue the science with these people. There's a lot of people who can explain how a certain food contains a certain property that has a certain effect upon a certain organ which produces a certain hormonal response and this is of crucial importance and if you think it's just about calories you need to get better educated. But you don't need to argue on those terms, on a logical level all you need to do is point out that countless people have in fact lost weight and gotten into great shape despite not having taken any of that into account. They've simply consumed "about the right amount" and been active enough to utilise the fuel that they've put in, and they've even enjoyed some delicious icecream when they felt like it.

Now I've seen a lot of comments to the effect of "ice cream! how can you justify eating ice cream of all things!" in response to various articles and blog posts on the subject... but really, are you actually suggesting that no one who was ever in shape has ever eaten an ice cream? Are you really suggesting that everyone who ever got into shape had a strict and restrictive diet plan that consisted of only very top level of most nutrient dense foods creating a perfect balance of vitamins and minerals that they stuck to obsessively and never cheated on? Do you actually believe that such an approach is not only required, but is indicative of good mental health?

Fortunately there IS a growing "anti-orthorexia" movement starting to happen amongst fitness enthusiasts, and the general public are becoming better educated in such matters. I have noticed at least a handful of industry people who I had considered the biggest promoters of orthorexia style half truths moving to a more moderate position, perhaps out of necessity to reflect a change in the market. I like to think that I have played my part in this change, if not spearheaded it directly.