Eating Disorders – A Product of Modern Society

Has anyone ever asked you whether you have an eating disorder? These days, everyone seems to know someone with one, but eating disorders are much more common than people think. In the 1980s we saw an enormous surge of teenage girls described as having bulimia (binging and purging) and anorexia nervosa (starving oneself to death) in order to keep from being overweight. These were extreme examples of eating disorders.  But there are other eating disorders which may masquerade themselves very sneakily – so difficult to detect in fact, that you may not even realize you or someone else you know has it. The whole way our culture has evolved to regard and consume food can indeed be categorized as one enormous eating disorder. Why is this true?

On the go, no time to eat

Consider the way people live life in modern society – we are constantly taxed and on the go, doing more things each day than is humanely possible to accomplish. Our jobs are demanding and provide little opportunity for breaks, vacations, or rest.  Because we are so busy, that leaves little time for much of anything – especially preparing a nutritious, home-cooked meal.

Unless we pay attention to what we buy and are mindful of ingredients, even those of us who do prepare “home-cooked” meals can easily end up preparing food that is virtually devoid of nutrients. What we wind up eating, most of the time, falls into the category of convenience foods – foods that you don’t prepare from scratch and which come out of a package, can, or box.  And these foods are not natural nor nutritious. The convenience foods are, in fact, one of the main problems in our eating disorder. We have come to depend on and accept these foods for so many years, we believe them to be just fine and healthy to consume.

So what’s the result? Fatigue, weakened immune systems, shot adrenal glands, and susceptibility to health issues and disease. That describes our society very well. It goes without saying that when people become tired, they look for something quick and easy to eat – and that’s seldom a home-prepared meal with healthy and organic ingredients from scratch. Most of us reach for something easy to prepare out of a can, package, or box.

What many of use eat are “quick” foods like food bars, crackers, pretzels, cookies, muffins, processed bread (full of dough conditioner, high fructose corn syrup, modified corn starch, etc.) with peanut butter (containing hydrogenated oils), shakes and smoothies with little to no real nutrition (loaded with artificially-produced carbohdyrates, denatured proteins, and a variety of other chemicals), conventional dried fruits (treated with sulfur and often containing pesticides), popsicles, fruit roll-ups or fruit “snacks”, and many other similar items. These foods are highly processed, devoid of nutrients, and if eaten regularly, will cause weight gain, irregular blood sugar (which can lead to diabetes), a disturbance in metabolic processes, and chronic health issues.

How have things changed since the last 160 years? Prior to industrialized society (mid 1800s), people generally ate foods off the land. They hunted, gathered, and prepared foods from their own homes and cooked from scratch. Literally everything people ate was from their own regions and made from real foods. There were no supermarkets, fast food restaurants, or processed, packaged foods. There were very little toxins, chemicals, or preservatives applied to foods. You either ate the food now, or it spoiled soon after. People who lived back then had relatively little incidence of heart disease. It wasn’t until the 1920s that heart disease began to surface as noticeable problem. Right about that time, processed vegetable oils and refined carbohydrates became more prevalent on the American market.

We count on the fact that many of the foods we purchase can sit on the shelf for months or years and we are able to consume it a long time after purchase. But here’s the important question we should all be asking: is this practice a good idea, and is it healthy? This question lends itself to the old saying – just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should do it.

Eating disorders, dissected

When we hear the term eating disorder, we automatically think of a shrinking young girl who has taken to starvation or eating a lot of food and then purging as a way to stay thin.  But there are other ways in which eating disorders manifest. We have grown quite accustomed to making foods that have some component of convenience to them – such as bottled dressings and sauces, packaged side dishes, pasteurized dairy products of all types (cheeses, milk, sauces, butter and “butter” products), bread and grain products, powdered foods that we add to water, soups, broths, juices, and canned fruits and vegetables. We use these items in our kitchen and mistakenly believe we are eating healthy because we are cooking something at home; but what we fail to realize is that we are not really eating healthier than if we were eating at a restaurant or some other place where we don’t know how the food is prepared or where it comes from.

When we eat substances like this, we are effectively eating the same as we would elsewhere because we are using unnatural, convenience foods of all types and harming our health. When you use packaged foods which have become such an integral part of our modern life, we are consuming substances of which we don’t know their origin nor understand how they are created.  And many of these same types of foods are the same found in restaurants which serve food that is not typically healthy. This is just one component of our collective eating disorder.

Then there are the foods which seem natural and whole, but have a complete constituency of substances in them that are virtually “hidden” to the naked eye which are toxic and harmful to consume – meats, dairy products, grains, and fruits and vegetables. In the average grocery store, these foods are wrought with chemicals, hormones, antibiotics, steroids, pesticides, and a number of other undesirable, health-issue-causing additives.

The food may appear acceptable by appearance, it probably even smells and tastes normal – the meat may look robust and red in the packaging, the fruits and vegetables may seem fresh and colorful – but in reality, these foods are laden with toxic chemicals and have been altered from their original state intended by nature due to the use of substances which make growing, manufacturing and production of these foods “easier” and “cheaper” for the food corporations that sell them. But at what cost to the consumer and the environment? Here we have found one more component of the complicated eating disorder surrounding diets in developed countries.

The human body needs nutrients, not synthetics

Although each person’s body is individualized and has its own physiology, basic tenets of nutrition apply to what everyone needs to be healthy. People need fat, protein, carbohydrates, and other nutrients like amino acids, enzymes, vitamins, and minerals. Many foods available in the modern age are typically less nutrient dense due to processing and toxin content, and because they are processed have a longer shelf life. In this instance, shelf life equals deterioration of food quality.

Do you know where it comes from?

Today, we purchase foods from the store that are shipped from all over the country and the world. We literally have no idea how long these foods have been sitting in the store nor where they come from, nor what has been done to them before they are delivered to the store.  Our purchasing and eating habits have so departed from how our ancestors did things, we go through our lives having no clue that much of what we are eating is toxic garbage. This should be disturbing to the average person, but we have become  conditioned to getting whatever we want whenever we want it, and having it taste just the right way (possible, of course, through the magic of taste engineering done in labs by scientists) – and we place that value far and beyond anything else when it comes to providing food for ourselves, that we don’t even stop to think about it.

Our focus has become centered upon how much fat and calories we consume, and less about the content of the foods we eat. So if we eat artificially-produced, processed foods, it really doesn’t matter how many calories or fat the food contains. Those nutrients (calories,proteins, carbohydrates, and fats) are empty and not nutritionally-dense. What’s more, those “foods” contain substances that are harmful to our health. Because they cannot be recognized by the human body as anything real, these synthetic substances become stored as fat in the cells and they also get absorbed into our bloodstream and affect our bodies in a negative way. Then they are able to cause damage in the form of free-radicals in the body.

How we are affected by our environment

As human beings, we desire to feel and look “right” according to the standards set forth by our expectations and culture. We are susceptible to the influence of many factors such as what  Mr. Jones down the road does or says, what the latest ad on television or a magazine tells us, and the rhetoric put forth by health and medical communities. We are totally unaware that most of what we are told to do by these parties is patently wrong and misleading. We spend money on fad diets, exercise regimens, health club memberships, advice, books, DVDs, treatments, and advice from so-called professionals or experts. Yet, we are some of the most unhealthy people on the planet and our obesity, heart disease, and cancer rates are rising each year.

People seldom stop to consider that all these compulsive things we do have a profoundly negative effect on health. We have been convinced and conditioned by media, experts, even our friends and family, that these are the right things to eat for our health. We don’t acknowledge that all of these things are completely unnatural and have undesirable consequences to our health – until we are forced by some serious illness or disease to do so. When we are diagnosed with something critical, we take it even one step further and go about treating it in the most unnatural way and the affects on our body can be devastating. We take dangerous drugs or have medical procedures that are costly. What we do to our bodies when they are compromised and sick can actually hinder the healing process completely and cause further complications or death.

The answer to our eating disorder

What can you do if you have an eating disorder? Remember, eating disorders can apply to those who are not in the extreme category as bulimia or anorexia. If you are eating real, whole foods containing fats, protein, and calories produced the way nature intended, your body recognizes these substances and the nutrients are real as well. Further, you don’t have to worry about “counting calories” and fat grams. Because the nutrients are real, your body can use them in a way that is helpful to the body, and is therefore life-giving. It has become unfashionable to eat real food, and now our stores and grocery centers are filled with a plethora of products to “make our lives better”, “healthier”, and more convenient. Because we have lost touch with where our food comes from and how it is grown and produced, we have in turn lost an important part of ourselves – our health.

The way to disable the eating disorder and get our health back is to start learning about where our food comes from and how the producers produce it. By making blind purchases at the grocery store and believing labels we read and advertisements we see or hear, we are falling victim to the marketing schemes of the modern world. We are allowing ourselves to consume food that is not really food. As a result, our health declines. And low and behold…we find ourselves right in the midst of an eating disorder without even realizing it. Good rules to follow are to read labels and don’t buy anything with more than five ingredients or containing something that you don’t recognize. When we return to real food, we return to health. Here’s how:

  1. Get to know local farmers, food growers, and merchants. Pay a visit to your local farm or farmer’s market.
  2. Do some research in your local area to find out where else you can purchase real food. Check the Internet, newspaper, and with people you know.
  3. Stop buying packaged, processed foods, or at the very least, reduce your buying of these items considerably.
  4. Look for natural, healthy foods at your local store such as grass-fed meats, organic fruits and vegetables, and whole grains in bulk.
  5. Educate yourself about how to prepare foods from scratch. There are a wealth of resources available on the web, at the library, and within your local community for free. Check out our recipes on this web site.
  6. Commit to yourself and your family to take time for these important activities. They may take extra time and a bit more effort, but the end result is better health and state of mind.
  7. If you find that making many changes all at once is overwhelming, select two or three things to change about your lifestyle, approach to eating, and overall health mentality, and build on those choices over time by adding a few more things each week or month as you are able. For some ideas about building your homekeeping skills, read: Embrace and Perfect Your Homekeeping Skills.
  8. Do look at organic, whole, traditional foods as your body’s friend. They are nutritious, wholesome, and deliver the right health benefits to your body. Avoid old thinking patterns about foods you may have been taught over your lifetime such as fats, cholesterol, and calories are unhealthy. The only fats, cholesterol, and calories that are unhealthy to consume are those that are artificially-produced. Read this article: The Importance of Dietary Fats. For more information about types of foods, read: How Well Do You Know Your Food? Find Out!
  9. Keep in mind that in general, the modern way of life is neither how our bodies were designed to be cared for nor the way we were intended to maintain our environments and look after nature. Do everything you can to scale back your lifestyle efforts so that you can defeat eating disorders, care for the earth, restore health, and return to a more natural way of existence.

This article is part of Food Renegade’s Fight Back Fridays Carnival. Please visit Food Renegade and read the other real food articles linked there.

2 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    I never thought eating disorders were that common until I started to realize that people I know were using the finger down the throat technique to lose weight. It was a pretty shocking realization! However, knowing what I do about the flaws in modern nutrition advice, it’s not surprising. With the highly addictive nature of sugar and the Food Pyramid recommending excessive amounts of carbohydrates, it actually makes a lot of sense. Regardless of peoples effort to cut calories and exercise, they’ll keep on extra weight as long as they’re eating too many carbs, and their addictive nature makes them extremely difficult for most people to avoid.

    Great article, Raine. I particularly like how you recommend a basic healthy lifestyle to avoid the problems and temptations associated with eating disorders.

  2. 2

    AS said,

    It occurred to me awhile back how so many people, not just the typical young teenage girls in our culture, have eating disorders. I’d been thinking about writing something about it but just had to get all my thoughts together to make a cohesive point. I think it’s important to emphasize this fact because so many people truly believe they are eating healthy, and are doing everything but eating healthy. It’s sad that the health and medical communities keep pressing this information into people’s heads, but I know where the motivation to do it comes from – largely from corporations trying to make profits and control everything they possibly can. I do know a few individuals who truly believe in the low-fat, high carbohydrate philosophy simply because that’s what they have been taught and they honestly don’t know any better. I just keep hoping that as more and more people are exposed to the traditional philosophy of eating and health, they will wake up from their eating disorder coma. The more we spread the word, hopefully that will eventually happen! Thanks, Vin!

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