Timi Gustafson, R.D.

Helping people to live healthy and fulfilling lives.

Of Loss and Letting Go

February 16th, 2016 at 6:30 pm by timigustafson
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I recently saw the movie “The Lady in the Van” with Maggie Smith in the leading role. In a nutshell, the film is the adaptation of a memoir about an elderly women who has fallen on tough times and is forced to live out her late years in a shabby van parked in the driveway of her reluctant host, a playwright who eventually tells her story. While reviews have been mixed, it is clear that the subject matter touches on a critical issue: How much, or how little, does it take for things to go awry as we age? Like in this case, growing old can be outright scary.

The fear of aging, of course, is not limited to financial concerns, although they often take center stage. Deteriorating physical and mental health, loss of loved ones, social isolation, and the progressive inability to cope with daily tasks and challenges can make people dread the so-called “golden years” rather than embrace them.

Such fear can manifest itself in numerous ways. “Gerascophobia,” as the scientific term is called, can generate forms of stress and anxiety that can be quite debilitating. These may oftentimes be unfounded, but they are not necessarily irrational. Aging does in fact entail significant losses and forces us to let go of what we have long taken for granted.

Especially in our society that so strongly favors self-reliance, it can be hard to imagine how a life dependent on the help of others could be worthwhile. Surveys show that most adults are more afraid of losing their independence in their twilight years than they are of death.

And yet, considering that ever-larger portions of the population are entering their senior years, we will sooner rather than later be forced to re-examine our views of aging with all its implications.

Yes, many people live longer and are healthier and more active late in life than their parents and grandparents could ever imagine. But many also struggle with chronic diseases and disabilities that diminish their prospects. Learning to deal with all sides of the aging process is a real challenge.

“Life is an Indian giver,” as a song by the rock band Modest Mouse goes. It gives us everything and then takes it all away again.

While this is undoubtedly true, it is another matter how we relate to that obvious fact.

By definition, loss is something that happens to us against our will. We don’t normally perceive it as a gift, a blessing, a chance, or anything else positive. The losses that come with age are generally impoverishing, not enriching or enhancing. But it doesn’t have to be this way.

“For some, the downsizing that inevitably comes with age is like living in a mournful country-western song, suffering one loss after another. Angry and embittered, they become cranky or depressed. For others, it becomes a kind of spiritual journey, an opportunity to affirm what is really of value. Finding new interest and meaning in life around them, they become wise and content,” writes Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker, a psychologist, family counselor, and columnist for Psych Central.

Finding something new in the disappearance of the old and familiar is indeed the best outcome we can hope for – if we are open to it. A friend of mine once compared the way she tried to handle her own aging experience to “pruning of an old tree.” You cut back and dispose of what is no longer fruitful. But you also make space for anew growth, and you may be surprised at times what still emerges.

If loss is what we undergo passively, letting go – consciously and willingly – is the active countermeasure we can take. This is not resignation in the face of the inevitable, but the human spirit staying in control and remaining intact, regardless.

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Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog and at amazon.com.  For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (www.timigustafson.com).

Many Reasons to Gain Weight with Age, and Many More Excuses

February 3rd, 2016 at 5:08 pm by timigustafson
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As we grow older, many of us find it harder to avoid or undo unwanted weight gain. This is such a widespread phenomenon, it is almost taken for granted that aging and weight problems go hand in hand. However, while there are objective reasons for such a connection, they are by no means the whole story.

The human body undergoes constant changes throughout life that include its shape. These are natural and unavoidable, regardless of genetic makeup, diet or lifestyle. We can slow down some of the process, but only to a certain extent. Still, it is important to understand the multiple factors that play a role in our aging and counteract them as best we can.

Genetic makeup
Like many of our individual characteristics, the appearance of our body is influenced by our genes. Numerous studies have shown how genetic components factor in our response to food intake, physical activity, lifestyle choices and health risks. But experts have also maintained that despite of this predetermination we can still exercise a great deal of control and alter outcomes.

In other words, heredity is not necessarily destiny. This becomes clearer as we mature. A lifetime of habits and behavior will likely have the greatest impact on how well we fare, more than what we started out with.

Changing metabolic rates
It is a popular belief that slowing of the metabolism – the biochemical process by which the body converts calories into energy it needs to function – is one of the main culprits of age-related weight gain. Yes, there is some truth to that, but scientists say it really plays only a relatively small part when it comes to weight issues.

Beginning at around the age of 25, the average person’s metabolic rate declines by between 5 and 10 percent per decade. It means that as the years pass, fewer and fewer calories are needed to stay within a healthy weight range, and everything beyond may lead to overweight.

The good news is that the effects of a slowing metabolism can be mitigated. Again, behavioral adjustments can make a big difference. It is a simple equation: As the body’s needs change, so should one’s eating and lifestyle choices. Cutting back on portion sizes and getting regular exercise are important proactive steps to start with. (More on this later on.)

Loss of muscle mass
Another reason for a lessening metabolism is loss of muscle mass. Age-related sarcopenia, as the process is called, begins typically in a person’s mid- to late 30s, in part because of sedentary lifestyle- and working conditions. It can continue at a rate of 3 to 5 percent per decade, depending on activity levels.

Research suggests that women lose muscle mass twice as fast as men of the same age. Because muscle is much more metabolically active than fat, it becomes increasingly difficult to control or lose weight for both gender as people grow older.

Obviously, strength training is the best counteraction one can take, combined with a healthy, balanced diet rich in lean protein.

Different kinds of fat
To successfully avoid weight gain, it is also important to understand the differences in how fat tissue accumulates in the body. Most women tend to carry additional fat primarily in the hips, thighs, and buttocks, while most men do so in the abdominal area.

Different types of fat react metabolically different as well, and some may become less active with age than others, meaning, they are harder to get rid of.

Also, excessive abdominal fat, or belly fat, can be the source of a number of serious health risks, including diabetes, heart disease, and some forms of cancer, and should therefore be avoided as much as possible. Reduced calorie intake and regular exercise are the most logical remedies.

Lifestyle changes
Following a healthy diet and exercise regimen is obviously crucial for successful weight management at any time in life, and ever more so in later years. But these can only do so much. Other important ingredients are stress management and also getting enough sleep.

Chronic stress and sleep deprivation have routinely been identified as contributing factors to overeating and use of tobacco, alcohol and drugs.

In other words, to escape the traps of unhealthy aging, it is imperative to look at the larger picture and pay close attention to all our actions. As we age, there is less and less room for compromise – or shall we say excuses. The best way is to start a health-promoting diet and lifestyle regimen as early as possible, and not deviate much from it, regardless how hard that may seem at times.

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Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog and at amazon.com.  For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (www.timigustafson.com).

Sleep Well – Your Life May Depend on It

January 23rd, 2016 at 2:16 pm by timigustafson
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An unfortunate part of our modern-day busy lifestyle is chronic sleep deprivation. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), lack of sleep has become a major public health concern, with insufficient rest being linked to medical problems, accidents and occupational hazards. People who regularly stay awake for too long are at a higher risk of developing illnesses like high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes, cancer, and also mental issues like depression and memory loss, the agency warns.

While many young people may feel they can burn the proverbial midnight oil without paying much of a price, shortage of sleep and sleep disruption can wreak havoc on their middle-aged and older counterparts in ways not truly appreciated until recently.

A new study from the University of Toronto, Canada, found that older people who have trouble sleeping are in greater danger of suffering a stroke and/or other mental health problems like memory loss and dementia.

Waking up several times during the night, a.k.a. sleep fragmentation, is tied to subtle changes in the brain due to hardening of the arteries, which can lead to reduced oxygen supply and, in turn, to more serious damages like strokes, says Dr. Andrew Lim, a neurologist and lead author of the study report.

But it’s not just the elderly who should adhere to a healthy sleep regimen. Just one single restless night can negatively affect mood, concentration, attention span and other cognitive functions in people of all ages. In fact, as one study found, a night of disturbed sleep is like having a regular eight-hour sleep period cut in half.

Several consecutive phases of fragmented rest could result in negative health consequences on par with chronic sleeplessness, according to Dr. Avi Sadeh, a clinical psychologist at Tel Aviv University, Israel, and leader of the research project.

While sleep disturbances can occur throughout life, it gets harder to stay asleep as we age, for multiple reasons. Stress, anxiety, changes in the body’s internal clock, chronic diseases, certain medications, consumption of alcohol and caffeine, or use of nicotine and drugs can all be contributing factors. And, of course, diet also plays a role.

According to one study, a high intake of saturated fat and sugar is associated with lighter, less restorative, and more disrupted sleep. By contrast, eating greater amounts of fiber, as found in plant-based foods, can help enhance sleep quality.

Besides diet, regular exercise is also recommended for improving one’s restfulness. Physical activity does not only tire us out in a good way, it also reduces stress and lowers the risk of weight gain and related diseases – all of which are known to interfere with sleep.

In other words, the better we take care of your health needs in the daytime, the better we can rest at night.

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Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog and at amazon.com.  For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (www.timigustafson.com).

A New Year’s Resolution: Be Less Wasteful with Time

January 14th, 2016 at 2:39 pm by timigustafson
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A recent article in the New York Times about New Year’s resolutions caught my attention. Although plenty is being written on the subject this time of the year (including by yours truly), this one struck a chord with me. Here the author, Arthur C. Brooks, the current president of the American Enterprise Institute and a regular contributor to the paper’s op-ed pages, shared his thoughts on human mortality and how to make the most of our short presence in this world.

What inspired him to write about this topic, he recalls, was a trip to Thailand where he witnessed Buddhist monks contemplating photographs of human corpses in different stages of decay to remind themselves of their own ultimate fate.

Paradoxically, such meditations on death are intended as a key instrument to live more consciously. They can heighten the awareness of life’s transitory nature and help reset priorities. “In other words,” he says, “it makes one ask, Am I making the right use of my scarce and precious life?”

In our daily routines, there is often a discrepancy between what truly matters to us and what we spend our time on. As studies have shown, watching television or surfing the Internet don’t give people a great deal of satisfaction, yet they spend hours on end this way, while other experiences like quality time with family and friends are sorely missing.

Of course, we all know that our lifespan is finite, regardless of our age, health or wealth. As Rick Warren, the senior pastor of Saddleback Church and author of the bestseller “The Purpose Driven Life,” once said, “Time is your most precious gift because you only have a set amount of it. You can make more money, but you can’t make more time.”

So then, why do so many of us use time as if it won’t ever run out?

It all comes down to how much you value your time and how you want to spend it, according to Craig Jarrow, author of “Time Management Ninja.” We all have the same amount of time available to us in a day, but how we apply it makes all the difference.

People routinely get lost in unnecessary activities, in stuff that is oftentimes frivolous and silly. For example, a lot of time and energy is wasted on complaining, gossiping, antagonizing, fighting, and being plainly miserable, he says, or on doing things that yield no real benefits, like reading or watching so-called “news” about people and events unrelated to us, or updating our social media status with irrelevant information.

So what can one do to reduce time waste? In many cases, it’s not what you do but what you stop doing that turns you into a more efficient time manager, Jarrow suggests.

In fact, there are countless ways to get better organized and start saving time right away. You can plan in advance by making a list of all the things you want to accomplish in the order of their importance to you. Then stick to that schedule.

That doesn’t mean you have to fill your day to the hilt with activities. Making time for yourself – to take breaks, to think, to meditate, to play – can be as beneficial and rewarding as any success at work or other pursuits. What matters most is that it is done consciously and with appreciation for the time you are given.

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Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog and at amazon.com.  For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (www.timigustafson.com).

If Your Weight Loss Aspirations Remain Frustrated, Don’t Be Surprised

January 11th, 2016 at 8:28 am by timigustafson
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It’s resolution season again, that time-honored exercise of self-restraint when people try to negate the fallout from holiday celebrations and other indulgences. According to statistics, however, these well-meaning attempts are mostly doomed to fail. The vast majority of ‘born-again’ dieters and exercise enthusiasts will give up in less than a month. The reasons can be myriad, and sometimes they are beyond a person’s control. But there are also ways to beat the odds and find success at last.

One reason why so many people get frustrated with their weight loss efforts is that they expect too much too quickly. In fact, setting unrealistic goals can sabotage the best laid plans.

Especially with weight loss, people should not look for fast results but for lasting outcomes. Attacking the problem rigorously with short-term strategies may be more attractive to some, but radical approaches are usually unsustainable and even counterproductive over time. In any case, you shouldn’t wait until January 1st and then try making a complete U-turn from what you’ve been doing for far too long.

“Losing weight and getting healthy isn’t something that happens once a year – it’s something that should last a lifetime,” says Toby Amidor, a Registered Dietitian, consultant, and book author.

That doesn’t mean making resolutions is always a futile enterprise that should be abandoned altogether. For those who are willing to role the dice once more, despite of past disappointments, Amidor has good advice how to “jump-start” a new round.

Whatever you’re planning to do, she says, it’s important to set not vague but specific, achievable goals. Do your research, so you know what you’re getting yourself into before you start out on the wrong track. Determine upfront what success or failure would look like and how to measure each. Team up with like-minded people who share your aspirations and support you. Seek professional help and guidance if need be.

However, even the best thought-out guidelines will not help if they are not applicable to an individual. The only diet- or fitness regimen that works is the one you can stick to, says Kathleen M. Zelman, a Registered Dietitian and Director of Nutrition for WebMD. In the end it doesn’t matter what someone should do, but what he or she can do, she says.

So before you decide on a particular diet program, you need to narrow your choices down to what suits your needs, your lifestyle, your particular circumstances, she says.

The same, of course, goes for your exercise routine, how you handle stress, and how much sleep you get – all important components for successful weight management. If any one or more of these are missing, there will be enough amiss to make you fail again. But also be aware that implementing changes in your habits takes time. And if success doesn’t show up right away, don’t be surprised and keep working at it.

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Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog and at amazon.com.  For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (www.timigustafson.com).

Alone But Not Lonely

December 21st, 2015 at 10:00 am by timigustafson
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It’s supposed to be to most wonderful time of the year. But for many people the holiday season is anything but joyous. Feeling left out when others celebrate and exchange gifts can be devastating and even lead to despair and depression. The so-called “holiday blues” are actually widespread, and if you are affected by them, you are certainly not alone.

While it is a myth that suicide rates spike around Christmas, it is true that feelings of loneliness and isolation become more pronounced in those who have little to celebrate. And it’s not always a passing phenomenon.

“Loneliness is not only painful emotionally but it can have a devastating impact on one’s long-term psychological and physical health,” warns Dr. Guy Winch, a psychologist and author of numerous books on emotional health. “Loneliness,” he says, “predisposes us to depression and increases our risk of Alzheimer’s disease, it suppresses our immune system functioning, it stresses our cardiovascular systems, and when chronic, it affects our very longevity.”

To be sure, it is not the holidays themselves what carries the potential for emotional upheaval but rather the baggage we bring along that becomes heavier to bear on these occasions.

Around the holidays expectations are high, and comparisons run rampant. People feel tremendous pressures to put on a happy face and be especially socially inclined. There is a false sense that everyone is living a Hallmark movie with an ideal family and perfect celebrations. That is, everyone but you. And this can trigger feelings of isolation, writes Margarita Tartakovsky, editor at PsychCentral.com, a website specializing in topics of mental health.

Loneliness, she says, can be rooted in early, sometimes traumatic, childhood experiences. Lonely people often lack confidence in their own abilities and suffer from low self-esteem. They can feel easily rejected and tend to interpret other people’s responses as confirmation of their own inadequacy.

The best way to counteract such feelings is to negate a person’s instinct to withdraw and isolate, according to Dr. Ross Rosenberg, a psychotherapist and author of books on a wide spectrum of psychological issues, including addiction and relational problems.

“Loneliness feeds on itself,” he says. The worst someone can do is to cultivate these emotions by setting a stage where they foster. Instead of separating themselves from their surroundings, people with such tendencies would be better served if they opened up and went out to join the world, he recommends.

This doesn’t have to be a big thing. Reaching out to just one other person, or volunteering for just one small project can be a great start.

Also, we should not confuse loneliness with an occasional need for solitude. While feeling lonely is a negative state of mind, aloneness can be pleasurable and quite important at times.

Unfortunately, it has become increasingly harder in our perpetually connected world to find some peace and quiet. Yet, for relaxation, recovery, concentration, creativity, or simply for the sake of one’s sanity, the ability to shut out our surroundings once in a while can be crucial.

The desire for solitude in our culture gets too easily equated with antisocial tendencies, according to Sherrie Bourg Carter, Psy.D., a psychologist and author who focuses on stress issues. The fact is that there are many physical and psychological benefits to spending time alone, she says.

For this, too, the holidays can provide a perfect opportunity.

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Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog and at amazon.com.  For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (www.timigustafson.com).

No More Weight Gain Over the Holidays

December 12th, 2015 at 1:22 pm by timigustafson
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The holiday season is a notorious time for unwanted weight gain. Office parties, family gatherings, and a thousand temptations wherever you turn can quickly lead to extra pounds that are hard to get rid of in the aftermath. Fortunately, none of this is inevitable, and you don’t have to wait until New Year to get back on track.

Trying to maintain or even lose weight during the holidays may sound counterintuitive, but as a matter of fact, it can be quite feasible. For instance, if things start slowing down in your line of work towards the end of the year, you may be able to put in a few more hours exercising at the gym or outdoors. You may also have time to shop for healthier foods and prepare meals from scratch at home. Although it would probably be more fun to get spoiled at someone else’s dinner table, the risk of overindulging is much greater there. So why not become a bit more proactive this time around?

“Losing weight before the holidays is a completely attainable goal,” according to Matthew Benvie, owner and head personal fitness trainer of Evolve Fitness in Halifax, Canada.

But it’s not just about committing yourself to a work-out regimen each day that let’s you burn more calories, you also need to pay close attention to your diet, and that can be especially difficult when everything you’re exposed to points in the opposite direction, Benvie explains to Huffington Post Canada.

In other words, if consistently eating right is hard all year round, it can seem nearly impossible over the holidays.

“To navigate the party landmines with your healthy diet intact, you need a strategy,” says Kathleen M. Zelman, the director of nutrition for WebMD, who has compiled a list of diet tips especially designed for the holidays.

Even the most disciplined people struggle with the ubiquitous temptations they’re facing during this time of the year, she says. Only having a plan in place and sticking to it can help you avoid the worst pitfalls.

That doesn’t mean it’s all denial and deprivation. But there has to be some balance.

Think of your appetite as an expense account, and figure out how much you want to spend in terms of calories on meals and drinks, Zelman suggests. Then give yourself permission to fully enjoy – in sensible portions.

Thankfully, there are many precautionary measures one can take to avoid overindulging, although not all may work for everyone. However, going into the season with resolve, a good ‘navigation plan’, and also some leeway to accommodate a few special occasions can make this year’s holiday experience just as wonderful – and without regrets.

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Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog and at amazon.com.  For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (www.timigustafson.com).

We Can Improve Our Eating Habits by Returning to Our Roots

November 25th, 2015 at 3:13 pm by timigustafson
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It is well known that when immigrants come to the United States and other parts of the Western hemisphere, they quickly adapt their eating styles to ours – especially the young. People from around the Pacific Rim, South America, the Middle East and Africa who were largely raised on fresh whole foods begin to prefer fast food and other highly processed ingredients, often to the detriment of their nutritional health and well-being. The consequences in terms of obesity and diet-related diseases can be devastating.

This is not a new phenomenon. As it happens, I just returned from a two-day conference that was organized by Oldways, a non-profit organization with focus on culinary and cultural diversity around the globe. Its founder, Dun Gifford, a lawyer, politician, developer and restaurant owner, became concerned as far back as the 1980s with the progressive disappearance of many culinary traditions in favor of what he called “techno foods.”

Why does your culture matter when it comes to your food choices, he asked. Because – no matter where you come from – it is not in your heritage to become overweight, diabetic, or develop heart disease and cancer, all the leading causes of death in the modern world. What we all should have in common as our birthright is, by contrast, a healthy heart, a strong body, extraordinary energy, and a long and healthy life – all of which we would be enabled to by access to nutritious and delicious foods.

Instead, many of us have lost their way when it comes to feeding themselves, and it affects those who adopt our lifestyle more recently the most. Part of it is a widespread ignorance and confusion about nutrition and nutritional health.

The conference I mentioned was titled “Finding Common Ground,” a meeting of many of the world’s leading experts and scientists in the field of dietetics. Although it was clear from the start that there would be (and will continue to be) different, and oftentimes conflicting, views on how and what we should eat, there was also a general consensus on a few basic ‘truths’ that could be shared by all participants. Among them were the desire that messages about diets should not be distorted or misleading; that some foods yield greater nutritional benefits than others; and that considerations about food consumption should include environmental sustainability concerns. The latter, as you may have heard, is a major point of contention in the upcoming release of the Dietary Guidelines of 2015.

In addition, there was agreement that reviving certain culinary traditions could indeed have the kind of positive impact the Oldways’ founder envisioned. For instance, much has been made in recent years of the advantages the so-called ‘Mediterranean Diet’ can provide, with its richness of mostly plant-based foods. But also many other cultural heritages from South AmericaAsia and Africa have much to contribute to our rethinking of what it means to eat healthily.

What it ultimately comes down to is not to get blinded by the endless onslaught of diet fads and latest “scientific discoveries,” but to focus on the bigger picture and discern what is tried and true, which we can often find by simply going back to our roots, says Sara Baer-Sinnot, the current president of Oldways. For this, we need to communicate clearly and effectively what constitutes healthy and sustainable ways of eating that all consumers can understand and live by, she says.

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Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog and at amazon.com.  For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (www.timigustafson.com).

Orthorexia – a Diagnosis in Search of a Disease?

November 23rd, 2015 at 4:56 pm by timigustafson
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I like to eat healthily, not only when it’s convenient and the opportunity presents itself, but all the time. I compromise if there are no good options, e.g. when I’m travelling. But whenever I have the chance, I go for the most nutritious food I can find. I’m lucky that I can afford a high-quality diet, but I also make it a priority among my expenditures. Does that mean I’m obsessed with my eating habits? Hardly.

There has been a lot of chatter recently in the media about ‘orthorexia nervosa,’ an eating disorder caused by fear of unclean or unhealthy food. Accordingly, it keeps those affected by it from consuming anything they don’t trust to be pure or beneficial to their health.

The observation that some people develop such a phobia is not new. The term ‘orthorexia’ was reportedly first coined by a doctor from California, Steven Bratman, some 18 years ago. He then described the behavior as a fixation on “righteous eating,” but thought of it along the lines of other eating disorders like anorexia or bulimia.

Following up on his descriptions, researchers discovered however that this might be a distinct behavior. They also noticed how remarkably fast it was spreading across different age groups, social classes, and body types as well.

The number of orthorexics keeps rising, according to Ursula Philpot, a dietitian and education officer for the British Dietetic Association’s mental health group who studied the phenomenon extensively from early on.

Most eating disorders are focused on food quantity and resulting weight issues. But orthorexic people can be overweight, extremely thin, or everything in between. Their sole concern is the quality of the food they eat and whether it is in accordance with their rules and restrictions. They may exclude any number of ingredients like sugar, salt, wheat, gluten, and dairy as well as products containing pesticides, herbicides, and artificial additives.

While some of these worries can be perfectly justified, orthorexic attitudes in the extreme can lead to malnutrition and other health risks. People who are already at a loss over the oftentimes confusing and contradictory messages they get from the media and the Internet may become paralyzed and end up with dangerous nutritional deficiencies, Philpot warns.

Modern society has lost its way with food, Deanne Jade, a psychologist and founding director of the National Centre for Eating Disorders in Esher, England, laments. People think they can eliminate entire food groups to lose weight and become fitter, while they swear by dubious functional foods and performance enhancers, she says.

Of course, the simple fact that someone – myself included – worries about food quality and safety does not automatically mean he or she is creating problems for themselves. On the contrary. Considering the unabated obesity crisis and rise of nutrition-related diseases around the globe, greater concern with our eating habits should be welcomed.

Also, compulsive behavior like orthorexia does not likely develop in isolation but rather occurs in connection with other dysfunctions. A person who feels compelled to rigidly follow dietary regimens and guidelines, does probably so in other matters as well. In treating such cases, more than the relationship to food ought to be addressed.

Beyond that, there is really nothing wrong with insisting on eating only whole foods, buying organic, or sticking to a plant-based diet.

“A lot of those diets are inherently valuable,” says Dr. Karin Kratina, a nutrition therapist and member of the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA). Adherence can become problematic when issues like nutritional health and body image become moralized and fixations arise.

Unfortunately, that can happen to a lot of people, but it’s not a foregone conclusion.

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Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog and at amazon.com.  For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (www.timigustafson.com).

A Widening Gap Between the Fit and the Fat

November 10th, 2015 at 4:58 pm by timigustafson
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More people pay close attention to their physical health and well-being, and yet obesity rates and diseases stemming from weight problems continue to rise. While healthy eating and regular exercise have become commonplace among the educated and affluent, the less fortunate show little signs of improvement regardless of efforts by health experts and government policy makers to change their fate. In fact, studies find that the gap between the fit and the fat keeps widening.

Physical appearance has been an important issue in most societies throughout the ages, but today, how we look has become a reflection of how we live and visa versa, says Dr. Florentine Fritzen, a journalist and historian who studies sociological trends.

Being well-fed was once a sign of wealth, but poor people are now most prone to unhealthy weight gain and related diseases, while the well-to-do enjoy greater fitness and vitality, even longer life expectancy, than ever before.

Life presents itself very differently to these two groups. To which one you belong determines multiple aspects of your well-being, not just how well you eat, Fritzen says.

Your good looks also play a role in how society judges you. For example, if physical beauty and fitness are equated with hard work, discipline and success, overweight can then be identified with laziness and lack of self-control. If slim is thought of as healthy, then fat can be considered as sick.

Numerous studies have investigated how physical appearance plays out in the workplace. Just being overweight can hurt your career, according to Steve Siebold, a self-help coach, business consultant, and author of “Die Fat or Get Tough: 101 Differences in Thinking Between Fat People and Fit People.”
“Many employers look at obese candidates and immediately think, ‘this person failed in controlling their own health, how are they going to run a division,’” he warns.

More and more companies actively encourage their workers to stay on top of their health and offer wellness programs and other incentives, which in turn help them prevent productivity loss and lower healthcare premiums. But, as some have reported, there can also be a lot of pressure on those who ‘don’t measure up.’

What gets too often overlooked in all this is how much easier it is to stay in shape for people who have the necessary means to take care of themselves. What is feasible with a good education, financial security, access to supplies and services, a safe home and neighborhood, etc., can be a never-ending struggle without them. And that is not simply a matter of personal choices.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) lists a number of determinants that decide whether someone’s living conditions are beneficial or detrimental for his or her health. Only one of them is based on biological factors like age, gender, and genetic predispositions. Only one is based on individual behavior such as diet and lifestyle choices. All others are environmental and circumstantial in nature, meaning they are largely outside a person’s control.

To fully understand the existing health disparities and inequities among the public today, we must take into account the social and economical disadvantages that affect individuals or entire groups in ways they cannot easily influence but expose them to heightened risks, the agency says. To narrow the gap towards greater health equality, it urges aggressive investing in broader access to healthcare services as well as health education.

Obviously, we have a long way to go.

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Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog and at amazon.com.  For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (www.timigustafson.com).

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About timigustafson

Timi Gustafson, RD, LDN, FAND is a registered dietitian, health counselor, book author, syndicated newspaper columnist and blogger. She lectures on nutrition and healthy living to audiences worldwide. She is the founder and president of Solstice Publications LLC, a publishing company specializing in health and lifestyle education. Timi completed her Clinical Dietetic Internship at the University of California Medical Center, San Francisco. She is a Fellow of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, an active member of the Washington State Dietetic Association, a member of the Diabetes Care and Education, Healthy Aging, Vegetarian Nutrition and the Sports, Cardiovascular and Wellness Nutrition practice groups. For more information, please visit http://www.timigustafson.com

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