Being a Fussy Foodie

Eating Disorders and Food Intolerance

To me a ‘fussy foodie’ is someone who follows a restricted diet for health or medical reasons but also strives to get the most enjoyment (as well as health benefits) out of their diet.

Believe me it’s tricky but food intolerance should not take over one’s life, and in the vast majority of cases it doesn’t. However, it is a sad fact that in some cases restricted diets and eating disorders can go hand in hand. I am not saying that food intolerance’s cause eating disorders or vice versa but perhaps it’s worth considering how, in certain circumstances, the two could be linked.

The typical person suffering from food intolerances may sometimes feel fed up when symptoms get them down or frustrated by a lack of diagnosis or understanding of their condition. However, on the whole a healthy attitude to nutrition and food remains and we don’t let dietary restrictions get the better of us.

An eating disorder is to eat, or avoid eating, to the point where it negatively affects physical and mental health. A distorted body image develops and an obsession with what has or hasn’t been eaten becomes all encompassing, taking over every day life, affecting relationships and activities and posing serious health risks.

Anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa are the most common and medically recognised eating disorders but others include binge eating disorder, orthorexia (an obsession with only eating healthy foods), and selective eating disorder (preventing the consumption of certain foods or food groups).

Are eating disorders and food intolerance linked?

Some might argue that there is a fine line between restricting diet to maintain health and well being and developing a relationship with food that is obsessional, and detrimental to mental and physical health. Here are four examples of how the two could be linked:

  1. In serious food allergy or medical conditions dietary restriction can be vital and lifelong. Fear of anaphylaxis or the memory of trauma caused by eating certain foods could take over and the constant need to check labels combined with the feeling of being ‘different’ to everyone else could turn into disordered eating. For example, people with diabetes have a higher likelihood of eating disorders than the general population and some develop a disorder known as ‘diabulemia’ – restricting insulin injections to lose weight, despite potentially devastating costs to health.
  2. Using food intolerance as an excuse or ‘get out clause’ in eating disorders. Anorexia can really take over the mind and body of those suffering with it, to the point where the person with the disorder will go to great extremes to restrict or avoid eating. Food intolerances (or vegetarianism for that matter) provide ‘accepted’ reasons to get out of eating what everyone else is having. Intolerances that develop after the onset of disordered eating and that tend to involve high calorie fattening foods may be questionable.
  3. Food intolerances can alter the way one thinks about food. Discovering that food intolerance is the cause of debilitating health problems can often be a breakthrough, especially if symptomatic relief is achieved. But for some it can really take away their enjoyment of foods. Unless motivation and effort are put into finding suitable alternatives to the foods excluded, weight loss and nutritional deficiencies are inevitable.
    On the other hand, a new obsession with food could ensue, and an initial unintentional weight loss may develop into a preoccupation with controlling calorie intake as well as managing the food intolerances. A sign of this would be a reluctance to replace restricted foods with nutritious and essential healthy fats (e.g. nuts, oils, seeds).
  4. Irregular eating patterns can play havoc with the digestive system and could be falsely interpreted as food intolerances. Yo-yo or ‘faddy’ diets or more serious problems such as bulimia, binge eating or selective eating disorders could be the root of altered bowel habits, bloating, tiredness or headaches. In these cases it would be sensible to address any disordered eating and try to work towards a structured, healthy, balanced diet before introducing any kind of restrictions.

Do you consider your foodie attitude a healthy one? If you agree with most of the following then YES, it probably is!

  • I have to check labels for ingredients but am not too worried about calorie or fat contents
  • I only cut out the foods that I know I need to because of my medical condition or symptoms
  • Wherever I have cut out foods or food groups I have tried to replace them with suitable nutritious alternatives
  • I don’t avoid social situations just because of my dietary restrictions
  • If I know that there will be nothing I can eat at a party I take my own food or make sure I have a meal before / afterwards
  • I don’t usually feel too deprived or depressed about my restrictions as there are plenty of things that I know I can have
  • Despite my restrictions I manage to maintain a healthy and fairly stable weight
  • I work around my restrictions and still enjoy eating

Changing and restricting your eating habits can be hard but with the right support and a community of Fussy Foodie friends – food can be fun and tasty again!

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  • Reply
    June 27, 2012 at 4:08 pm

    A relative of mine in her 60s nearly died 4 years ago from a similar thing. The important point though, is that she had no obsession with body image or weight. She had started with the wholefood high fibre diet in the 80s which led to some ibs symptoms. This sarted a spiral of nausea,self-fulfilling anxiety about nausea and mis-attribution of the nausea to whatever she had eaten that day. An inpatient stay a specialist eating disorders unit saved her life and she now eats many of the things she previously refused. It is a long way back though and psychological issues still dominate her life. A colleague’s mother with an almost identical story was less fortunate. She died from her food obsession this year. Again, in her 60s. It’s a trap. Don’t start cutting out food without proper testing

    • Reply
      September 16, 2012 at 12:22 pm

      Hello Merton

      Sorry to hear you sad news. I agree that people should not cut foods out of their diet without proper testing.

      I don’t have dairy and avoid wheat, yeast and sugar. This is not for a Heathly fad reason, too loose weight or anything else you might think. It’s because my bodies engine works best with these foods eliminated from my diet, it’s taken a while to work this out but with the help of a York Food Intolerance Test I now know what my body doesn’t like.

      I suffered with chronic fatigue after pushing my body and mind too hard for a long period of time. Little by little I regained control back in my life, exercise was the initial key ( of which I am a great advocate) and then changes to my eating due to candida over growth and then subsequent food intolerance test.

      I love cooking and always had what most people would view a very health diet; growing up with parents who ran a health food shop had an influence on this and I have always been intrigued a how different foods fuel our bodies.
      1) I believe in healthy eating
      2) eating the volume of food your body needs and not eating too much
      3) I rarely drink alcohol
      4) stick to my food intolerances pretty religiously but flexible where I can be and test them occasionally to see how my body reacts.
      5) I love food, cooking and eating
      6) the word diet is a scary one – eating healthy foods and not over eat is what works for me.

      Food is the fuel your body needs.whatever you can or can’t eat enjoy it.

  • Reply
    April 2, 2016 at 12:14 pm

    Found this article really interesting!

    I’ve been on a journey of figuring out that I am in fact suffering from disordered eating for the past year or so and food restriction by elimination of food groups under the guise of ‘food intolerance’ has been a major expression of this for me. I really doubt that I’m alone with that. I think there is a lot of eating disordered behaviour about that slips under the radar because of the prevalence of diet culture and many people (like me) don’t have the extreme appearance that is expected of someone with an eating disorder (very under or over weight) so they don’t appear to have a problem, as well as striving to conceal their condition. Sadly the mockery of peoples eating habits (like ‘food intolerances’) only increases the sense of shame that motivates somebody with an eating disorder to isolate themselves and not seek support for their condition thus strengthening the disorder.

    Do you suggest any further reading or resources?

    Thanks 🙂

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