Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Media misunderstandings

I suppose I should be glad that my local newspaper is covering eating disorders in this article on a 41-year-old woman with bulimia.

But you know, it's hard to feel encouraged when you read lines like this:

Thanksgiving, challenging for anyone on a diet, is particularly problematic for people with eating disorders, whose troubles with food generally stem from deep psychological issues, therapists say.

There's a whole lotta sloppy thinking and reporting packed into that one paragraph. For one thing, it conflates "anyone on a diet" with "people with eating disorders," as if an eating disorder was the same phenomenon as a diet, only taken to an extreme.

And of course the line about "deep psychological issues" is just the same old b.s. we've been hearing since Hilde Bruch started writing about anorexia.

We know a hell of a lot more about these diseases now than Bruch did. We know they're biological illnesses. We know that genetics plays a huge role. And we know that you don't need "psychological issues" to develop anorexia or bulimia.

SOmeone who's lived with an e.d. for 20-some years may well have "deep psychological issues" with food. But it's a chicken and egg thing. The illness comes first, the "issues" come later.

The article goes on to describe how the woman with bulimia has been hospitalized seven times (six times at Rogers Memorial) for her eating disorder and still struggles with it. The tone smacks of prurience--"She actually might get up from the Thanksgiving table and vomit!"--and the continued conflation of eating disorders and dieting leads to comments like "Therapists encourage people with eating disorders — and anyone with more routine concerns about overeating on Thanksgiving — to plan ahead. Consider what items might be served and decide how much of each you'll eat."

Um, that sounds exactly like eating disorder talk to me.

It's all about the food

I love this article, which talks about new research showing that when it comes to getting nutritional bang for your buck, it's food itself rather than supplements, vitamins, etc. that holds the key.

The article refers to recent studies that have looked at whether ingesting specific nutrients--B vitamins and beta-carotene--can prevent heart disease, cancer, and other ailments. All of these studies so far have shown no value, or even a slight negative value, to the supplement approach.

These researchers argue that it's the food, not what's in it, that's good for us. Sitting down to a plate of steamed kale with olive oil and garlic is an entirely different matter, nutritionally, than dosing yourself with B-vitamins, iron, etc. This follows along with conclusions from a 1970s study showing that when you enjoy what you're eating, you actually get more nutritional value from it. Shocking!

Here's the money quote in my book:

[Researchers] focus on the concept of food synergy - the idea that more information about the impact of human health can be obtained by looking at whole foods than a single food component (such as vitamin C, or calcium added to a container of orange juice).

Just as some of us have been saying all along, food is medicine.

So on this Thanksgiving week, lift a fork in honor of the pleasures and privileges of food. Say thanks to your body, a splendid machine that knows how to make use of food, and to your taste buds, which let you enjoy it.

Then dig in.