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Processed Food & Eating Disorders – A Product of Modern Society

Most people know someone with an eating disorder. 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.

But, eating disorders are much more common than people think. Dr. Natasha Campbell McBride talks about these issues in her book Gut and Psychology Syndrome, and describes them as being much more than psychological issues (as have been diagnosed and named by the branch of medicine known as psychiatrics) but nutritional deficiencies which affect overall health, including the mental state of the individual.

From her research, she has concluded that the nutritional deficiencies associated with eating disorders have a profoundly negative impact on the ability of the individual to recognize the condition of their impaired state of health.

These extreme eating disorders have had a devastating effect on the whole of our society though, and 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. In fact, the whole way our culture has evolved to regard and consume food over the last hundred years or more can indeed be categorized as one enormous eating disorder.

On the go, no time to eat

Consider the way people live in modern life – we are constantly taxed and on the go, doing more things each day than is humanly 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 far from natural or nutritious. The convenience foods are a central component of our collective 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.

What’s the result of poor eating habits?

  • Fatigue
  • Depression & other mood disorders
  • Blood sugar lows
  • Weakened immune system and susceptibility to health issues and disease
  • Adrenal exhaustion
  • Mineral deficiencies
  • Weight gain
  • Food allergies
  • Malnutrition

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 us eat are “quick” foods like food bars, crackers, pretzels, cookies, muffins, processed bread which are full neurotoxins like MSG, artificial colors and flavors, preservatives, dough conditioner, high fructose corn syrup, modified corn starch, hydrogenated, rancid vegetable oils, and trans fats, artificially-produced carbohdyrates, denatured and hydrolyzed proteins, pesticides), genetically-modified ingredients (GMOs), and the list goes on.

These foods are highly processed, devoid of nutrients, and if eaten regularly, will cause:

  • Weight gain
  • Irregular blood sugar (which can lead to diabetes)
  • Disturbance in metabolic processes which leads to auto-immune disorders, cardiovascular disease, and cancer
  • Other chronic health issues such as osteoporosis, eczema, asthma, migraines, IBS, Crohn’s Disease, and colitis

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 farmed 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. Proctor & Gamble developed a substance to replace lard on the consumer market: hydrogenated cottonseed oil.  P&G even gave away free cookbooks with recipes using this “healthy” new fat. It looked just like the natural fat people used in cooking and to bake pies and desserts, but it wasn’t the same at all.

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 the truth is, there are other ways in which eating disorders manifest themselves.

We have grown quite accustomed to eating foods that have some element 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 prepare these substances at home, we are effectively eating the same as we would elsewhere because we are using unnatural, convenience foods of all types and harming our health. Packaged foods have become such an integral part of modern life, and yet we are consuming substances which we don’t know their origin nor understand how they are created.  Many of these same types of foods are the same found in restaurants which serve food that is not typically healthy. This is another 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, preservatives, and a number of other undesirable, health-issue-causing additives.

They are also found on recall lists on a regular basis – meats and produce, and many other products because of contamination due to unsafe growing and processing methods.  If you don’t believe me, just do a search online for food, meat, or produce recall and you’ll find dozens, if not hundreds of reports. Here’s the list just from 2011.

Most meat and poultry on the consumer market is grain, corn and soy fed. Cattle are not meant to eat grain, corn, or soy because they are ruminants – with digestive tracts intended to process grass. Eating these feeds alters their digestive tracts, making them acidic and inflammatory.  It’s no wonder there are more allergies to grain, corn and soy than ever before in history.

If you go to McDonald’s and order a hamburger, french fries, and a Coke, the majority of your meal comes from corn – and most corn on the market now comes from genetically-modified substances. It’s no different in many cases if you go to a mom and pop establishment and order the same items. You may think the ingredients are different, but the truth is, they are probably pretty close to the same, if not identical.

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, a lot of 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?

It is common for many food merchants, businesses and restaurants to use the term “fresh” in their marketing ads for their products. And in some ways, it’s not a lie. Those foods may be “fresh” but they are anything but natural or real. Here we have yet a third component of the complicated eating disorder surrounding diets in developed countries.

In her book Gut and Psychology SyndromeDr. McBride explains why eating disorders are “responsible for more loss of life than any other type of mental illness”.  The allopathic medical community views these disorders as being largely psychological in origin, and that they must be treated with drugs, cognitive therapy, behavioral and family therapy, and some nutritional counseling. So much effort is focused on retraining people how to eat but not what to eat.

Because there is so much ill advice given from health and medical experts about health, many people participate in dietary and lifestyle habits which actually lead to gross nutritional deficiencies – such as low-fat, vegetarian and vegan. The nutritional deficits resulting from these diets, from a lack of zinc, B vitamins, and fat-soluble vitamins lead to cell and tissue problems on a basic level, as well as immune system impairment, metabolic dysfunction, weight gain, psychological issues, insulin-resistance, and hormonal problems.

The human body needs nutrients, not chemicals and 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 your food 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 above 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

When I say “our eating disorder”, I’m really referring to the habits we’ve collectively developed as a society. But through awareness, that can change. 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. You shouldn’t gain weight or have health problems if you eat real food.

In the last few years, awareness has heightened about where our food comes from and the importance of buying real food. Over the past several decades, it became 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.  It may take some adjustment and baby steps, but the more you start to buy your food this way, the more sense it will make, the better your health will be, and you will start to wonder how you ever relied on grocery store shopping in the first place.
  3. Stop buying packaged, processed foods, or at the very least, reduce your buying of these items considerably. These foods are full of excitotoxins and neurotoxins like MSG, fillers, preservatives, artificial colors and flavors, and rancid, modern fats that our bodies cannot use and are harmful to our health.
  4. If shopping at your local health food store, look for real foods sold there like grassfed meats and poultry, pasture-raised eggs, raw milk and other dairy foods, organic fruits and vegetables, and whole organic grains in bulk.  Be sure to ask questions of store employees about where the foods come from and whether they are what the labels say they are. These foods may cost more up front, but the money you save yourself on health problems later will be noticeable.  Here is a post which provides information on what questions to ask about where your food comes from and how your foods are produced.
  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 home-keeping skills.
  8. Start to see 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 post: The importance of dietary fats. For more information about types of foods, read: How well do you know your food? Find out!
  9. Avoid foods that claim to be low-fat or non-fat. These labels should be a warning sign and do not contribute to health. We need real, healthy fats to maintain proper weight, mood, and various other aspects of health.
  10. Keep in mind that in general, the modern way of life is neither how our bodies were designed to live nor the way we were intended to maintain our environment and 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 post is part of Kelly the Kitchen Kop’s Real Food Wednesday Carnival. 

4 replies on “Processed Food & Eating Disorders – A Product of Modern Society”

Really “living” on a diet of processed food is a kind of eating disorder, especially if you refuse to see outside the conventional, profit-driven Big Food diet. How could someone feel well when they eat like that all the time?

Kelly – absolutely. Eventually, if you continue to eat like this, your eating and lifestyle habits will catch up with you. And this kind of food actually alters your taste and perception of food due to the amount of chemicals and artificial substances used in processed foods. Food companies spend billions of dollars employing scientists to develop chemicals which will make people crave and want to eat more of these foods. It’s sad that people’s ideas of what we are supposed to eat change because of the power of corrupt food companies who control the food supply.

Great article, and so true. I am beginning to thing that you can measure the nutrient value of a raw food by how fast it spoils – the longer it lasts, the less nutrients it has.

A big exception are foods that have been preserved by traditional methods such as lacto fermenting. These methods can actually increase nutrient content.

Why we, the buying public, should be concerned about increasing the shelf life of food products makes no sense at all. Yet that is the major concern of most supermarkets, who buy the kinds of food that will last the longest. Nutritive content does not seem to be something they are concerned with.

Another point to never forget – just because something tastes good, does not mean it is good.
They have developed artificial flavor enhancers than totally mask the naturally horrible taste of nutrition dead foods. On top of that, many of these flavor enhancers make you hungrier for the factory food you have just eaten. A friend of mine said it was easier for him to give up smoking than to stop eating fast food fried chicken.

Really “living” on a diet of processed food is a kind of eating disorder, especially if you refuse to see outside the conventional, profit-driven Big Food diet. How could someone feel well when they eat like that all the time?

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