Maslow identified food as a fundamental need in his famous hierarchy of needs. Food is indeed central in our lives. Some eat to live, others live to eat.
In recent years, it is increasingly common for people to spend a fortune on natural health products and organic food in their bid for clean eating.
The escalating emphasis on a healthy diet was also seen earlier this year in the Food Show in Auckland, where healthy eating took centre stage at the exhibition showcasing local businesses and emerging food trends.
I know of a kindergarten that promotes healthy eating to the point where they even send back home 'unsuitable' food in the lunchbox to help parents get the message.
The latest eating disorder
Needless to say, there have been many issues surrounding food, one of which is eating disorders. While we are accustomed to anorexia (restricting food intake) and bulimia (binge eating then purging), the latest eating disorder suggested—orthorexia—actually starts as a good habit but turns into an obsession.
The word 'ortho' means right or in the proper way. When coined together with the word 'anorexia', orthorexia is used to define the obsession of eating proper food and restricting wrong food. Despite the best of intentions, healthy eating has become a problem for some people.
Although the medical world has yet to recognise orthorexia, the symptoms affiliated with it are not unusual in our society. With all that is happening, it is undeniably easy to be fixated with and swept away by this healthy eating wave if we are not careful.
Is healthy eating bad for us then? Of course not! Not everyone that eats healthily has orthorexia.
When does healthy eating become a disorder?
Healthy eating only becomes an eating disorder when it gets out of control and disrupts our lives. The red flag starts waving the moment we feel pressured into dieting and detoxifying instead of it just being part of our lifestyle.
Some people treat meal time like medicine time. Instead of enjoying the food, they consume the food without much pleasure like medicine needed periodically to keep healthy. Are meals now just something on our to-do list where we tick off the nutrients we eat?
Some enjoy what they are consuming but spend lots of energy and time ensuring that their meals aren't toxic to them. Taken to the extreme, they cut off every trace of sugar, salt, oil and anything similar. As a result of this clean eating, they might not be absorbing enough nutrients.
Can't we eat what we like and enjoy our meals, yet still be healthy? I am not suggesting we only eat foods we like and disregard foods we find less tasty. Instead, we can choose what we like from the various food groups, ensuring we are eating food we enjoy.
The motivation behind healthy eating
If healthy eating is as easy as choosing the food that we like from the necessary food groups proportionately, why are there increasing cases of orthorexia? What causes the stress and obsession to eat healthily? How did something that starts of good turn into something bad like an eating disorder?
According to the recent article Orthorexia: When clean eating spirals out of control, one of the reasons behind healthy eating is pressure from social media. We feel 'a strong need to keep up an image not only for ourselves, but for those "following" us'.
When did maintaining an image for others become so important that it dictates our eating habits? This surprised me. I thought health would be the primary reason for eating healthy food. Our underlying attitude reveals whether clean eating is a healthy choice or an eating disorder.
Those who practise healthy eating and those who suffer from orthorexia both have the same diet; yet one is healthy while the other isn't. The former does it to be healthy; the latter out of insecurities and fears. It's not what we do but why we do it that makes it unhealthy.
What does God say about healthy eating?
A recent series in church 'You lost me at Leviticus' highlighted God's interest in what we eat. God cares about our physical bodies, how we view them and how we use them. In Leviticus we see God steering his people towards the most healthful food available.
When we practise healthy eating, our physical and mental conditions are in good shape, and by shape I am not referring to slim but an excellent condition that allows us to function properly. When we're eating nutrient dense foods our bodies and brains operate at optimum performance, giving us strength to serve God—as he created us to.
Do it for the glory of God
1 Corinthians chapter 10, verse 31 states: 'So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.' I have always wondered how my eating and drinking can be for the glory of God.
I believe that we should eat healthily because we want to be healthy. More than that, we should eat healthily because God cares about how we treat our bodies. He has given us wisdom to make good choices to honour Him with our bodies. I believe this includes what we choose to eat. Our eating, and everything we do, gives glory to Him as we reflect His good plans for our lives.
As the year comes to an end, perhaps it is high time we include healthy eating in our New Year's resolution. Not because it is the latest fad; but because we have a God who cares for us, who has provided us with good food and the wisdom to choose it.
Esther Koh is a stay at home mum living in Wellington with her husband and two year old son. She loves people and has a passion for helping others find their purpose for living.
Esther Koh's previous articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/esther-koh.html