Beware of "diet thinking"

Eating disorders awareness week – February 2 to 8, 2014

Although more women are affected by eating disorders, more and more men are starting to fall into this category. This is partly explained by the fact that men and women are threatened by a phenomenon Sylvie Goulet, a psychologist at the McGill University Health Centre (MUHC), calls "diet thinking".

Indeed, on one side consumers face an abundance of food products marketed aggressively and, on the other, a strong social pressure to reach the thin ideal conveyed in the mass media. "Add to that the hectic pace of modern life, which sometimes generates a lack of structure in eating habits, and we get a fertile ground for the development of eating disorders," says Goulet, who exclusively accompanies patients who consult at the MUHC for psychiatric reasons or for bariatric surgery.

Goulet explains "diet thinking" as an approach to eating based on restriction. This causes anxiety and eating issues that can lead, amongst other things, to bulimia nervosa. Bulimic people experience a loss of control over their diet and eat a large amount of food in a short period, compulsively. Their desire to eat is more triggered by anxiety and by their difficulty in regulating their emotions than by hunger. "But contrary to popular belief, not all bulimics induce vomiting,” she says. “Many become obese, and some even suffer from extreme or morbid obesity."

Goulet thus invites us to see food as a world of pleasure, rather than a forbidden world where temptations abound. She encourages people to discover the culture of food fun and exploration. According to her, parents who have children struggling with food issues or who worry about this would particularly benefit from showing an interest in cooking and food diversity, as well as adding structure and pleasure into the family diet.

"But pleasure, like anything, is a matter of dosage," adds Goulet. "A real pleasure is a pleasure before, during and after. It is something we anticipate with happiness, and that afterwards becomes a good memory. And if that's not it, that's not fun." The concept of pleasure must then be understood as the answer to the question, what is good for me?, which involves learning to know oneself, to be in tune with oneself. That's real food for thought!