Gonsalves: Not What It Looks Like
February’s issue of Cosmopolitan features an article called “Are Food Allergies the New Eating Disorders?” I was disappointed by the article because it paid little attention to the fact that many foods have earned a bad reputation because their effect on health is disputed — not just because they can lead to weight gain.
One portion of the article suggests that since celebrities are “hailing the wheat- or dairy-free gods . . . one third of us think we have a food allergy. And yet only 4 percent of us really do.” While this may suggest that elimination diets are unnecessary for the majority of us, it does not mean that everyone who chooses such a diet has an eating disorder. It’s unfair and also inaccurate to say the only alternative to an undiagnosed food allergy is an eating disorder. This entirely disregards what could be spurred by a genuine interest in health and wellness.
Also, it’s preposterous to think that so many people overhaul their dietary habits just because Megan Fox suggested it. It implies we are bumbling idiots, blindly following advice from celebrities without the know-how to make informed decisions.
I have read from countless sources that gluten negatively impacts gut health, which in turn regulates brain health, leading to depression and anxiety. For those experiencing anxiety or depression, it is comforting (and not totally impossible) to believe something dietary is the cause of so much distress. From a similar personal experience, I can understand that giving up gluten is less frightening than admitting to having an anxiety disorder. There was no mention of this in Cosmopolitan’s article, which I found shocking, as there is a cornucopia of successful accounts about people improving their mental health by following certain restrictive diets.
Cosmopolitan assumes anyone trying an elimination diet is interested only in vanity, completely discounting conscientious health-minded individuals who seek greater dietary consultation than nutrition guides like MyPlate offer. We are not idiots. We know that to lose weight you have to eat less: calories in, calories out, et cetera. If people had only the goal of weight loss in mind, they’d join Weight Watchers or download MyFitnessPal. Those on elimination diets have likely read about the controversial effects foods containing gluten or dairy can have on the body (which research has shown exacerbates eczema and digestive issues) and will want to see how these diets could change how they feel, not just how they look.
Restricted diets are not, as one of Cosmopolitan's cited expert says, “a judgment-free way to have an unhealthy relationship with food.” Eliminating gluten or dairy or decreasing sugar intake is not necessarily unhealthy. While it’s misleading to claim an allergy where one doesn’t exist, eliminating these foods brings the possibility of feeling better. If this is the case and if doing so doesn’t lead to binging, over-restricting or general obsessiveness, I don’t see a problem with making more informed food choices. The crucial component is the attitude toward the elimination, as it is not a black-and-white situation. Of course, believers in orthorexia, a fixation on eating organic unprocessed foods, may disagree, but even that disorder is not fully recognized by the medical community.
I respect that Cosmopolitan wants to raise awareness about potential eating disorders that lurk in the corners of new health trends. I’m sure that some cover up restrictive behavior with “allergies.” However, for the brunt of the article to focus on such situations only disservices readers who may be curious about dietary changes that would improve their health. It also creates a stigma around gluten- and dairy-free meal plans, creating even greater obstacles for those who truly thrive on restricted diets. I worry that Cosmopolitan's article will spawn quick accusations that are harmful and insensitive, ignoring that dietary preference is an individual’s choice.