15 December 2015

Dietary reflections for the festive season

As we move towards the end of 2015, DietDoc reflects on food issues like the current drought, fad diets and eating disorders.


It has been an exciting, tumultuous year in the lives of South Africans – including in the arenas of diet and nutrition. As a nutrition consultant I worry about many things, particularly the relentless drought that is crushing Southern Africa, threatening our food and water supplies.


As a country, South Africa is supposed to be self-sufficient when it comes to providing the staple foods of maize and wheat, as well as meat and basic vegetables that are essential for good health. But when crops wither in the heat and cattle die of thirst, it sends a shiver of dread down my spine. Famine, the third of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, is drawing ever closer to our country.

South Africa is already importing maize, which ironically is to be used as animal feed. We may soon have to import high quality maize and wheat in order to feed our people.

Read: Wheat genome decoded to fight food shortage

Having to buy food is probably one of the most expensive exercises any country can embark on. We have more than 53 million mouths to feed, so we need a stable economy, good governance and long-term food security to ensure that South Africa does not turn into a country dependent on United Nations food parcels!

My wish for this country and its people is that we are assured of a steady food supply and that fiscal funds that are currently being squandered should be administered wisely to ensure that no one goes hungry over this Festive Season and beyond.

Fad diets and diet products

Because of the high rate of obesity in our country, it is not surprising that there are unscrupulous individuals who exploit those struggling to lose weight. Fad diets with the attendant paraphernalia of books, diet foods, and slimming pills and potions continue to flood the market.

The tragedy is that at the end of the day these quacks laugh all the way to the bank. By following their “messianic” campaigns and buying their expensive and sometimes even lethal products, our people have merely succeeded in making these diet charlatans rich, instead of improving their own health and losing weight in the long-term.

Read: Why fad diets flop

Weight loss requires a change of attitude and lifestyle so that the patient in question does not overeat, sticks to a balanced diet and does enough physical activity. 

My second wish for South Africans is that basic sensible dietary advice becomes the backbone of our campaign to reduce the obesity rate and to prevent children from falling into the obesity trap.

Eating disorders

Worldwide there has been an alarming increase in eating disorders since 1930. More recently orthorexia (the obsessive striving to eat only food perceived by the patient as “healthy”, or “pure”, or “good for you”), has been added to the list of eating disorders and its incidence is steadily increasing.

Like all eating disorders, orthorexia is a combination of a psychological imbalance coupled to intense pressure exerted by the environment.

Read: Orthorexia - a new eating disorder?

Anorexia and bulimia are still being fuelled by fashion and the media’s adoration of painfully thin and skeletal models and film stars – despite all protests that fashion houses and film directors will no longer allow models/stars to appear in public if their BMI drops below a certain number. Similarly, orthorexia is motivated by the proliferation of health messages in newspapers, magazines and electronic media. Spurred on by fear of ill health or overweight, orthorexics go to extreme lengths to adhere to their self-imposed regime of starvation diets populated by the odd fruit or vegetable, exotic grain or rare fish. It is time that orthorexia should be recognised as a psychological disturbance that requires treatment by a team consisting of a clinical psychologist and a registered dietitian.

My wish for all the tormented souls who punish themselves and their families with extreme eating, who agonise over the 1 g of carbohydrate in a 2 litre bottle of favoured water, or who exercise mercilessly until they are close to exhaustion to rid themselves of non-existent bulges and tummies, is that they will seek expert help in the coming year so that they can be released from the bonds of disordered eating/exercise and live normal, healthy lives.

Read: Low-carb diet debate continues

My dream for South Africa for the coming year is that all our people will have sufficient, healthy food to eat and that all the twisted dietary messages and medieval beliefs about food will be banished. We live in the 21st century and many of us still believe that some weird and wonderful laxative herb will help us lose weight or that eating only food produced on the lower slopes of Mount Etna will ensure a long and happy life! Let’s try to be worthy citizens of the 21st century and develop a sensible approach to food.

I would like to wish you all a peaceful, restful and happy Holiday Season with your loved ones. May you celebrate within the bounds of reason!

Read more:

Why is agriculture important?

Forget fad diets and eat less

Low-carb diet: health body issues warning


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