Irish children 'learning culture of disordered eating' from adults, expert warns

Irish children 'learning culture of disordered eating' from adults, expert warns

Dr Kielty Oberlin said: "If we want our kids to have a balanced approach to food, we need to practice it ourselves." File picture: Alamy/PA

Irish children are learning a culture of disordered eating from adults who are creating an unhealthy relationship with food by overpromoting healthy eating, according to an expert.

Psychologist Dr Kielty Oberlin, who specialises in eating disorder recovery says, she is seeing more and more young people suffering from orthorexia - a term used to describe a focus on only eating healthy foods and an obsession to avoid all toxic meals.

She believes young people need to be taught more about moderation than dividing foods into good and bad. "Every person with an eating disorder just wanted to get healthy in the first place because the whole culture right now is to get healthy, lose weight and eat right.

"An eating disorder is a development which starts off with a diet to get healthy, and over time it gets worse as the relationship with food breaks down.

We have now a culture of disordered eating where people will skip meals or cut out a so-called bad food or only eat super-healthy foods.

"So many people will say stuff like 'I'm so bad, I had that chocolate cake' or 'I'll be good tomorrow'. The more we promote more exercise, healthier eating, the more we are creating this dichotomy." 

Dr Kielty Oberlin explains that "Disordered eating is anything from frequent dieting to anxiety associated with eating certain foods to exercise regimes that are too rigid, to feeling guilty about having sugar. More and more, experts are seeing people who have, what we call, orthorexia, which is eating super-healthy food only."

She said: "I'm seeing more and more children and teenagers coming to me with eating disorders and when I try and find out where it all stems from, they will say they were taught good foods and bad foods when learning about healthy eating in schools. 

"Susceptible kids will then rule out eating fats and then get congratulated on it so they persist and do more. They don't understand moderation."

She warned that adults need to be careful when using language around children and kids shouldn't see adults criticising their own bodies saying 'I'm so fat or I'm so bad, tomorrow I'll be better. 

"This is modelling how to have disordered eating and if we want our kids to have a balanced approach to food, we need to practice it ourselves."

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