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When Healthy Eating Becomes Unhealthy: A Psychiatrist's Guide to Avoiding Harmful Diets

As a psychiatrist, I have seen an alarming increase in the rate of eating disorders among teenagers in recent years. While there are many factors that contribute to the development of eating disorders, one factor that is often overlooked is food allergy testing.


Food allergy testing has become increasingly popular in recent years, with many people seeking out testing to identify potential food sensitivities or allergies. While food allergy testing can be a useful tool for managing certain medical conditions, it can also have unintended consequences when it comes to mental health.


One of the main ways in which food allergy testing can contribute to the development of eating disorders is by promoting a culture of food restriction and fear. When a person receives a positive result on a food allergy test, they may feel a sense of relief that they have identified the cause of their symptoms. However, this can also lead to a heightened sense of anxiety around food, as the person may feel that they need to avoid certain foods in order to stay healthy.



In some cases, this anxiety around food can escalate into a full-blown eating disorder. The person may become fixated on avoiding certain foods, leading to restrictive eating patterns or even full-blown anorexia. Alternatively, the person may become so anxious around food that they turn to binge eating or other disordered eating behaviors as a way to cope with their anxiety.


Another way in which food allergy testing can contribute to eating disorders is by reinforcing the idea that certain foods are "good" or "bad." When a person receives a positive result on a food allergy test, they may feel that they need to eliminate certain foods from their diet in order to stay healthy. This can lead to a rigid, all-or-nothing approach to food that can be difficult to maintain and can contribute to the development of disordered eating behaviors.



I believe that it is important to approach food allergy testing with caution, particularly when it comes to teenagers. While food allergy testing can be a useful tool in certain situations, it is important to remember that it is just one piece of the puzzle when it comes to managing food-related symptoms. It is also important to be aware of the potential risks associated with food allergy testing, particularly when it comes to mental health.


If you are considering food allergy testing for yourself or your child, it is important to have a conversation with your healthcare provider about the potential risks and benefits. Additionally, if you or someone you know is struggling with disordered eating behaviors, it is important to seek professional help as soon as possible. Eating disorders are serious mental health conditions that require specialized care, and with the right treatment, recovery is possible.


About Dr Vanessa Wong:

Dr. Vanessa Wong is an empathetic, respectful and dedicated doctor who has always been fascinated by the human psyche. She gravitated towards psychiatry because it combined her love of medical science with the study of humanity. She believes in taking an integrative approach by looking beyond symptoms and identifying root causes, and in doing so treat the person as a whole rather than a cluster of problems.


With over a decade of experience using conventional treatment modalities, she realised there are shortfalls to a "symptom management" approach, and began to explore functional medicine to help her patients who struggle with not only mental health issues, but also physical problems that are now understood to be inherently linked in a mind-body connection.


Dr. Wong is passionate about learning, and continuously updates her knowledge by studying both via online courses and in-person workshops, attending seminars and conferences such as the Integrative Medicine for Mental Health and the Institute of Functional Medicine, where she can be exposed to new ideas and network with like-minded people. She is Board Certified in Lifestyle Medicine from the International Board of Lifestyle Medicine.


You can contact her through her website: https://www.drvanessawong.com/


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References:

  1. Wróblewska B, Szyc AM, Markiewicz LH, Zakrzewska M, Romaszko E. Increased prevalence of eating disorders as a biopsychosocial implication of food allergy. PLoS One. 2018 Jun 26;13(6):e0198607. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0198607. PMID: 29944672; PMCID: PMC6019672.

  2. Stewart TM, Martin CK, Williamson DA. The Complicated Relationship between Dieting, Dietary Restraint, Caloric Restriction, and Eating Disorders: Is a Shift in Public Health Messaging Warranted? Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2022 Jan 3;19(1):491. doi: 10.3390/ijerph19010491. PMID: 35010751; PMCID: PMC8745028.




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