Not everyone who is underweight suffers from an eating disorder, but anorexia and bulimia are serious health problems in this country; an estimated 500,000 women suffer from anorexia, and 1 to 2 million women struggle with bulimia. Women with anorexia nervosa starve themselves and/or exercise excessively, losing anywhere from 15 percent to 60 percent of their normal body weight. Some die. Women with bulimia nervosa binge on large quantities of food—up to 20,000 calories at one time—and then try to get rid of the excess calories. Some purge by inducing vomiting, abusing laxatives and diuretics or by taking enemas. Others fast or exercise to extremes.
Fats contain both saturated and unsaturated (monounsaturated and polyunsaturated) fatty acids. Saturated fat raises blood cholesterol more than unsaturated fat, which may even help lower harmful cholesterol. Reducing saturated fat (most comes from meat, dairy and bakery products) to less than seven percent of total daily calories may help you reduce your cholesterol level. Whenever possible, replace saturated fat with monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats.
A well-balanced diet, comprised of a variety of foods, adequately meets women’s needs for vitamins, minerals and energy. For good health, women need to pay special attention to calcium, iron and folate (folic acid) intake. A healthy diet also should minimize the intake of fat and sugar. Diets high in saturated or trans fat can promote high levels of blood cholesterol and increase risk for heart disease. A diet that includes high sugar provides empty calories, or calories that do not provide any nutritional value and often times replace more nutritious food selections.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) food pyramid system (www.mypyramid.gov) provides a good start by recommending that the bulk of your diet come from the grain group—this includes bread, cereal, rice and pasta— the vegetable group; and the fruit group. Select smaller amounts of foods from the milk group and the meat and beans group. Eat few—if any—foods that are high in fat and sugars and low in nutrients. The amount of food you should consume depends on your sex, age and level of activity.
It's a cliché, to be sure, but a balanced diet is the key to good nutrition and good health. Following that diet, however, isn't always that easy. One challenge is that women often feel too busy to eat healthfully, and it's often easier to pick up fast food than to prepare a healthy meal at home. But fast food is usually high in fat and calories and low in other nutrients, which can seriously affect your health. At the other extreme, a multimillion dollar industry is focused on telling women that being fit means being thin and that dieting is part of good nutrition.