Newfoundland and Labrador’s Food Policy Raises Concerns for Those with Eating Disorders

by Ella

A mental health advocate is voicing apprehension over a recently implemented food policy by Newfoundland and Labrador’s Health Services, asserting its potential peril and outdated nature. This policy could potentially impede the recovery journeys of individuals grappling with eating disorders.

Jamie Ruby, hailing from St. John’s, expressed astonishment at the provincial health authority’s decision to enact a regulation that prohibits the sale of sugary and sweet items within health-care establishments in the Eastern region. This ban is set to extend its reach to encompass fried foods, chocolates, sports drinks, and more by the culmination of 2025.


Ruby underscored the policy’s categorization of treats such as muffins and doughnuts as “bad food” as problematic. He argued that such labelling overlooks the significance of some of these foods in the context of restoring normalized eating patterns for those with eating disorders.


“When consulting with an individual grappling with an eating disorder, it’s entirely foreseeable that a dietitian might focus on assisting them to reintroduce items like cookies or doughnuts into their diet,” he noted. “From that perspective, the policy design is notably flawed.”


Ruby sent an email to Health Minister Tom Osborne, which he also shared with CBC News, urging a reevaluation of the policy by mental health professionals or health authority staff with expertise in eating disorders.


Ruby stated, “While this policy may be couched as a nutritional food guideline, it distinctly departs from the realm of a wholesome dietary strategy. It leans towards being hazardous and antiquated.”

Responding to inquiries from CBC News on Tuesday, the Health Department explained that initiatives like this new policy aim to “enhance the nutritional ambiance” at health-care establishments. The department also clarified that the foods no longer available for sale can still be brought into the facilities.

Dichotomous Approach Draws Criticism, says Psychologist
Dr. Jacqueline Carter-Major, a clinical psychologist specializing in eating disorders and a psychology professor at Memorial University, highlighted a pivotal flaw in the policy—its binary approach, categorizing foods as entirely good or bad in accordance with Canada’s Food Guide.

She expounded, “Thinking of food in absolute terms, as either virtuous or detrimental, healthy or unhealthy, can indeed be a triggering mechanism.” She further emphasized that individuals struggling with eating disorders might be encouraged, as part of their treatment plan, to incorporate seemingly indulgent foods like doughnuts. This process aids them in overcoming the ingrained all-or-nothing, black-and-white viewpoint towards food. Dr. Carter-Major advocated for a balanced approach.

Dr. Jacqueline Carter-Major, a clinical psychologist and professor of psychology at Memorial University, says the policy’s all-or-nothing approach is the wrong way to think about food. (Submitted by Jacqueline Carter-Major)
Carter-Major also stressed that labeling foods can yield diverse harmful repercussions during the recovery phase. She explained that the dichotomy of categorizing doughnuts, chips, burgers, and fries as ‘bad,’ and fruits and vegetables as ‘good,’ could trigger individuals into losing control over their eating habits. This often culminates in feelings of guilt and shame concerning food consumption.

While acknowledging the intricacies of the intersection between food and policymaking, Carter-Major asserted that banning the sale of specific foods does not provide the solution. Instead, she proposed that the health authority should be actively committed to “enhancing the food landscape.” This, she argued, would involve making more affordable and nutritious options accessible within its facilities.

She concluded, “Prioritizing the availability of such food types rather than instituting a blanket ban on specific items is a more constructive approach.”



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