There has been a lot of buzz online with the clean eating movement – Pictures and blog posts circulating, sharing pictures of beautifully laid out plates of fruits and vegetables, stories of weight loss and pictures showing off perfectly sculpted bodies, all credited to their new ‘clean eating’ plan.
For those that are currently living under a rock, or have somehow miraculously missed the massive trend towards ‘clean eating’, it generally refers to a diet in which one restricts that which they are eating to just ‘whole’, minimally-processed foods.
Sounds simple, right?
What this fails to look at is the mental side of a movement like this. It fails to take into account the subliminal message that much of this trend’s promotion is inadvertently pushing. I mean, I’m all for eating healthy, and in fact, as I have shared on here with previous food related posts like my zucchini ‘meat’ balls, I am rather focused on ensuring that I continue to eat healthy, but the idea of ‘eating clean’ comes with a host of additional problems.
Now, to fully understand where I stand on all this, I need to do something that I don’t do all that often on here when it comes to subjects like this, and allow myself to be vulnerable. I am going to share things about me, my past and my present that I haven’t previously discussed.
I have spent much of my life in and out of treatment for an eating disorder. More specifically, I have an eating disorder. Now, at this stage in my life my eating habits are on point, my exercise schedule is relatively normal, my body weight is healthy and life is going well. Some may go as far as saying I have recovered. I won’t make that statement, however, because it’s a daily battle. The voices are still in the back of my head. I still wake up each and every morning and make the decision that today is going to be a positive, healthy day.
How does this tie into the cleaning eating movement, and my frustrations with it? Well, in order for there to be ‘clean foods’ that inherently implies that there are also ‘dirty foods’. This idea of good and bad foods is one that is often discussed in eating disorder treatment – because it involves applying a moral value to food.
This turns what was once a set of eating guidelines into restrictive rules due to the mental and emotional implications when you ‘cheat’ or ‘stray’. So, you’re out with friends, and they are all enjoying a birthday cake for your friend’s birthday. You allow yourself a small piece, knowing that you have been eating well and this one small piece of cake isn’t going to destroy the work you have done all week to ensure that you are healthy… When you are operating in a mental state that applies moral value, this will in turn leave you feeling as though you failed, and potentially cause you to spiral into a cycle of unhealthy eating simply because what you did is ‘wrong’ because it didn’t fit the rules you have put in place.
Do you see how this can be dangerous?
Now take it a step further, and think outside of your own personal mental health. Let’s say that you started an Instagram account in which you shared your journey of clean eating, and you found that the more you post making it look like you’re a pro at following this, the more followers flock to your account. You now have thousands of followers, who see you posting as if you have never one faltered. You are the perfect example of all things clean eating.
You probably think that you’re doing a good thing, setting that example that you can do this, and not cheat on your self enforced rules. You’re showing that anyone can do this. You’re sharing all of your great accomplishments to motivate others and keep your account positive.
The truth is that you’re actually creating a possible dangerous space for people who struggle. People with a history of disordered eating are highly vulnerable when it comes to restrictive diets. These people may not be able to step back and acknowledge that you’re only sharing your highlights. You didn’t post the day you skipped your workout, or the chocolate bar you treated yourself too while at the movies with friends. This starts them back into a super strict pattern of eating, which can become stricter and stricter in time, leading them back to the very path of disordered eating they had been trying to leave behind.
This isn’t even touching on whether or not your own clean eating habits are walking that fine line between healthy eating an unhealthy obsession… Are you familiar with Orthorexia? Its an eating disorder characterized by an obsessive compulsive need to eat only healthy, pure or clean foods. While its still not listed as an official diagnosis, it is becoming increasingly popular in today’s society.
These aren’t usually people who set out to create diets so restrictive that they end up negatively impacting their physical health. These are people who started just as you did, with a focus on eating healthy, and as it became stricter and stricter it eventually ended up controlling them instead of the other way around.
So, after all that, what does this mean for me? I’m not going to stop sharing healthy recipes, or leave any reference to eating/exercise off my social media accounts, after all it is part of who I am! What I am going to do is focus on body positivity. I am going to keep trying to focus my own thoughts and energy on staying body positive, eating healthy and not allowing myself to venture back down that dark, negative road that occupied so many years of my life.
The National Eating Disorder Association released what they called ’10 Steps to Positive Body Image’, and I want to share that here. It has some great ideas, and makes some seriously valid points!
“One list cannot automatically tell you how to turn negative body thoughts into positive body image, but it can introduce you to healthier ways of looking at yourself and your body. The more you practice these new thought patterns, the better you will feel about who you are and the body you naturally have.
- Appreciate all that your body can do. Every day your body carries you closer to your dreams. Celebrate all of the amazing things your body does for you—running, dancing, breathing, laughing, dreaming, etc.
- Keep a top-ten list of things you like about yourself—things that aren’t related to how much you weigh or what you look like. Read your list often. Add to it as you become aware of more things to like about yourself.
- Remind yourself that “true beauty” is not simply skin deep. When you feel good about yourself and who you are, you carry yourself with a sense of confidence, self-acceptance, and openness that makes you beautiful regardless of whether you physically look like a supermodel. Beauty is a state of mind, not a state of your body.
- Look at yourself as a whole person. When you see yourself in a mirror or in your mind, choose not to focus on specific body parts. See yourself as you want others to see you–as a whole person.
- Surround yourself with positive people. It is easier to feel good about yourself and your body when you are around others who are supportive and who recognize the importance of liking yourself just as you naturally are.
- Shut down those voices in your head that tell you your body is not “right” or that you are a “bad” person. You can overpower those negative thoughts with positive ones. The next time you start to tear yourself down, build yourself back up with a few quick affirmations that work for you.
- Wear clothes that are comfortable and that make you feel good about your body. Work with your body, not against it.
- Become a critical viewer of social and media messages. Pay attention to images, slogans, or attitudes that make you feel bad about yourself or your body. Protest these messages: write a letter to the advertiser or talk back to the image or message
- Do something nice for yourself–something that lets your body know you appreciate it. Take a bubble bath, make time for a nap, find a peaceful place outside to relax.
- Use the time and energy that you might have spent worrying about food, calories, and your weight to do something to help others. Sometimes reaching out to other people can help you feel better about yourself and can make a positive change in our world.”
What steps do you take to work towards maintaining a positive body image? What is one (or more) aspect of your body that you genuinely love?