When Healthy Eating Becomes Unhealthy
By Jaclyn Lupo
Ask any girl how she wants to change her body, and she’ll tell you she wants to lose weight. We’re fed image after image of models photoshopped to perfection. We played with Barbie dolls, fantasizing about looking like them when we’re older. We started defining ourselves by our appearance and spent long hours in front of the mirror critiquing our bodies. Fitspiration became our inspiration as we set unobtainable goals that simply didn’t make sense for the nature of our body types. It has become clear we would never be satisfied since we’re taught to strive for perfection when perfect doesn’t exist.
Of course, we were exposed to diet culture, becoming aware that there would be negative consequences if we ate too much. We were then taught the differences between “good” and “bad” foods. Society associated those “bad” foods with “ugly” and “unruly” bodies, encouraging us to cut out those “bad” foods to be “healthy”.
We’ve been programmed to believe that a perfect diet contains only those “good” foods. That’s where this clean-eating trend kicks in. Clean eating refers to eating whole foods, aka non-processed food. Thanks to wellness culture, it’s viewed as one of the healthiest lifestyles. I can’t argue that filling your plate with fruits, vegetables, legumes, grains, and lean proteins is not a great way to obtain the nutrients your body needs. However, what many influencers fail to say is that it’s okay and healthy to stray from these limited options! Restrictions can be dangerous physically, and mentally, which is why an entirely “clean” diet can quickly turn into an eating disorder.
The problem starts when the concept of balance is forgotten. Your body needs foods of all kinds, and it thrives when it’s being fed a substantial amount of carbohydrates, a moderate amount of protein, and a good amount of fat. Carbohydrates get a bad reputation in the wellness world, and that’s something we need to change. Your body needs those carbs! Your plate should be filled with a balanced array of nutrients. Use that food pyramid you learned about in elementary school for guidance! My point is, we don’t need to cut out all processed foods to be healthy. Eating should not be black and white. What clean-eating tells us is that we need to cut out all the impurities. In reality, when you place so many limitations on your diet you just end up cutting out essential nutrients and important calories. You shouldn’t need to follow a rule book when you eat, you just need to follow the hunger signals your body gives you! You should never cut out entire food groups unless you are advised by a licensed professional.
Celebrity diets gurus have become increasingly popular on social media as the “wellness” trend becomes more prominent. As I looked more into the “wellness world” it became obvious that it was simply diet culture disguised as a more healthy “lifestyle change”. From paleo to keto, to vegan, these labels seem to have a “healthy” connotation, even though they simply encourage you to cut out entire food groups. Of course, you can attach yourself to any of the labels in the wellness world and be healthy if you are taking proper supplements and getting enough calories. However, you need to listen to any warning signs from your body and be cautious if your meals leave you unfulfilled.
Jordan Younger, the voice behind the blog “The Balanced Blonde” started by glamorizing her vegan lifestyle under the name “The Blonde Vegan”. After a few years of being vegan, she noticed herself growing sickly, which forced her to leave behind her once-beloved veganism. She indulged in lean meats and dairy, and her body became energized again. Not to say that veganism is bad, but you should never be afraid to change how you label yourself, especially if your health is on the line.
Today, pictures all over social media glamorize “wellness” and “clean-eating”. The truth is, most influences have little to no authority in giving nutrition advice. While the “What I eat in a day…” videos from the fitness community can give you an idea as to what Chole Ting, Alisha Marie, or Blogilaties eats daily, by no means is it advisable to worship. When, and if, followed religiously, these diets are often extremely low in calories, and ultimately nutrient deficient. Abbey Sharp, a certified nutritionist, and youtube personality accesses these kinds of videos in terms of what she knows as a licensed professional and points out the red flags. The main theme in all of Abbey’s videos is to listen to your body’s hunger signals and feed them accordingly. Eating should not be picture perfect. You’ll be hungrier on some days, and you’ll be craving more chocolate on others. That’s normal, and you should not ignore your body simply because someone else says that’s a “bad” food to eat! The focus should not be on what or how you eat, but on how your body feels and functions.
If mealtimes are associated with extreme emotions of guilt and regret when you dare eat something that doesn’t fit your “healthy” standards, then it’s clear your relationship with food needs to be assessed. Recently, these behaviors have come associated with the eating disorder Orthorexia, a term coined to represent that point when healthy eating becomes unhealthy.
Unlike other eating disorders, people battling Orthoresia are often praised for looking great, and ironically being healthy. The truth is, focusing intensely on what you consume 24/7 is detrimental to your mental health. You may look like the epitome of health, but your low energy levels and food-anxiety will say otherwise.There’s a deep knowing that you need to eat more food, but society has celebrated your weight loss and you do not want to end that party. The health is only skin deep, and if there’s anything I’ve learned through the COVID-19 pandemic is that mental health is equally as important to physical health. Please, if eating is associated with any feelings of distress, seek out help. There are so many online help options nowadays, making it easier than ever to access treatment. It’s nothing to be ashamed of.
Recently, I stumbled upon Lauren Greenfield’s photography book Girl Culture, and let’s just say she rawly captured the non-stop pressures girls feel to change their bodies. Her images were so honest, it was scary. The photos of girls staring at themselves in the mirrors left me wondering why society still objectifies women, even though we all have such unique and powerful voices. Why does it matter what dress she wore, or how her makeup looked? Shouldn’t we be paying attention to how we treat others and what differences we can make in the world? It’s 2020, and we are in the midst of a climate crisis, lots of civil unrest, and a pandemic. It’s about time we stop telling each other to change our looks and instead encourage each other to change the world.
Jaclyn Lupo is an editorial writer passionate about fashion, sustainability and culture.