“Eat clean, train mean”. “Abs are made in the kitchen”.
Statements like these are rampant on social media, and are targeted at a specific demographic; individuals who exercise regularly but struggle with nutrition. On the surface, many of these taglines attached to health and fitness entities or products seem nothing but positive. After all anyone with a basic grasp on the English language knows clean is good, dirty is bad. But is it really that simple when it comes to what we put into our bodies?
It’s no revelation that a chocolate bar does not make a nutritious meal, and everyone should be eating more veggies. But somewhere along the way between a lunch that left us hungry an hour later and a weekend long binge of burgers and ice cream, our relationship with the food we consume became a little more complicated.
Thanks to the phenomenon of Instagram celebrities and superstar-endorsed diets, no one just eats food, that would be far too pedestrian. You must be a clean eater or a vegan or paleo of HFLC (high fat, low carb, duh) or HCLF (you guessed it!) or subsist purely on rays of sunlight and moon dust (I’m looking at you Gwyneth). While embarking on a process to improve your health and wellbeing is absolutely without a doubt a positive thing, what these catchy-named, celebrity-endorsed approaches to dieting have resulted in is convincing individuals that in order to succeed, all of the ‘rules’ of a dieting approach must be followed (no easy task, as the guidelines for many of these diets tend to change depending on who you ask) and that if you don’t, you have somehow failed.
Over the last decade, incidences of orthorexia, the fixation on ‘healthy eating’, often entailing of removing multiple food items or even entire food groups from ones’ diet, has skyrocketed. While not officially classified as an eating disorder, orthorexia is undeniably a form of disordered eating. There is something very fundamentally wrong with the fact that feeling like a failure for eating a food item deemed as ‘bad’ is considered normal. A lot of this has to do with the concept of emotional eating where we have been conditioned to think of certain foods both as a reward (I worked out for an hour, I deserve this cupcake) and a response to negative states. This is not helped by the recent phenomenon of a ‘fit is the new skinny’, where not only is weight loss emphasised, but ideal musculature as well. Indeed what this has resulted in is a rise in disordered eating in male individuals who feel pressured to exercise excessively and subsist on a limited variety of foods to maintain an ideal physique. To be crystal clear, there is nothing wrong with wanting to look better. What isn’t right is cutting out entire food groups as this means missing out on valuable vitamins and minerals that keep our bodies and minds healthy. What isn’t right is being unable to focus all day because all you had was a green smoothie, and then bingeing in the evening because you felt deprived. Any approach to food that you can’t see yourself practicing three years from today, is not sustainable for you.
If you are an individual who exercises regularly and tries to lead an active lifestyle, there is absolutely no reason to feel guilty about having a scoop of ice cream after dinner, much less feel bad that it’s not made of frozen bananas and almond milk. And when you do have that delicious, creamy, sweet dessert, there is absolutely no need to call it a cheat meal. Calling it so insinuates that you are somehow misbehaving or unable to do something as it’s meant to be done. After all it is not that ‘healthy’ foods are unenjoyable (if you disagree, you just haven’t found the right foods for you!) it is the fact that we have convinced ourselves we must be deprived to make progress. Try lifting the ‘forbidden’ status off of foods consumed only when you lose control, and all of a sudden there is more opportunity to enjoy a well cooked piece of fish and fresh vegetables. The next time you go a little overboard with the pasta on a night out, instead of beating yourself up and resigning yourself to minimal food and 3 hours of cardio, compliment the chef and shake your booty a little harder on the dance floor. The best relationship with food comes from loving what you eat, whether it’s because you know it is nutritious, or because it makes your soul happier.
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