I went to Waterstones today. It's one of my greatest pleasures; moseying around a bookstore, every shelf delivering inspiration.
The problem is, today I wasn't greeted with inspiration. I was met with aggravation.
Because the second I walked through those gorgeous doors (my inner book geek in her element), all I could see were rows of shiny cookbooks. No big deal, sure. I mean, I adore a good cookbook.
My issue was that at least 90% of them were all centred around this big, fat, can't-avoid-it-even-if-you-try concept of "Clean Eating."
You might wonder why this is an issue for me. Why the sight of these "all raw" "all vegan" or "all sugar-free" books rung like nails on a chalkboard. They promote nutrition, right? Wellness? You know, all that body positive, self love that is clearly so important?
And yes. It is important. It is so incredibly important and relevant, particularly in a society where 1 in 4 people will suffer from a mental health problem every year. It's something we need to be talking about.
Except... I don't believe Clean Eating is promoting that. I believe it's doing the opposite.
In a world where the blogosphere has become the dominant media outlet for millennials, the influence bloggers and "social media celebrities" have is a serious one. And when a huge number of the biggest bloggers around right now are teaching us that the only way to live a happy and healthy life is through being "lean and clean" our body image and attitude to food is sure to take a sharp U turn.
It was something I began to find myself sucked into. With every ridiculous ripped stomach and painfully perfect acai bowl on my Instagram feed, my self esteem dipped further and further. Walking through the shopping market I would feel myself burning with anxiety at the suggestion of a meal that wasn't marked with the little green guideline boxes. The hint of a takeaway sent me into panic mode and I would leave myself hungry rather than eat something that didn't fit in with this imaginary plan I had set for myself.
Anything out of this plan wasn't clean. It was hideously, embarrassingly, dirty.
I would see their endless abs and thigh gaps and then look with dismay at my own body. My own, very ordinary body. The lack of muscle, the legs that rubbed as I walked and the curves of my hips and bum. These girls... they were super women, surely?
Luckily, this never developed into anything too serious for me. It wasn't long before I realised what was happening; how these heavily constructed images were sneaking their way into my life. That I was being a victim to comparison: comparison to a picture perfect story far away from reality. That I realised my body and lifestyle is beautiful, just as it is.
Because that's the thing, isn't it? These individuals are promoting a lifestyle. A lifestyle that many aren't really qualified to sell. One where they are making very serious dietary claims on what is wrong to eat, how much exercise will result in a stronger and more energised body and the ultimate look we should all desperately be aiming for.
I'm not saying all bloggers and social influencers are doing this. There are so many that have an incredibly motivational message to preach. Take Ruby Tandoh for example. The Bake Off star and journalist writes passionately about eating for love and being comfortable in your own skin. Today she even released a cookbook all about this.
What I am saying is that too many have jumped on the bandwagon of a health that is, ultimately, unhealthy. It is borderline obsessive and demonises anything outside of this bubble of Clean-ness. It is a slippery slope that places dangerous emphasis on what is right and wrong with an undeniable focus on a body image that is simply unattainable for the vast majority of its consumers.
There IS no one size fits all answer to health. Your diet cannot be structured by a fad which is essentially just another money making scheme. Your diet should purely be about what is nourishing and pleasurable for your own body.
Because surely that's what food should be about? Nourishing our mind, body and soul? The blissful pleasure of taking that first bite into something totally irresistible?
I believe that fitness is important. As is being mindful of what you put into your body... in moderation. I also believe that I'll be the first one to tuck into a chunk of carrot cake topped off with a glass (or three) of vino.
That's my choice. That's what's right for my body and mind. And I don't need a social media account to tell me that.
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