Feel anxious, eat healthy food, worry about money, repeat. Not very catchy, I know, but this little mantra provides an accurate summary of my life at the moment. Let me explain. I recently came to the realisation that I deal with my anxiety by spending copious amounts of money on superfoods, a habit which in turn generates its own financial anxieties.
I don't know why I am anxious. Genetics? The economy? The pace of modern life? A day job in which I feel like my soul is dying a slow and excruciating death? The rise of Donald Trump? Whatever it is, it is made worse by the barrage of images on Instagram urging me to get rid of whatever does not nourish my body and soul. I am not blaming Instagram. I was anxious before Instagram was a thing, and will probably still be anxious long after it stops being a thing, but it is probably where my obsession with healthy eating began.
This is what usually happens. I will be walking around Sainsbury's with my boyfriend, tired after a long (i.e. normal length) day at work. I will want nothing more than to get home, put Eastenders on, collapse onto the sofa and stuff my face with carbs. I will walk down the cheese aisle, and I will pick some Port Salut up. I will then go to the crackers aisle, and get some Carr's Melts. When I get home, I will devour them both.
I will then start to panic and start to question how it is that I can be such a bloody beast. I will almost feel the spots breaking out over my face, sense the bingo wings jiggling, the double chin forming. Please understand, I couldn't care less about putting weight on. I just feel like I have betrayed myself in some fundamental sense by eating food with no nutritional value, like all those hot yoga classes were for nothing. I feel worried, tetchy, and seriously in need of a recovery smoothie, which all may sound a bit odd and like a bit of a first world, white girl problem, but there you go. Don't say I didn't warn you.
I'll go on Instagram to distract myself, and end up feeling worse. In moments like these, do you know who I wish would just bloody shut up? Ella Mills, née Woodward, or Deliciously Ella as she is known, aka food blogger, writer, yogi and woman extraordinaire. Look, I know, I sound like a jealous and hypocritical person, but that's largely because I am. She's just so... elegant. So poised. She had a chia pudding with almond butter, granola and compote for breakfast, for god's sake, and I had a crumpet. Who am I?
I have an image in my mind of the sort of woman that I would like to be, and she does not lie in bed scrolling through fitspo accounts on her phone, fretting about having eaten something wrong. My sister and I have a name for this sort of woman: a dove woman. The dove woman is confident, warm, motherly. She holidays in Tuscany and smells of, well, dove moisturiser I suppose, though realistically more like Elizabeth Arden or Touch Éclat. Her laundry always smells fresh. She probably uses fabric conditioner with every wash too. Real life examples: Nigella Lawson. KateWinslet. Dolly Alderton. Holly Willoughby. Words associated with a dove woman: earthy, organic, blooming and, above all, wholesome. She does her weekly shop in Waitrose, or Booth's if she lives up north. If she has young children she feeds them Ella's Kitchen. She goes to pilates classes and owns a British Blue cat. The dove woman probably enjoys lasagne without worrying about whether the pasta sheets were gluten-free or not. She may prefer soya or coconut milk but if her boyfriend/husband brings home semi-skimmed cow's milk she will not berate him for it, and she will not pour it suspiciously over her muesli as if it is wee.
Logically, then, I too should be able to eat my crumpet and move on. But for whatever reason, I have this instinctive belief that the only way to reach this (fictional) state of perfect womanhood, of 'dovedom,' is to healthy eat my way to it. What food has to do with fresh laundry or holidaying in Italy, I'm not altogether sure, but I will pig out on overpriced superfoods after a 'slip up,' even though I know this makes no nutritional sense. Maybe it's my Catholic upbringing coming out, but I'll look upon it as some sort of warped dietary penance: just as saying ten Hail Mary's would secure God's forgiveness for calling my mum a poohead, so too will a wheatgrass shot compensate for that Lindor bunny (one can hope.)
It makes no sense, but there it is. The more healthy stuff I buy/eat, the better I feel about myself. I feel like everything is improving, I am a dove woman, I am glowing, I am energised, I am wholesome, natural, the works. I also feel deeply guilty about spending money because I have none, and therein lies the problem.
I have been in my overdraft since 2011. I have two credit cards. I am in debt for healthy food and it's hilarious, yes, but on another level it is actually quite frightening. Last week, my boss asked me to go down to London with her to minute a meeting. My spending/eating becomes more acute when I am in the capital. I like going to our London office, because it means I don't have to spend any money on train tickets to work for the day; when you're as broke as I am, not having to spend £8.10 on train fares is a wonderful thing. I arrived in Euston at about 10am and left at about 3pm, so it was a relatively short day. Here's what I bought, and I promise you, I was trying so hard to be frugal: beetroot, carrot and tarragon juice, and a coconut chicken curry from Itsu (£9.50.) 'Eat beautiful' is written over Itsu's bags, and if there's one thing that has me throwing my money away with reckless abandon, it is the thought of eating my way to beauty. I then went to Planet Organic which is a few minutes' walk away from our London office, consciously resolving to not overspend, to choose my purchases carefully. I bought two special edition 'get the glow' Savse smoothies, a 'zingy' ginger shot, honey kefir, and a raw cacao bar (all for £12 - not too bad.) On the way back to Euston, I got some matcha ice cream from Wasabi, just because I wanted it and was tired (£3.) So all in all, that's nearly £25 spent in one day, on food.
Also, I have just booked a holiday to Bali (on my credit card, naturally) because I have heard that the raw spirulina chocolate mint slices that they do in Ubud are fab. In a few months, I will probably be posing for photographs in an infinity pool somewhere, a coconut in my hand and hashtags along the lines of #Sun #Freckles #Happy #BaliYouMakeMeFeelLikeANaturalWoman #WhatATimeToBeAlive. (I'm sorry, Deliciously Ella, I take back telling you to shut up.) I am not rich, I am not well off. I am not even middle class (economically speaking, although I am not sure that money has much to do with class these days) though clearly in the depths of my psyche I believe that I am.
I know that the obvious solution would be to delete Instagram, swap acai bowls for apples, and seek contentment in something completely free, like running. I know that the whole 'dove woman' thing is a fallacy. I do not believe that I will wake up one day with a truly radiant complexion (without the aid of make up) or with thick lustrous locks, no matter how much goodness I consume. My hair will always be fine or, let's face it, limp, because it always has been, and so has my mum's, and so was my nan's. C'est la vie. Nor do I truly believe that I will wake up and suddenly feel energised as a result of all those green warrior smoothies, because after two years of trying I am still bloody tired all the time, and how much more maca powder can a girl really be expected to digest?
But if I know that all this is pointless and, more to the point, unsustainable, why on earth do I continue behaving in this way? I have suffered with really, really bad anxiety in the past - the physical wrench in your gut and sense of real foreboding that arises out of nowhere - and though I do worryabout all the money I am spending on food, and 'wellness' more generally, it doesn't make me anxious in that sense. Eating badly does. What I need is a (non self-destructive) way to manage anxiety that doesn't involve extreme financial folly, but I am yet to find something that works for me. In the meantime, I will continue to avoid looking at my bank balance.