It was something photographer Rachel Doyle said on Snapchat that got me thinking about this whole concept of balance. She was talking about the #fitfam folk who talk about leading balanced lives, but totally freak out if they eat a slice of pizza.
It’s something we can’t help but see a lot: photographs of slim, healthy young women in crop tops, talking about how far they are from their ideal bodies; or snaps from a weekend of debauchery, followed by four weeks of living abstemiously, surviving solely on fish and vegetables, and ignoring all things “bad” or “tempting”.
We know how to #eatclean, but what does that mean?
To set out my stall: I’m not going to come to any real conclusions here, because I don’t know the answer to any of the questions I’m about to pose. What I do know is that we’re at a really weird point – we’re bombarded with #eatclean imagery (some of which from me, so I’m guilty of that much at least) but we’re no more balanced about our eating than we were 10 years ago, when the food pyramid had bread, rather than fruit and vegetables, at the bottom of it.
And sure, all of the information we’re being given is a pretty clear road map of what we should be doing… but there’s just so damn much of it. We’re told to eat more vegetables than fruit; then we’re told that fruit is pure sugar; next up, there’s no real benefit to eating gluten; then, well gluten isn’t “bad”; and how about the idea that no foods are “good” or “bad”; except, of course, refined sugar, which is definitely bad… I’m exhausted just thinking about it all.
Eating disorders vs disordered eating
Of course, a decade ago, when we heard the term “eating disorder”, we thought of two words: anorexia and bulimia. Today, we have another one to add to the list: orthorexia, or “an unhealthy obsession with eating healthy food”. And honestly? I think very few of us will go through our lives without exhibiting some symptoms of, if not an eating disorder then, at the very least, disordered eating.
Take my current journey, for example. I lost weight by “eating clean” (although I hate the term, honestly, and don’t think that food should be categorised as “clean” or “dirty” or “good” or “bad” because those words are emotionally charged, and when you mix food with emotions, well, that’s where the trouble lies).
Then I went on a weightloss bootcamp, where the instructor kept saying to us, “you’re here to lose fat!” which, y’know, we were. But it was about calorie counting, rather than healthy eating, and the focus was very much on the scales, rather than the measuring tape. Honestly, it set me back mentally, so that I stopped thinking about food as fuel, and about how it made me feel, and instead, rebelled against the feeling I’d had for the whole week in Spain – that of extreme hunger.
I came back and binged in a way I’d never binged before; I ate all around me for about three weeks, and even then I wasn’t done – I was rewarding myself for enduring something I found incredibly difficult, and there seemed to be no end in sight.
So, what kind of balance am I looking for?
Honestly, I’d love to somehow let go of the constant thirst for control. What do I mean by that? Well, I’m an all or nothing kinda gal when it comes to food. I can go weeks eating super healthily, chowing down mince for breakfast and kale for lunch, and I honestly enjoy it. My body feels strong, my mind feels clear, my skin looks healthy and the feeling of smug can’t be underestimated. Check out my recent go on the elimination diet; I felt amazing.
But then I flip so easily to the other side – once things have loosened up a little, I’m going hell for leather with the French toast (Herbstreet’s is my favourite) and salted caramel donuts from Fallon & Byrne, and having six treats a week when I wish I could be happy with just one.
So where’s the balance?
In an ideal world, I’d love to stop thinking of food in terms of punishment and reward. Right now, if I eat healthily for a week, I think I deserve a massive blow-out – and if I do get something “bad” or “dirty”, I make sure I eat it way past the point of feeling full! I’m like, if I’m ordering this massive pizza, I am eating every single teeny tiny bit!
But I’m not looking for an 80/20 approach, or a life governed by dieting and bingeing. I just want to want to eat healthily, because it makes me feel better, and to enjoy my occasional treats when I have them, without feeling like they’re some huge diversion off the healthy road.
And while I love following #fitfammers on Instagram for food and body inspiration, I find it really worrying when they talk about not being able to put up selfies because of how bloated they are, or how they’ve to cut calories for the whole day because of some food-related indiscretion (which is usually really minor, by anybody’s standards). That being said, I guess that’s my own issue – like I’m always telling people, if you have an issue with someone you follow, stop following them. I guess I should take my own advice!
What do you think? Does any of my #fitfam-related rambling strike a chord, or am I totally off balance (ahem) with this one?