Why Loving Your Reflection is Just Another Unrealistic Expectation

At face value the body positivity movement may seem like the perfect antidote to unrealistic body goals, the continuous merry-go-round of dieting and the perpetuation of thin ideals from the fashion, media, fitness, retail, and industry that uses models and their bodies to promote products and ideologies. The incessant nature is that although these images, which are often digitally manipualted, don’t cause eating disorders or disordered eating, they can instill unrealistic ideals upon which to focus on, whether you are male, female, trans, and not even preidpsosed to eating disordered behaviours. The vast majority of us don’t fit the eating disorder category, and I would argue that a lot of dieting practices that are normalised in magazines and on wellness websites are dancing on the very thin line between normal dieting behaviours and disordered eating behaviours.

Body positivity on social media has come in all shapes and sizes. Some people promote the message by getting into their underwear and shaking their bellies in front of the camera, all in a bid to help you feel better about your own belly. Some people spread the message by telling you that you are fabulous and perfect just the way you are. There’s a lot of work going into challenging societally ingrained fat phobia, which is great, however sometimes I can’t help but think that the message gets a little lost and mixed up at times.

There is a common misunderstanding that if you have ever had any body hang ups, which is going to be pretty much all of us, that learning to love yourself and your body is the perfect antidote. A key tool used in hating our bodies, our reflections, is a major focus in learning to love our bodies – or so you could be forgiven for thinking. What if you have spent years and years of your life thinking of yourself as actually abhorrent? What if you have hated yourself to the point where you have hurt yourself in some way to try and fix “it”, whatever “it” might be? This could be in the shape of a number of different ways: binge eating, purging, exercising as a form of punishment, skipping meals, fasting behaviours, self harm. This is by no means an exhaustive list.

The pressure to love your body is a tall order for anyone who has struggled with their body image. How about we turned learning to love yourself on its head? What if learning to love ourselves happened by not focusing on turning the tyranny of your relationship with your own reflection 180 degrees on its heel is not the best focus. Another idea that offers an antidote to body bashing it a hashtag circulating the realms of social media: #BodyNeutrality. Body neutrality removes the pressure of having to love your body to have achieved success in not hating yourself. It means instead that accepting your body and being relatively neutral about your body image instead of trying to love what you previously thought to be unlovable. It is less extreme, less demanding and in being as such, more realistic. The pressure to always be happy and smiley about yourself is removed, but so is the need to berate yourself unfairly. The pretence of loving your belly has been removed, so if you are having an off day you need not feel like a failure for wishing your belly would just shrink. Instead body neutrality means accepting the thought, and not letting yourself be mad enough to diet over it. It offers us a middle path in a world of extremes. I think this is in fact much more empowering and I’ll tell you why.

Illustration by TheNourishmentNinja

Body neutrality means not hating your body or parts of it. It means that off days when you do momentarily hate your self are ok, and instead of havign to U-turn that entirely, into loving yourself, you can instead be neutral. You don’t love your body, but you don’t hate it either. It is very much the mundane and very boring mid-ground of body image, that is in fact potentially much more empowering. You are no longer focusing on your reflaction, or how well you take a photograph from this angle vs that angle. In fact, the mirror plays such a minor role in your day to day value of yourself that you have so much more free headspace for embracing life beyond your body, your image and your looks. Think about it. If you are no longer so hooked up on trying to turn your reflected self hate into self love, the absolute antithesis to what you know, you instead have loads of energy to instead focus on life beyond the skin you’re in, you can hit a middle ground which is in fact much more conducive to living your life away from your looks, and with all of this free energy and head space think of all the burgeoning possibilities that await you: climbing a mountain, planning trips away in nature, learning s new skill or a language, swimming in some wild waters, and baking some beautiful cakes from your grandmother’s recipe and eating them!

Go and laugh until your belly hurts, then roll on the floor clutching your middle and laugh some more. Go and challenge yourself in a way that exercises your mind and character and therefore giving you some brilliant stories to tell for years to come. Laugh at yourself when you fall over, pull a goofy face and let people learn to love you for who you are: your quirks, your mannerisms, your little weirdo ways because really, focusing on our reflections remains a narrow view of the world, of our lives and of our worth, whether we are singing our praises or chastising our very existence.

Be brave. Cover your mirror up and see how you feel only using your reflection to check you’ve not got toothpaste all over your face before leaving the house. Be brave. The greatest empowerment is to free yourself from the suffoctaing restrictions of being hyper-concerned about things you cannot and can change, but maybe your efforts are best placed elsewhere. Of course take pride in your appearance if it makes you happy to wear some make up – but don’t let it define you or how you see yourself. Our bodies are merely a vehicle through which we live, and it is the most dull thing about us as people, and eventually, if you have the privilige of reaching old age, looks fade and bodies change – would you rather be the one who was a stunner when they were younger with nothing more to offer? Or the one with banging stories of adventures, mishaps and hilarity calamity renditions of a life lived beyond the mirror, a life lived not enslaved to learning to love a reflection.

 

Orthorexia is the New Anorexia, and It’s Not Cool

Social Media is bursting with #BodyPositivity #LoveYourself and #ICanSoYouCan to messages seemingly aimed at the average health conscious woman. At face value it seems like a pretty brilliant and groundbreaking trend that’s taking over. People are going to fitness events more, we are health conscious now thanks to a decade of public health campaigning.

Dig a little deeper and there’s another layer to this trend. People who have recovered from eating disorders posting transformation pictures from then and now. They’ve usually managed a level of good weight restoration – which is great. They often claim psychological healing from the eating disorder too, and who wouldn’t believe that when someone has restored and maintained their weight? That is what eating disorders are all about right? Weight. No, nope, nada, that statement couldn’t be any more wrong. Eating disorders are a psychological illness and mending the mind takes much longer than weight restoration.

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Especially when those same people are posting comparison shop of body shape and muscle with their weight displayed in numbers on each picture to prove that you can be smaller and leaner at a higher gravitational mass. The point seems to prove that weight loss doesn’t always count for stronger and weight gain can mean a leaner body. I don’t know when it was discovered hat muscle is more mass dense than fat. I think it was a long time ago. The proportionate representation of a Kg of each next to each other send this message home enough. I don’t know about you but I don’t need six packs and weight numbers emblazoned across two pictures to show me as well.

Back to the #BoPo trend, why am I sceptical of the complete recovery claims and love yourself campaigns by some influencers? Because the same woman pushing these messages of self-love seems to have migrated from one way of obsession over her body and food to another. I know, it sounds hypocritical considering my ED past and that I’m now studying nutrition, but hear me out on this.

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I’ll be frank, seeing your perfectly lean body, with no cellulite or wobble with a six-pack and long blonde hair (Why are so many successful influencers white and blonde?) does not encourage me to feel all #bopo about myself. The lack of diversity amongst the influencers is a whole other matter but in this instance I think what has really occurred is a shift from one beauty ideal to another in the last decade. This woman has successfully transitioned with the trends, from skeletal to sculpted. I further this stance by pointing out the body positive and self love messages still all revolve around “I love what I see in the mirror” or how they look clothed, barely clothed and basically it all revolves around reflections. Self love isn’t found in your reflection, it is deeper than that. Imagine a couple who are shit hot, heck, I hear this is what Love Island is about – what happens when they irritate each other or age, or sag – will they still be in love if it’s all based on a skin deep love? Anyone will tell you these kinds of relationships are shallow and won’t last at the very least.

Going back to the body trends. In the 90s we had heroin chic, then that was deemed too dark so we transitioned to 2006 with Nicole Richie, Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan, Mary-Kate Olsen who could be summed up at the time as bones, bones and more bones. They were idolised as the beauty ideal, put on a perfection pedestal that translated to being as skeletal as possible without being sectioned or dying because then you kind of lose by default. Thinspo became a thing, and sometimes the ones who did die from their eating disorder were further idolised by many as being the ultimate goal. These people were as unwell as it sounds. Many were genuinely unwell, how do I know? I was one of them. However, the mass media (this is pre-social media boom) perpetuated these images, this ideal and humiliated any celebrities who had cellulite by blowing the picture up in their magazines and encircling said fault with a fat red circle.

We’ve moved on from that. Its been 10 years after all. However, the retaliative movement was health and fitness: strong is the new skinny, suns out guns out and all that jazz. It’s not all bad, but there is a dark under layer of migration of pathology with food, body image and exercise emerging in the surfaces of popular media, magazines (ahem, Women’s Health) and social media platforms (Oh Hai Insta!). During the process super foods became a thing thanks to clever marketing and buzz words. Paleo, veganism and the ultimate heathen of ‘healthy living’ that we all utter under our breath as if he who should not be named, clean eating. We bought it. We buy it every time and in a capitalist society why are some people pushing these ideas? Obviously, there is dollar in health. There always has been and always will be. Each trend earns some people big bucks.

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Most of them have a singular continuous trend threading throughout them since the thinspo days of 2006: restriction. Each fad is a new way to restrict the diet, introduce vast numbers of rules around eating and achieve beauty ideals. Except in 2006 we knew being so thin meant an anorexia/eating disorder epidemic, not the trends and trend setters are more sinister; they’re disguising their restrictive eating and compulsive relationships with exercise and their reflection as health. We’re buying into it, they’re getting paid for it. the difference since 2006 here is that making money from social media didn’t really exist then. If it did I think a lot of people would have made a living from being anorexic and online; just like hoards of people are now for being orthorexic or an over-exerciser. We are paying them for their compulsions, and they are lying to us and more importantly, themselves. Evidently, I have a massive problem with this.

To all the body positivity social media gurus with six packs, steel thighs and a built derrieré from going to the gym more times than I blink in a week, I’m calling you out and I’m hoping that more people see through the rose-tinted veil of beauty you show to us. Orthorexia is the new anorexia, and it’s not cool.

Brighton Marathon: The Unlikely Road To The Satisfaction of Socks & Sandals

Marathon running is more of an exercise for the mind than the body. Making your body run 26.2 miles in one go without stopping is tiring work, don’t get me wrong. The real task though is how much can you endure on the day? How much can you dig deep and keep going when the sweeper bus stops to ask if you want to climb aboard the not-so-fun bus. Through the window you can see tired broken people, tears, distant stares and silver blankets prematurely adorned.

You may have seen in the media recently the upset caused by London Marathon for the 7:30 pacer and her fellow backpackers, recruits on the day to finish the route in a requested time frame – and even so, they received hurtful words, and constant goading for 26.2 miles. Like I said, a marathon is a mental game of keeping going enough as it is, so for the people who held their chins up and refused to give in – fucking well done! I was offered aboard the sweeper bus three times, on the last coming dangerously close to caving.

It has now been a while since I ran Brighton, fully recovered and got back into the swing of normality without marathon madness, and had time to reflect on what went better than last year, not so much and lessons learned. I got a 20 minute PB on London last year. Brighton is not an overall PB kind of course; it’s hilly, windy, bleak, lonely, miserable and undulating in the most undulating sense of the word undulating. Did I mention it was uncomfortably undulating? I got a PB for half marathon distance, which now stands at a 2:51:44 according to my Garmin.

When Dad and I crossed the start line we were amongst the final handful at the back of the pack, even further back than Dave the Running Samaritans Phone. The course doubles back on itself a lot, which can be motivating and soul destroying in equal capacities. Some times it gave me the illusion that people were not all that far ahead so keep running and that’ll be you on the other side of the road soon. In the same breath, seeing people running the final kilometres of the race as I was just crossing halfway was a very bitter moment for me.

For the first few miles dad and I took it in turns to over take one another, back and to back and to. I took off. (This sounds much faster than it really was.) We thought we had said our goodbyes for the rest of the course, until I stopped for a toilet break. This is all well and good except there was a few of us, and as I waited my dad caught up to me. At the time this was a relief because his phone had pocket dialled me a number of times. I had phoned him back to no answer and consequentially in true anxiety girl style, I jumped to worrisome conclusions of heart attacks, rolled ankles and muscle cramps. He catches up to me and he’s just fine. His version of events is that I keep calling him. He had no idea he’d been phoning me so all was well. Not far behind my Dad though was the sweeper vehicle.

The sweeper vehicle is not for road sweeping; it is for people sweeping. Slow people sweeping, injured people sweeping, poorly people sweeping, the sweeper bus of broken hopes and dreams chased me from that moment in the race right until the end, threatening to gobble me up in a sorry mess. This shit me up. I won’t lie. So I bloody well got a wiggle and a wriggle on to try and make some ground on the sweeper bus of broken people.

With my London Marathon experience having been such a dreamboat, I do wonder if perhaps Brighton was a bit miserable because I had a normal marathon experience. When you hear about people with Bipolar, a classic “mania story” is of someone running a marathon without training. I am by no means special, others have done it including Jedward (way to put myself down there), and I”m sure many other idiots like myself. I’m not sure everyone who commits to such an act of stupidity however has such an epic day out with it. The power station miles in particular were just horrible.

Each time I was running towards the town centre I realised that the view and sightings of Brighton pier were very much deceiving in how close I really was, or was not to the half way point, and on the way back in from the other side, from the finish line. The second half of the race has since been very much talked about as being a wind tunnel of misery amongst fellow Brighton runners on social media. The power station miles provided very little to look at and very much to overthink about, like the pain emanating from my lower half of my body. It was grey. It was cold. It felt more like the march of the hobbling zombies than a marathon at this point. Eventually, the 23 mile marker came and i could finally, finally say to myself “it’s just a park run to go”. It was around this point when i was kidding myself that I saw my Dad on course for the last time before the end. Up until this point, every time we had seen each other we high fived, did a thumbs up and beamed a smile at one another, evidently pleased with the results of our high hopes and poor training. Not this time; I needed a hug.

Just passed 23 miles I could see the pier in the distance, which signified the finish line on the horizon, much like a mirage in a desert, but it wasn’t sunny or sandy, it was grey and concrete. The joy soon wore off as the sighting became a torturous tantaliser of the end that never seemed to come. I kept going and kept going, catching up to the team pushing a dying man in a wheelchair, and eventually saw a friendly face. Jarnail from Chasing Lights was cheering and despite having not seen him for months I dramatically threw myself at him for a hug, and to snatch a brief moment of less gravity on my feet. He ran the remainder with me until he was ushered off the course. It really helped me to have that someone running with me. No amount of sugar, or electrolytes, or sports drinks could have rivalled the support of finding a friendly face in the crowd who is willing to jog along side you. Then another friendly face shouted me, my friend Maryke then joined us too, and then another, Elle. Then the finish line set up came into view, and I could not have been happier tho see the finish I’d been so patiently awaiting to arrive on the horizon since mile 23.

As soon as I sat down on the other side, having survived my second marathon, I put on my socks and sandals. I felt like a very stiff and rigid champion wearing the footwear of dreams: socks and sandals after a long race are indescribably wonderful. When I saw my Dad coming out of the finishing area we had another longer hug. I think he was a bit broken because we don’t do long hugs very often, but after gruelling distances and challenges when he admits he’d like to cry and doesn’t, we instead have a long hug.

In the end, I feel blessed to have the privilege to run a marathon for the sheer challenge of it. I felt blessed that my friends had come to support me, eat food with me, and that my dad was there too. After all the life difficulties I have had with my dad, I think running sickly distances together has really brought us closer together – and that is as good a reason as any to keep doing them. It was hard, and I probably won’t be doing Brighton again next year but never say never.

Eat Your Food, Take Your Meds

Have you ever thought is strange or inconvenient that you need to eat every single day, multiple times a day? Think about it for a moment. Every day we need to eat. What would life be like if we didn’t need to eat every day, multiple times? More convenient? Time saving? Resource saving? Picture this.

You wake up in the morning, pop the kettle on and make your breakfast. You sit to the table as you do every morning, and you stare. You are staring at your food wondering why on earth you need such sustenance to survive, pondering the meaning of this breakfast before you. You flirt with the idea of going without the food. The idea flirts back. You think “fuck it!”, pinch your nose, screw up your face and close your eyes. You jump feet first into the deep waters of curiosity to see whether or not you swim. It doesn’t kill you immediately but you don’t quite glide through the water either. It makes you uncomfortable but still you tread water, keeping your head bobbing beyond the surface. You are surviving. It makes you feel a bit queesy, a bit confused and a bit off. Perhaps you need to just muscle through? Brute use of sheer willpower is definitely what is needed. You knuckle down and do some problem solving, still bobbing. Maybe you just need to learn how to survive and thrive without the food, just as our ancestors adapted, you can too.

Missing one breakfast won’t have a huge effect on your health. It certainly won’t kill you. Perhaps you peruse, eating is a habit that can be changed. Are you addicted to food? The phrase is currently brandished across headlines after all. You continue with your plan to keep missing food at more meals and subsequent breakfasts. It starts to wear you down. You feel rough, you feel edgy, and very much unlike yourself. This is when the going gets tough. This is your time to rise up and adapt as your ancestors did.

With time you begin to realise that thriving this way is absolutely impossible. The next day at breakfast you pop the kettle on and prepare your food. You sit down and feel grateful for having changed your mind about eating your food at breakfast. You are relieved that you can sit down and eat your food, comforted by the knowledge that you have tried and tested the curious alternative. You eat your breakfast. This experience does not make you immune from dabbling your toes into this pool of ponders again because always, what if? Do I really? And is it so? Float around our mind.

I wasn’t talking about food very much at all; this is an experience I have with my daily medications, particularly my main Quarterback, Quetiapine. Quetiapine is an atypical antipsychotic that is pretty nifty medicine. A common occurrence in those living with Bipolar Disorder is that once feeling well and stable for a while, we wonder if we are ready to come off of our medications and manage without them. Sometimes we’d wonder if we were ever unwell at all, is it all a fallacy.

It makes sense that we experience these episodes; when you feel well why would you continue to take medicine every day? The catch really is that we are well because we take the medicine every day – and that can sometimes be a difficult idea to hold on to when you think about how well you are now with your healthy coping mechanisms and social support network, your backlog of lived experience and a well stocked kit bag of coping tools.

Every single time my Quetiapine goes below a certain level I become unwell. I am familiar with the territory because the ways in which I become unwell are ways that I have spent years of my life living – the same symptoms and experiences relapse into the forefront of my life and very very quickly I lose my ability to think, be rational, function, get up, be motivated, tolerate people and annoyances, or stay very much with it at all. I descend into a foggy and slow confusion, much like living in sludge. I stare at walls for hours, if not days, at a time. I watch TV without really watching it. My memory stinks and so does living like this. Essentially, I am very disabled without this medication at the right dosage.

For those living with bipolar, it can take years and years to get an accurate diagnosis. Afterwards, it can take years and years to find the golden snitch of which medication combination and what dose works for each person. I am hopeful that we have finally found mine, alongside my extra nifty and extensive tool box of coping mechanisms. There is no shame in relying on medication to be well and healthy; these tablets save lives.

Brighton Marathon: Hopes, Nopes and Notes

There’s all sorts of bugs to be caught as we go through our lives: the travel bug, an influenza bug, the reading bug, and hopefully not the Ebola bug. I’m not sure if I have caught the running bug as such, but I am quite sure that I have caught the “Challenge Yourself with Disgusting Feats” bug. Is that a bug?It’s not as catchy a name as Ebola but I think we’ll roll with it.

As I am starting to be more serious about my training commitment and overall role that exercise plays in my life and health maintenance, I am pleased and slightly sickened with nerves, to be running Brighton Marathon in April. Does anyone ever stop at one marathon? I’m hoping to be quite firmly in the multiple marathon runner camp by the end of the year. Not every runner chooses to run marathons, 45% of runners have run 2-5 half marathons whilst 50% have never tried a full marathon [1]. Of those mad enough to opt for the full marathon distance though, I am convinced that not many people stick to running just one.

I am running Brighton with my Dad for CHICKS [2], a charity that gives children who are carers, living in difficult circumstance such as care or have been living in abject poverty a break away at a holiday camp. [Sponsor Link].

Maybe I caught a special type of madness during London last year for arduous challenges and pushing myself to my limits, repeatedly and all in the name of adventure? The thought of another marathon excites me and fills me with dread: I had such an epic experience last year and I’m wondering what other experiences there are to be had whilst running for a sickening distance. Every race we participate in as amateur runners is only against ourselves. Naturally I’m going to have some hopes for this marathon, some nopes and some notes based on last years “THIS IS NOT A RECOMMENDED METHOD” experience.

Hopes
– Get a PB from last year’s result
– For good running weather, not too hot and not too cold or rainy.
– To enjoy myself.
– Survive in one solid piece as a human being (fingers and toes are all crossed for no injuries)
– That my training although far from perfect is adequate.

Nopes
– Not training. I may not be very good at sticking to training plans but I am actually doing some this year!
– Over hydrating without electrolytes or salty snacks!
– Relying on gels for energy and glucose

Notes
– Get Body Glide without SPF because it is more glidey without the SPF
– Carry electrolyte tabs, SIS Lemon flavour, for adding to water on course
– Flapjack is a good snack for half way energy, Chia Charge all the way!
– Sun cream with a super high SPF that is water resistant so will survive my sweating buckets – maybe carry some extra if you can?
– Music is your best ally on race day

Sources:
[1] http://www.marathontrainingschedule.com/blog/45-mind-numbing-facts-figures-statistics-running-2/
[2] https://www.chicks.org.uk/

The Face of Diet Culture: The 10 Year Challenge

The 10 year challenge shines a light on how much we as individuals have changed but how much has the face of diet culture changed in the last 10 years? In 2009, the same year that I left home to go to fashion school in London, starving yourself skinny was still cool. The severity of health implications related to the thin ideal came to a spearhead in 2006 when fashion model Luisel Ramos collapsed and died whilst participating in a fashion show. She died from heart failure related to malnutrition and ultimately anorexia. 6 months later her sister, Eliana Ramos who was also a model died due to complications related to malnutrition and anorexia nervosa. The same year, Ana Carolina Reston, a Brazilian fashion model also died due to complications from Anorexia Nervosa. The size 0 debate was started and the fashion world came under the spotlight – and this wasn’t a case of any press is good press. Many government and health bodies made the call for a minimum BMI requirement to be implemented for all models participating in fashion week events. In research links were drawn between the portrayal of excessively thin bodies as desirable, and the social pressures this placed on women to conform [2]. Size 0 was sold to us and we bought it with dire consequences: thin was in.

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During my 2 years at fashion school I remember hearing club kids talking about how many drugs they were doing and how long they’d managed to not eat for, with the aid of said drugs. Cheekbones and collar bones were in, even if that meant looking gaunt.With the rise of mephedrone at the time whilst it was legal, this wasn’t a difficult feat to be achieved. There were numerous times people weren’t in the studio from dealing with the aftermath of having taken mephedrone (Meow meow/Mcat) [3]. In fact, gaunt was good and not eating was cool. Some tutors would joke about how the cheesy carb fest the canteen was bad for your waistline. Thin was in at whatever cost, health was out.

Needless to say, in this environment I relapsed into my eating disorder and I relapsed hard. At my lowest weight, whilst I was an outpatient at an Eating Disorder Service I received the most praise for my appearance I have ever received to date: “you’re so beautiful”, “how do you do it?”, and on Facebook photos, “OMG gorgeous

This trend is evident beyond the realms of my fashion school anecdotes and misadventures with anorexia; a lot of people are reminiscing about similar changes in their 10 year challenge posts. It turns out that a lot of people in 2009 were skinny and in retrospect, feeling weak, unhappy and generally like a bag of shit. That’s how forcing your body to weigh much less than it is wants to be feels, like an absolute huge bag of shit. Fatphobia was high, and even healthy weight individuals were deemed as “curvy” or “plus size” – I mean honestly, just fuck right off.

These social pressures and appraisal did nothing to help me towards recovery and subsequently a few years later I left the fashion world pretty much over night. Size 0 sucked and the fashion world soon realised how much it sucked for business due to the public health, government and public backlash to promoting such severe thinness ideals. Surely this was a good thing? We were moving away from aiming for waists comparable to the average 7-year-old.

Heroin chic of the 90s had gone and pro-ana sites, blogs and forums were easily found and plentiful online. Entire communities gathered amongst the anonymity of the online world. Safe havens to encourage the pursuit of thin, and the glorification of such ideals became known as thinspiration, or thinspo for short. Fast forward a decade and strong is the new skinny; thinspo has been replaced with fitspo. Instead of collar bones and rib cages we now idolize sculpted bodies, low body fat percentages and big muscles. On the surface it seems health driven but when you get down to it, maintaining such low body fat percentages and building such quantities of muscle mass is just as difficult an ideal to work towards: it is also big business. It costs to get those muscles, cue the introduction of “clean eating” instead of dieting, phrases like “it’s not a diet, it’s a lifestyle choice” and the rise of the social media influencers. Now people are paying crazy amounts of money to try to achieve a particular aesthetic. When you dig deep, it’s not all that much different, but instead with the introduction of classism – not eating is essentially free whereas superfoods and trendy gym classes are in the KERCHING!  regions, cue M.I.A. “I just want your money” (song title ‘paper planes’).

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The rise of visual social media platforms and smartphones making everyone a photographer, instagram has been a mass playground and propagator for fitspo, clean eating and ultimately a shit ton of social comparisons based on these visuals. Does my smoothie bowl look Michelin start enough? Are my abs clean-cut enough? How about in this pose? Additionally there are apps to add abs and change your photos to be who you want to be – so god knows how much of this stuff we see online isn’t even real, and here’s the catch, we compare ourselves anyway; it’s natural. Of course, we’re always going to come up short in such comparisons. Just as we always came up short to the photoshopped thinness of models in magazines and on billboards.

There have been associations made between exposure and engagement with healthy eating communities on Instagram and orthorexia tendencies [4]. Orthorexia is an obsession with eating clean foods, without impurities. It manifests as an obsessive preoccupation with eating perfectly and results in the cutting out of food groups deemed not pure enough [1]. In the rise of clean eating and the idea of purity invading in on our eating practices it’s a wonder of whether we are eating something because we like it and it tastes nice, or whether it’s trendy, seen as the new cult super food or looks good on Insta? The social pressures amongst these online communities is high, and food shaming is definitely rife like a plague amongst these online circles. Just as with starvation practices, this takes us away from listening to our bodies and their needs because external forces are dictating what, how much and when we eat.

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Although we might not be starving ourselves, models might not be collapsing and dying at fashion shows and smoking cigarettes instead of eating lunch the question lies in really contemplating just how much has really changed? How much of this change is a mask of the same old issues? The same motivations, feeding into the same desires and issues around controlling our bodies, minds and emotions? When we are so focused on our bodies and controlling them down to every minute detail, we do not have the energy to focus on bigger things. Being super lean and strong is not empowering if you’re obsessed with what you can and cannot eat. Fitspo is not empowering if it makes you feel like shit. Being enslaved to your reflection and how you look is not empowering. It might feel as such sometimes but if it’s taking away from your life in any way then it’s time to reconsider how we relate to fitspo and slogans such as “strong is the new skinny”.

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The irony of a lack of focus on holistic health in the health and wellness industries is laughable at best and shameful at worst. Are we really progressing away from hyper-vigilience around what we put in our mouths and the impacts this ha son our body shape in the pursuit of health, or is this a new era of diet, health and wellness fuck uppery? My advice for seeing between the lines? Be critical, be analytic and if an image is prescribing an aesthetic ideal get the fuck outta there quick sharp. Being pained by attaining a certain look is not progress, but instead the falsification of progress. For real change we need to call this shit out and disempower the hold they have over us as individuals, communities, men, women, and especially for our children. We need to learn to know better.


Sources:
[1] Beat (2017) Orthorexia. Available at: https://www.beateatingdisorders.org.uk/types/orthorexia .
[2] Costa-Font, J. & Jofre-Bonet, M. (2011) Anorexia, Body Image and Peer Effects: Evidence from a Sample of European Women. London: London School of Economics and Political Science.
[3] Rebekah Brennan, Marie Claire Van Hout, (2012) “Miaow miaow: a review of the new psychoactive drug mephedrone”, Drugs and Alcohol Today, Vol. 12 Issue: 4, pp.241-253, https://doi.org/10.1108/17459261211286654
[4] Turner, P.G. & Lefevre, C.E. Eat Weight Disord (2017) 22: 277. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40519-017-0364-2

 

RED January: Active Everyday To Beat The Blues Away

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If you’re on Instagram it’s quite likely you will have seen some people going on about RED January. Maybe you think it sounds like another new year resolution fad like: Veganuary (please don’t shoot me, I’m an animal too) or Dry January, for those pretending that quitting alcohol is hard for them after an indulgent Christmas. Dietary cleanses and detoxes are once again circulating although I’m not in on the scoop of which one is most trendy this year. Are we still on the Whole 30, alkaline and keto “lifestyle change” tips? Either way it seems that whatever direction we turn you can’t help but be faced with lifestyle challenges promising to transform you into a new you and make you feel miraculously better about your shitty life. RED January could fall into this trap if you frame it in such a way, but it needn’t do.

Run Every Day January is a campaign to encourage people to be active on a daily basis throughout January in an attempt to buffer against the blues. Unlike the title suggests, you don’t have to run every day, I think RED January is just easier to market and brand than MED (Move Every Day) January. A lot of people do interpret RED January as another punitive challenge and as such, that you have to run every single day. It isn’t and this defeats the purpose of the campaign. Instead you just move, whether that’s a kick about in the park with your kids, walking to the shops instead of driving, running a Park Run or doing some yoga. You’re not supposed to break yourself over it, it is quite the opposite; it is about prioritising and taking the head space to move your body, connect with your body and in the meantime reap the benefits of moving for your mood.

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There are heaps and heaps of evidence for the positive effects of exercise on our mental and emotional well-being. It is now common knowledge that we can’t avoid to the point of GPs prescribing Park Run for mild depression in patients. Don’t be fooled, it isn’t a cure-all but it is a good place to start in terms of looking after yourself. Despite the accessibility of moving, 1 in 3 adults and children in the UK do not get enough physical activity. Let me repeat this. 1 in 3 adults and children in the UK do not get enough physical activity. This is quite shocking and with the benefits of exercising being so vast and varied, it really is an under tapped resource that most of us have.

I don’t mean that in a “no excuses” kind of way. It’s not easy starting to get active from being inactive for a period of time. It’s daunting, it’s hard work and sometimes it hurts but bear with me. Bear with yourself because in the long run you’ll be glad you got up and did it (pun entirely intended).

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There are numerous ideas and theories as to why achieving adequate physical activity is so difficult. Sometimes how we frame the idea of physical activity in our minds can really affect our perception of movement (Mental Health Foundation, 2013). Is it an extra and particularly painful chore to fit into our already busy schedules? Or is it a part of your self-care regime? Admittedly, with January being one of the coldest and darkest months of the year often curling up somewhere cosy with a book or a film feels immediately much more appealing. The greater benefits of movement may not be such an immediate gratification, but doing a steady amount will usually provide some hard-earned gratification immediately after exercise. So perhaps, the delay of immediate gratification by 30 minutes isn’t the worst after all.

The health benefits of movement are numerous, particularly for our mental well-being: from providing a protective factor to developing depression and anxiety (Fox, 1999) to increasing our work productivity and performance (Wiese, Kuykendall and Tay, 2017). The best news? You don’t have to go hard or go home; no matter how small or unimpressive you may perceive the achievement and effort to have been, any activity is better than doing none at all: what have you got to lose other than 30 minutes to try and see? (Mental Health Foundation, 2013).

The results from last year’s RED January participants speak for themselves. Last year in a survey of 3000, 87% of REDers felt significantly better physically and mentally after January 2018 from partaking in the challenge. Aside from the RED January challenge and their partnership with the mental health charity, Mind there’s oodles and oodles of evidence, scientific and anecdotal, about the benefits of moving your body.

This isn’t a weight loss message, but a 100% emotional wellness message. Regardless of your size, you DO NOT NEED TO LOSE WEIGHT before you can get active. There is no prescribed aesthetic or requirement in order to move. If you are concerned about your health impacting your ability to exercise I have added a link to a PAR-Q (Physical Activity Readiness Questionnaire) here.

The important focus is just to get moving, preferably in a way that’s enjoyable to you. Exercise does not have to be punitive, and in fact, to get the most from working out a healthy push of your limits is encouraged but don’t put yourself off forever. Start small and keep it real. Punishing yourself for eating something, or to look a certain way is not going to harvest the positive results that make you feel good, empowered and emotionally sound. It will only serve to do the opposite.

In this respect, the virgin active ad recently is a good message: Enough.


Sources:

Fox, K.R. (1999) The influence of physical activity on mental well-being. Public Health Nutrition. 2(3a) pp.411-418.

Mental Health Foundation (2013) Lets Get Physical. London: Mental Health Foundation.

Wiese, C.W., Kuykendall, L. & Tay, L. (2017) Get active? A meta-analysis of leisure-time physical activity and subjective well-being. The Journal of Positive Psychology. 13(1) pp.57-66.