Growth: The Uncomfortable Comfortable

If I asked you to walk home in the rain, how would you respond? Would you tell me to open my eyes; it’s raining, duh? Or maybe you might feed us both an excuse that you don’t have your umbrella and it’ll ruin your hair? What if I told you that sometimes taking the uncomfortable option can help you grow? Now I know you’re not a thirsty plant, but hear me out! Getting comfortable with being uncomfortable is essential for developing resilience, a “Fuck It” attitude and for finding out what you are really made of. Most of the time, these uncomfortable situations that we frantically avoid aren’t all that bad, such as walking home in the rain. Sometimes they may even be a source of joy, imagine that! Walking home in the piss wet rain could be a highlight of your day? Maybe you think I’m full of shit. Maybe I am, but let’s ignore that for a moment because there is one person who we owe it to to do the things that make us feel uncomfortable – and that is ourselves.

Every day I see people that inspire me to push myself, whether it’s that they have something that I want *ahem a Marathon Majors 6-Star Medal cough* or they’re holding the first copies of their newly published book – I’m jealous, so shoot me! I just want to smell crisp new pages covered in my words! What lies between where I am now, and where I want to be is very simple and very painful: a whole lotta growth.

Make yourself do unpleasant things so as to gain the upper hand of your soul – W.E.B. Du Bois

This is where owing it to yourself to get comfortable being uncomfortable comes into its own. Do you remember any of your teenaged growth spurts? Those HURT! Growth is uncomfortable, and of course, it takes effort to grow, relentlessly unforgiving and continuous effort. You owe it to yourself to challenge yourself and get comfortable being uncomfortable. By becoming comfortable with discomfort we learn how much we can push ourselves, we realize and learn our limits, and that our resilience reaches beyond our own imaginations.

The option to stay exactly where we are is always there. When we have had enough we can always stop and decide if we like it just as it is. Maybe you do, or maybe it’s just easier to stop, for a long time self-harming was more comfortable than facing the rawness of my psychology and mind, learning to eat was more uncomfortable than starving myself and there came a point when being unwell becomes more comfortable than undertaking the journey to becoming well because being unwell was all I knew- I soon learned that growth happens in the most treacherous and uncomfortable of waters, as the adage and many a meme go. It’s true. That shit is scary and itchy ants-in-your-pants uncomfortable. The best teacher and arena I have found in persevering through discomfort has been exercising, without it, I doubt I would have recovered as much as I have.

Sometimes when you’re covering a large distance in one go, hi there marathon, or hiking and climbing up a mountainside (Tryffan, we have unfinished business), it is uncomfortable. It is hard. In each task, by putting one foot in front of another, a very simple yet vastly symbolic act, the finish goal will eventually appear. In continuing to show up for yourself through the challenge and continuing to push on through the burning quads, aching knees, jarring concrete and absolute monotony that can be associated with covering distance, you get there and all of a sudden the intense and immense gratitude, pride, sense of accomplishment that you feel makes it all completely 100% worth it. You don’t forget the pain, this isn’t childbirth, it just all becomes worth it.

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So taking this ideology into a bigger playing field is the next step, and they don’t always have to be huge strides of progress that are acquired during an activity for it to be worth it, next time it’s raining, which if you’re in London is probably tomorrow lets be honest, walk for a bit in the rain even though you don’t want to go out in it. Go for that walk in the cold. Take your shoes off, feel the ground and the cold iciness of a wintery puddle submerge your toes. Practice different types of discomfort, physical, emotional, mental: turn the heating down to below comfortable for a day, have a cold shower, go for a run up a hill. This is the reality. Life isn’t always sweet, it’s mostly pretty grim. In practise, you empower yourself to manage situations when you lack control over a situation. Sit in the overwhelm and when exposing yourself to uncomfortable situations, go ahead and nurture yourself as well. Self-soothe yourself through the discomfort, learn how to do this for yourself. Figure out whether it’s a mantra that you repeat in your head, a texture that you feel, a particular way of fidgeting your fingers that is soothing. This is great practice for self-soothing in situations that are uncomfortable where you have no control over being able to escape them, i.e. depression, anxiety, that presentation in front of your colleagues, public speaking, a race, a challenge, commuting on an overpacked tube at rush hour. It doesn’t mean you always succeed, just that you will succeed more than when you couldn’t tolerate any discomfort.

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What’s Wrong With WW Kurbo’s Approach to Childhood Obesity?

Weight Watchers, who are now rebranded as WW, Wellness that Works have launched a new app under this new branding for children as young as eight… as Young. As. Eight. It’s marketed as a potential solution to the childhood obesity crisis in America. However, a lot, and by a lot I mean, basically everyone who is an eating disorder advocate has lashed out online about the Kurbo App.

America is not the only country where childhood obesity and associated lifestyle diseases are high on the public health agenda. In the UK we have a Childhood Obesity Plan which has been associated with sugar reduction campaigns. With childhood obesity so highly on the public health agenda in the UK and USA. In the last decade, obesity amongst infant school aged children has dropped, whereas for year six children, obesity has risen. There is also a very strong correlation with social deprivation and obesity, which seems like it should be the other way around, that having more would mean you eat more. It isn’t, and so beyond calorie counting, we have to take into account social status and level of deprivation. Childhood obesity is a social class disparity – which will not be addressed solely by calorie counting on apps.

Source: https://digital.nhs.uk/

I would be curious to see if there is a similar chart to represent diagnosed eating disorder prevalence across social deprivation status’. Does it really mean that children are healthier just because they are not obese? Are there more underweight children in either end of the spectrum? Are there more mental health problems and what kind? Are there accessible facilities for exercising in the community? Where I live in SOuth London you pay £5 to access the tennis courts. This seems perfectly reasonable to those who an afford it, but what about all the children living in poverty in the area? Whereas in Surrey where social deprivation is not so much of an issue, the tennis courts in the park are free to use for everyone. As you can see, the picture is not so straight forward as calories alone.

Children being incredibly overweight, to such an extent that their quality of health and life are negatively impacted is a problem. I will not sit here and pretend that it is normal or healthy for a child to be unable to play and run around with their friends. It is not normal or healthy for a child to be limited by their body, or to be in pain when they try to play catch with their mates, and it’s not fair either. By over feeding our children, we are neglecting their holistic needs, and depriving them of a lot of what childhood has to offer for the ease of not managing their diet appropriately. Now I’m no sugar police, have some cake, have an ice lolly, heck, eat ice cream in the rain if you want to – a little bit of sugar here and there, and a child’s natural propensity to be drawn towards super sugary sweet foods is not the issue. It is the abundance in which these foods become a dietary staple, and in depriving children of attention and freedom to be kids in the streets safely (looking at you gang culture!!), we limit their potential coping mechanisms and potential social development. It is much more complex than diet alone. It is much more complex than calories in and calories out – although this is a suitably reductionist prophecy to sell to the general public because in being so reductionist it is also very easy to explain and sell.

As adults we have no right to deny children of the childhood freedoms of running around with their mates playing catch and relevance 40-40 in for days on end. As adults we have no right to either to instill pathological dieting practices into the young and impressionable under the guise of “this is for our health”. It’s not. Let’s not pretend for one moment that WW Kurbo app is for one minute about healthy relationships with food. In the same breath, we need to stop reducing the idea of health down to a BMI chart number, which is incredibly outdated now. Placing utmost importance on the weight of a child will mean that in a child’s mind, the idea of health can be measured easily and singularly in one arbitrary measure, the number on the scales. A very accessible number with which an obsession can easily be built. A very unreliable number with which our sole judgement of health should not be placed upon. What about getting their blood pressure down, and their glucose sensitivity up? What about a way to do this that doesn’t mean scanning every food and counting calories because equating losing weight with success very quickly equates not losing weight with failure. Why would we put such a bullshit task that’s easy to fail at the definition of daily failure for young children.

A child does not need to count calories to be healthy. Kurbo is a reductionist approach to nutrition that undermines the complexity and importance of a varied diet to support the very varied systems inside our bodies upon which our lives rely. Weight is not everything, if it is to be very much at all. A quick anecdote from a children’s weight management programme I worked with: His mum was using it as child care during the easter break and he qualified via BMI. He had an overweight BMI. He played sports, enjoyed sports and was a picture of health for a young boy with a tall athletic build. He was fast and very competent beyond his years in sports, and our nutritionist was quite stunned that he met the admission criteria for the programme. The admission was based solely on BMI and waist measurement. His waist measurement was not “concerning”, just his weight according to our guidelines. Neither his weight nor waist circumference were “concerning” in the slightest. Two words: MUSCLE. MASS. He shouldn’t have been on this particular programme and learning to eat less food, although I can entirely understand why his mum took the opportunity for free childcare during the Easter break.

The solution is not simple or straight forward. An app in principle is perhaps not the worst idea for a health tool, but basing results and goals on weight numbers is plain lazy. Reducing health to calories in vs calories out though, and encouraging children to count calories is dumb at best, and downright fucking dangerous at worst.

 

What Respecting Your Body Might Look Like

What does it mean to respect our bodies? If you follow me on Instagram, then you may be painfully aware that I’ve developed infection action a week before Ride 100. In the end, I realised the right thing to do for my self and my body, was to defer until 2020 and this got me thinking about what it means to respect our bodies.

So often you see and hear of people who have injuries yet persevere without any let up on their bodies, in order to achieve the goals they set for themselves. The thing is, the more broken your body becomes the less able you will be able to achieve those goals and challenges that your heart is so very set upon. Resting and not exercising can be pretty rough when you’re used to being active and you enjoy being active, but in the long run, treating your body well and knowing when to rest, knowing when to take it easy, and when to not push on through with brute determination can be just as important as being able to commit to any form of training plan at all.

How we relate to and treat our bodies really affects our performance and ability to achieve. Instagram is littered with stories of injuries, permanently damaged ligaments and sad stories of people who fell in love with running until it destroyed a part of their body, usually in the lower limbs. It’s great that the love of running has become a popular love to have, but overdoing it only shoots yourself in the foot; rest, as uncool as it may be on Instagram, is essential. So back to the original query, what could respecting your body actually look like? Here’s a list of what I personally consider to be essential components in treating your body with the respect it deserves.

1. Listening
You know when you have a plan but your body aches with tiredness? Or when you feel so hungry after increasing your training load, and it goes against your planned intake? This could be an ideal time to practice listening to your body. Sometimes you need to eat more, and at other times you need more rest. It’s very easy to schedule plans without forethought to how your body might respond, or need. Just remember, our bodies are not computers or robots that can be mathematically figured out in an absolute formula. Sure there a formulas in nutritional science for guidance, but these are really for guidance only – so treat them as such!

2. Nourishing
Sometimes when you’re training you may have a dietary plan that you’re following. Maybe you are trying to gain muscle, or lose fat mass for your sport. There’s nothing wrong with that. Nourishing your body looks like choosing a varied diet, plenty of fruit and veg, some good quality protein and plenty of carbohydrates. Yes, carbs! We need carbs and the occasional treat. Don’t forget to have your cake and eat it!

3. Resting your body
You may have heard before that when you’re training for a marathon, ideally you need closer to 10 hours of sleep than the original 7-8 recomended in The Sleep Foundation guidelines. Sometimes you’ll be feeling fine on less sleep, and sometimes you will need more. If you’re feeling sluggish and a bit out of it, maybe it’s time to hit the sack for a nap ,or even better, an early night?

4. No Pain, No Gain? Within reason
Sport doesn’t come without its risks of injury and a good session lifting weights can leave you sore for days with DOMS. However, there is a difference between DOMS and an agonising cramp in your Achilles. A lot of people push through and persevere despite their bodies telling them to stop and attend to a niggle or injury. It isn’t heroic to persevere through your pain at the expense of your body. So when you’re calf is giving you grief, or your knee feels a bit knackered, instead of seeing it as something to push through, how about seeing it as an opportunity to care for your body and show yourself some love?

5. Showing some appreciation
Without our bodies we wouldn’t be able to do anything. We wouldn’t be able to run, play our A-game on the pitch, or travel easily from A to B. Our bodies fight infections and repel illnesses, they make babies from two cells, and they maintain a very delicate and complicated balance within our bodies called homeostasis. If we had to think about all of the mechanisms that our body does to maintain this balance, we’d not have much time for anything else.

6. Trusting our bodies
By not undermining your bodies’ ability to do what it needs to in order to stay well, as is assumed when going on a detox diet or cleanse we allow our bodies to get on with what they’re designed to do. Sometimes things go wrong and eventually we all die, but in the meantime, put faith in your kidneys and liver, because detoxing sends you the message to yourself that your body isn’t capable or adequate enough already, and usually it is.

7. Wearing clothes that fit
Feeling comfortable in your clothes, instead of trying to fit into a specific size can make a real difference in how fat you feel, from anecdotal experience. Anyone wearing clothes 1-2 sizes too small is going to feel out of sorts, lumpy and frumpy here, and spilling out of your clothes there. Just wear whatever fits irrespective of the clothing size label. To put this in perspective I have clothes from a 10 (apparently), up to a 14. I’m more a solid 14. This means I don’t look at or buy clothes in a 10-12 anymore, and I have passed all of these sizes in my wardrobe onto the charity shop. As soon as I stopped trying to squeeze into these sizes, or trying to lose weight so I could fit into them again, I started to feel more comfortable and at ease with my body.

8. Tend to your illnesses
Getting the right help and treatment if you are unwell is a great way of showing your body some love. Sometimes they can’t fight illness on its own, and a little help is needed. Maybe this is via using antibiotics for a nasty infection, such as the one that inspired this post, or taking antidepressants to manage a depressive episode. This might mean visiting the pharmacist, who are very highly trained medical professionals in their own right, or your GP. Don’t try to muscle through without advice or try to outdo an infection if it gets ya; modern medicine is wonderful at helping us to overcome such ailments as they arise.

 

The Nike Mannequin, The Telegraph, and The Nonsense In-Between

Tanya Gold has really caused a stir with her article for The Telegraph titled, ‘Obese Mannequins Are Selling Women a Dangerous Lie’. Now I could go on a highly charged rant of vitriol, however I feel that this has been taken care of online. With a clear and significant backlash to this article, it’s dubious accuracies and wild judgments, I have decided to pull out parts of the article to produce a sound (and I’d like to think, more informed) albeit brief evidence-based explanation as to why she is so incredibly far off the mark. Instead of producing angry hate speech to cause death by a million tweets, I will instead use logic and science to put this shit where it belongs, on a fast track highway to the crapper, the sewer and beyond.

I fear that the war on obesity is lost, or has even, as is fashionable, ceased to exist, for fear of upsetting people into an early grave.

Starting out by announcing defeat in ‘the war on obesity’ really just sets the tone here: that fat bodies are an enemy not to be reckoned with. Particularly the fear Gold expresses in response to such a loss in such a misguided “war effort”. Our bodies are not built to be war grounds. No body should be a No Mans Land, yet so many are.

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Feminist Artist, Barbara Kruger captured this idea brilliantly (1989)

Yet the new Nike mannequin is not size 12, which is healthy, or even 16 – a hefty weight, yes, but not one to kill a woman. She is immense, gargantuan, vast. She heaves with fat.

Next up, we have Gold’s description of the mannequin in relation to it’s size. I’m not sure about you, but to me the description, “immense, gargantuan, vast” sounds like she ought to be describing a woman of godly power, perhaps Aphrodite or Artemis and their pull over the universe as Goddesses. Unfortunately she’s not; she’s just describing a mannequin that is oddly enough, the average size of the UK woman. As for “heaving with fat”, conjurs the image of something monsterous like Jabba the Hutt. Ladies and Gentleman, here we really do have a fine example of pure hatred for fatter people, otherwise known as fat-phobia.Gold goes on to express her disgust and concern for the Nike mannequin health. Ah, that classic move of unsolicited health concern for 👏🏻a 👏🏻mannequin👏🏻 who must be at least pre-diabetic due to her size. It seems the health of a mannequin in leggings is really keeping her up at night.

She is, in every measure, obese, and she is not readying herself for a run in her shiny Nike gear. She cannot run. She is, more likely, pre-diabetic and on her way to a hip replacement. What terrible cynicism is this on the part of Nike?

Apparently she cannot run and, if she is running she is pounding her self to a hip replacement. Being active is a healthy behaviour no matter what your size. Sometimes there may be some practical considerations for example, if someone has been bed bound for years: this is not the case for this sized mannequin. There are more and more athletes emerging who do not fit the stereotypical size 8-10 toned jogger of New York’s Central Park, which is brilliant for diversity and incluion in sports. Welcome to the modern world, Gold!

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Holley Mangold: Olympic Weightlifter (lifting her way into an early grave apparently)

Advertising has always bullied women, but this is something more insidious. I have watched the spindly, starved creature – the child ballet dancer – who was, for many years, the accepted ideal, walking down the Paris runways in so much make-up you could miss the signs of malnutrition. It was an ideal designed to induce enough self-hatred that women would shop to be rid of it.

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I would never want a woman to hate herself for what she finds in the looking-glass. But to have control over your body you must first know it; to be oblivious is not to be happy, unless you are a child.

The purpose and function of our body seems to have been lost on Gold. Perhaps she missed the memo but our bodies are not an entity of which to be controlled. They are a vehicle through which we live our lives. They do not need to be under microcosmic control and scrutiny in order to do this well. Nature and evolution has pretty much nailed maintaining homeostasis for the average person of average health, irrespective of their weight of body shape. Equating happiness with control over your body is also highly problematic and really gives an idea to the channel through which Gold’s perspective is coming from: a lens so clouded by diet culture that she cannot possibly fathom being happy unless you feel in control over your body. This notion is one common in eating disorders, albeit to the extreme. It is a mentality sold to us by diet culture. It is a mentality that is on the opposite side to progression.

The fat-acceptance movement, which says that any weight is healthy if it is yours, is no friend to women, even if it does seem to have found a friend in Nike. It may, instead, kill them, and that is rather worse than feeling sad. Fat-acceptance is an artifice of denial – they are fat because they do not accept themselves – and a typically modern solution to a problem, if you are a narcissist. It says: there is no problem. Or if there is, it’s yours, not mine. As soothing as that may be to hear, your organs and your skeleton will not agree.

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What is obesity? I would say, as a recovering addict myself, that it is most often – but not always – an addiction to sugars, and a response to sadness. And, as with all addictions, the only person who can save you is yourself.

Sugar addiction is not real.

Sugar is not addictive.

Sugar is not crack cocaine.

Screenshot_2019-06-14 Image about girls in Food 🍓🍩 by Catherine P on We Heart It

We need to stop demonising singular and isolated food components as the heathen to health. It doesn’t work like that. If we had more responsible and accurate reporting (I’m looking at you BBC and Dr. van Tulleken), the verocity of misinformation may not be so rampant and rife that a mannequin in workout wear could cause such a stir.

Nike can be as accepting as it wishes of the obese female but your own body will not be so accommodating of your delusions. The facts are obvious. Stay that weight and you will be an old woman in your 50s. The obese Nike athlete is just another lie.

The Nike mannequin letting bigger people know that they are welcome to be a part of Nike, physical activity, running, yoga, and the health and fitness worlds in general is not a lie. Exercising is not restricted to slim people only. Exercising is not a thin priviliige. There are much worse consequences to other life choices, i.e. smoking, than being a bigger woman in life.

But, increasingly, to say that is heresy. I have seen fat-acceptance activists campaign for public health notices, which tell people that obesity causes cancer, to be removed from public spaces. They even tried to get a Cancer UK poster, which tactfully reminded people of the risks, taken down from hoardings.

Here’s a basic science principle which is why the Cancer Research obesity poster was not appropriate: correlation does not equal causation. There is no direct and evidential proof that being in a bigger body causes cancer. There are associations however, there’s so many life style and genetic factors to take into account: physical activity, nutritional density of the diet, fruit and veg consumption, trans fats consumption, and factors that cannot be controlled such as: poverty and deprivation, high stress environments that allow for little life autonomy, local pollution levels, exposure to hazardous materials etc etc. With so many other factors to consider, some of which are more closely associated with cancer than others – yet still the scientific principle remains that correlation does not equal causation.

How selfish, self-piteous and dangerous this is: obesity harms children more than adults. I once read a column arguing that fat people die young because doctors hate them. Really? Why don’t you lay down your pen and just stop eating sugar?

Where is the body shape between the tiny and the immense, which is where true health lives? Where is the ordinary, medium, contented woman? Where, oh where, is the middle ground?

The only statement I agree with in the whole article: that the middle ground between any extremes of body size weight or shape are associated with the best health outcomes and statuses. It’s incredibly dull and boring, and it isn’t a message that sells magazines or papers, or drives website traffic, but it’s the happy medium where the best health outcomes lie.

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.

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

 

Belly and Me Volunteering for Beat Eating Disorder Charity UK

Once upon a time I would regularly stand sideways in the mirror to scrutinise my body. Standing on the end of the bath I would use the huge wall sized mirrors to view myself from every angle possible. I would pick at bits that I particularly hated about myself to really ruminate and focus on, and trust me there were many.

In all of this extensive scrutiny my belly was the main focal point of my relentless barrage of self hatred. From taking selfies on dodgy cameras in the 2000s, to checking every reflection opportunity regardless of how skewed it may have been: the TV screen, changing rooms under dodgy lighting, and window reflections. I wouldn’t call it vanity although I understand that it may sound that way. It was never to admire myself, or to check my make up but instead to check how fat I was, and how much of a failure I was for not having lost any weight.

I used to stand in first position (ballet) and check my belly, my waist and shoulders from the back and side. Eventually I started measuring my waist multiple times a day because in my mind the weighing scales just didn’t show “progress” quite as well. I was in the depth of my eating disorder. Regardless of which eating disorder I was engaged with the same insecurities prevailed; the same poses regardless of how much weight I lost, didn’t lose or gained.

I will never get those hours back. For a long time, part of recovering from an eating disorder is removing triggers from the home: bread, cereal, weighing scales, mirrors, or whatever it is that you struggle with in particular. I only just recently graduated to getting a full length mirror again. I found it helpful in the process of learning to not obsess over my reflection and body shape or size to not have one. With just a head sized bathroom cabinet mirror to check for toothpaste, mascara smudges and whether I could push it another day without washing my hair. I’d consider these the basics. Now I have a full length mirror that I briefly check my overall outfit in sometimes. No belly checks. No shoulder blade analyses. No standing in first position and taking measurements.

I may have gained weight and realising just how much no one gives a fuck is brilliantly liberating. Sometimes now when I’m watching TV, or sat on the bed idle I actually like to rest my hands on my belly. Sometimes it pokes out from under my top in front of my friends and I’m not embarrassed anymore; it’s my belly and I’m healthy. It doesn’t mean anything more or less than that. It doesn’t need to be toned or trimmed or flattened. Sometimes it’s quite comforting to poke and prod my belly whilst sat around. I have no idea why or what exactly caused this seismic shift in mentality, but I’m quite affectionate of my belly and if I see it jiggling in a video it doesn’t upset me like it used to.

 

See here, I am having the time of my life running through ridiculously deep autumn leaves. My belly is jiggling. Yes I noticed it. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t but look at that smile; that is more important to me.

Using my body to feel good and strong is more important to me. Wearing clothes that are comfortable and I feel nice in is important to me but the size label in them isn’t. I am proud of my recovery from my eating disorder. It was one of the hardest battles of my life and an experience I will never forget. This experience fuels my passion for nutrition, health and empowering others to make peace with their bodies and food. Soon, my belly and me are going to start training to be a Beat online mentor.

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There’s serendipity in this. Maybe all those hours I spent body checking, weighing and measuring myself wasn’t a ginormous waste of time. Something good can come from this in relation to my purpose on this earth; from that experience I have gained a passion, a purpose and a drive to help others. I feel that this is finally going to start happening in real terms with this volunteering opportunity and I’m really proud of that, perhaps more proud of that than my little belly.