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.

What Is ‘Health’? And How Do We Define It?

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What is health and how do we define it? It’s a pretty complex topic and our interpretations will vary as much as our personalities. In 1946 the World Health Organisation defined health as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity” (1) at the International Health Conference. This definition was put in place as of 1948. I don’t know about you but aiming for complete health in each of these areas feels like quite the daunting task, much like asking your crush out face to face in year 8 it isn’t going to happen.

“It is health that is real wealth and not pieces of gold and silver”
– Mahatma Gandhi (2)

Well-being focus and all the buzz around it is booming. Gone are the days when it’s a popular idea to starve yourself to nothingness in order to achieve a fashionable “look”. The greater the engagement from each of us with our health can only be a good thing. With all this focus on healthy living, healthy eating and “living my best life” what happens when the foundations of understanding what health is and is not are poorly understood? In this sense, striving for health can be like navigating the maze in a Triwizard tournament with an extra catch, you’re blindfolded and there is no cup to be found. Bah ha! You’ve been Tango’d. Except when health is concerned, the consequences can be a bit more dire than a double happy slap. 

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Being aware of and taking responsibility for our health can help us in many ways, whether it’s feeling able and capable, happy and content, experiencing sadness in proportionate bouts and even saving us money on health visits and prescription charges. With the age of the internet however, the health messages we receive can be combobulated and skewed – identifying fact from fiction is a bit of a tough cookie to crack.

So how does the evidence for what is and isn’t healthy translate into simpler ideas? Is it being a certain “ideal” weight? Having the “right” body fat percentages? Is it healthy to living in one emotional state? Is avoiding the GP unless you think you might be legitimately dying mean you’re healthier than everyone sat in the waiting room for said GP? The waters become murky very quickly and it’s easy to lose sight elusive Goblet of Health whilst sashaying amongst the currents and tides of fads, shock factor headlines and public health campaigns that are somewhat not accurate anyway – think Weight Watchers in American schools and the Ob_s__y campaign by Cancer Research UK earlier this year. 

The crux in relation to nutrition and our relationship status with food doesn’t boil down to one measurement, or one aspect of health. What we eat and how we do or don’t eat affects countless aspects of our bodies and functioning. Some very real questions in relation to health and nutrition is currently in an antler head bashing contest amongst those in the field, whether accredited and qualified or not. Is it healthy to marginalise a population group because of a pattern of association without identifying causation? Is it healthy to drill diet culture into young minds, and thus setting them up for a lifetime of living “healthily” on diet culture? Is that even possible? I’m not convinced. I’m also not convinced that everything stocked in Whole Foods is automatically healthy – sorry not sorry. I’m also not convinced about the healthiness of many modern day normalities, such as our phones becoming an extra part of the human anatomy, using social media to gain self worth and validation, or extreme approaches to anything much at all. 

With health food shops donning more supplements than we can possibly afford or swallow, and health influencers donning skimpy clothing to show off abs, glutes that can crush walnuts and who can do more chin ups than an excitable dog can tail wags, does being healthy have to be so extreme? I’m going to go out on a whim here and speculate that there’s no extremes in being healthy. It’s actually more about a balance and happy medium as boring and unexciting as that may sound.

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A little secret not pushed by those cashing in on the trend, you don’t need an extreme diet to eat healthily. You don’t need an extreme exercise regimen to be healthy. You don’t need to always be happy and content to be healthy. Nor do you need to spend crazy dollar on fancy ingredients and farfetched meal plans. Health isn’t even a number on a scale. The BMI is a tool for guidance and definitely not definitive – many athletes have a BMI considered obese and I’ve never seen someone typically considered to be ‘obese’ competing at the Olympics.

Each of us will define health differently drawn from our lived experiences. The most important point to be made though is that health is not a destination but a tool for living. It isn’t the be all and end all, merely a snazzy individualised car for scooting through your days with. Yeah, you want to keep the gear box in check but you don’t want to be obsessing over whether your gears are always sliding perfectly. You also need to keep your oil and waters tanks topped up, but you don’t want to be watching them furtively whilst missing out on the enjoyment of your drive. It would be a shame to not enjoy and take in the views.

Sources:
1. http://www.who.int/about/mission/en/
2. 
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3705649/

Lifting The Dirt on Clean Eating with Hear Me Raw by Daniella Isaacs

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Last night I went to see Hear Me Raw. It is a one woman autobiographical show by Daniella Isaacs about her journey into the wellness trap. She documents about how her obsession about being healthy became an unhealthy obsession that instead of helping her to live her best life, hindered her from living at all.

She describes and delves into the depths of orthorexia, which is categorised as an eating disorder that stems from trying to be as healthy as possible. Lifting the lid on social media heroes donning restrictive diets and excessive exercise in order to be your best you and how everything isn’t always as it seems. I’m sure most of us are guilty of making our social media outlets a highlight reel. Instagram  never shows the full truth of our lives, and for some who are dominating the influencer circles as ‘health gurus’ are actually very unhealthy.

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Source: arcolatheatre.com

She doesn’t cut corners in her production and really gets into the grim reality of health bloggers being so ‘healthy’ that they’re unhealthy. Punishing treadmill sessions and ginger shots, snorting turmeric and forcing matcha products of all varieties down. She actually chugs some crazy ass smoothie that she makes as an example, seemingly without gagging or vomiting, which was very impressive but behind the impressiveness of such a feat is the reality of people forcing themselves to drink horrible concoctions, taking shots of health juices and not letting any form of perceived toxin into her body whilst flushing out as many toxins as possible. FYI, flushing out toxins and avoiding toxins in your food is largely based on bullshit. If your liver and kidneys are well, then you’re dandy.

Lifting the dirty on clean living is a topic that is being spoken about more and more. It’s a topic we need to keep talking about because there’s crazy dollar to be made from products promising health in an age dominated by lifestyle related disease. However, it is important to remember that health is a means to live your life and if the pursuit of health hinders you from living your life, going to events because you don’t want to face the food there, from seeing your friends because instead you feel you need to go to the gym or using food and diet as a means of gaining control in your life, or fulfilling some emotional void then maybe your healthy lifestyle isn’t as healthy as you think.

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Source: arcolatheatre.com

There’s so much bombardment of unhealthy health culture, especially on social media, that using a multitude of mediums to challenge health culture in a variety of ways will hopefully reach as many of those who need to hear it as possible. There’s podcasts and blogs and health professionals pushing the message – a play is a new way and it worked really well. I enjoyed Isaac’s performance and really loved her cutting the bullshit method of delivering.

It would be great if a version of this could go on TV and reach the masses, in the meantime however, if you were considering getting tickets to see the show I’d urge you to definitely go. It is showing until the 24th February at The Arcola Theatre in Dalston, London. After that, due tot he success I hope she does more shows to spread her message far and wide.

How Healthy is Veganism Really?

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The vegan diet has gained immense popularity. A dietary lifestyle that once seemed extreme, picky and difficult to cater for has become one of the hottest topics in heath and nutrition right now.  There is an onslaught of persuasive vegan media, vegan critics have gained more of a louder voice, and with tenacity the campaign is really quite intense.

Let’s be clear. I’m not anti-vegan. I am an omnivore and I’m not a passionate meat eater either. I don’t eat much meat and vegan cook books make up the majority of my collection. I am however concerned with some of the veganism claims floating around that are based on pseudo-science, skewed claims and the judgements that scoff at anyone who isn’t following a vegan diet because we’re so unenlightened and stupid for not seeing the light.

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Instagram: @noraspiration

A lot of the momentum for veganism was gained on social media; social media influencers have a massive power over our health and well-being choices (Byrne et al, 2017). This is important in relation to influencing public health amongst the general population with influencers often having more impact than traditional advertising campaigns. It seems that fruit and veg finally have some momentum to compete with food manufacturers. One study found that 41% of participants agreed that social media influencers motivated them to make healthier food choices sometimes, and for 32% of participants the motivation to eat healthier overall (Byrne et al, 2017). This news could only be bloody brilliant right? Finally, we have an effective way of influencing the nation’s diet for the better?

Uhhhmmm, not always. There is a downside to the influence of social media trendsetters. A big proportion of influencers are not qualified dietitians or nutritionists (Byrne et al, 2017), which is important when misleading nutritional information is being shared (Byrne et al, 2017). This makes the dietary choices they’re recommending potentially health damaging as they advocate choices such as gluten-free as a healthier choice for those without coeliac disease, and diets that can include eliminating whole food groups and lead to nutritional deficiency (Byrne et al, 2017).

I’m not saying you can’t have a complete diet whilst being vegan, but you do need to spend effort covering all of your bases to prevent malnourishment (Cramer et al, 2017). A main and legitimate concern for those following a vegan diet is bone health over time. Insufficient intakes of calcium, vitamin D, Vitamin B12, zinc and n-3 fatty acids can lead to a higher chance of developing osteoporosis and  fractures (mangano and tucker, 2017).

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Instagram: @naturally.jo

I have many burning questions about veganism which I will be exploring in a series of posts including topics such as:

  • The role of supplements
  • Maintaining bone health in the long run
  • Whether vegan really is the healthiest option
  • Where pseudo-claims are coming from
  • Whether the reason for being motivated to follow a vegan diet affects compliance over time
  • Endurance training
  • Environmental impact of diet and lifestyle choices
  • Eating disorders and veganism
  • Mood and veganism

Let’s go on a journey of discovery and see what science says about veganism. If you have any specific topics you’d like to read about you can comment or email me at ninjaontherunblog@gmail.com

Ciao for now.

References:

Byrne, E., Kearney, J. & MacEvilly, C. (2017) The role of influencer marketing and social influencers in public health. Proceedings of Nutrition Society. 76(OCE3) .

Cramer, H., Kessler, C.S., Sundberg, T., Leach, M.J., Schumann, D., Adams, J. & Lauche, R. (2017) Characteristics of americans choosing vegetarian and vegan diets for health reasons. Journal of Nutrition Education and Behaviour. 49(7) pp.561-567.

Mangano, K.M. & Tucker, K.L. (2017) Bone health and vegan diets. In: Mariotti, F. (ed.) Vegetarian and Plant-Based Diets in Health and Disease Prevention. (1st) London: Academic Press. pp.315-327.