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.

large-2

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.

large-10.jpg

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.

large-6.jpg

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.

RED January: Active Everyday To Beat The Blues Away

49565630_2010716405684957_3233601510457737216_n

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.

red-banner2-1

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).

survey

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.

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

img_5025.png

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. 

1a817e160b3d24a2cad95b9e0044395e

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.

Screen Shot 2018-05-15 at 22.00.32

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/