I love to remember my childhood.
I look back on those times and I can sense the freedom.
I would wear crocs with a skirt. I would play touch footy in a backyard full of bindies. I smiled and I laughed and I couldn’t have cared less what other people thought of me.
I ate lemonade iceblocks on the sand, I did cartwheels in the park. I kissed my Mum and Dad on the lips. I played with Baby Borns and dolls.
I remember those blissful primary school years with fondness in my heart.
I’ve looked back on this time more frequently as I continue the journey into adulthood. The one thing I miss most is not having a care in the world about food.
When we were young, food was so simple. We ate when we were hungry and we ate what we felt like. Food was not “good” and “bad”. Food was food.
When we’re children we are the most in tune with our bodies. There are no external social factors that change the meaning and purpose of food. That comes later in life when you start seeing things on television and in magazines.
“Clean eating” has exploded in recent years which has given rise to a new form of eating disorder called “orthorexia.”
Orthorexia is characterised by the sufferer being fixated on only eating “healthy” foods or avoiding entire food groups entirely. It differs to Anorexia Nervosa in the sense that the focus is not on losing weight but the types of foods that can be consumed. Orthorexics tend to become obsessed with food and the ingredients within them.
Orthorexia is easy to misinterpret as just “healthy eating”. It is easy to hide this disfunction under the guise of health. But where did this obsession with healthy eating stem from?
Undoubtedly part of the problem is the wording we have adopted to describe food. We describe foods as “clean” and “dirty.” Naughty and nice. By associating foods with negative connotations we are creating feelings of guilt which is not what food is meant for.
Let’s think back to our youth. Food was enjoyable. We could sit on a pier with some friends clutching a Mr Wippy icecream in our hands with joy. We could sit at dinner with our families and enjoy the conversation. Food was an experience and a necessity rather than an enemy that threatened our waistline.
Why is it that in adulthood we lose that intuition? We start allowing media and big business to get into our heads and convince us that what our bodies crave is wrong. That the weight our body is comfortable at isn’t good enough.
There is also no doubt that the increase in social media usage has exacerbated the “clean eating” craze and contributed to disordered eating behaviours. This is backed up by experts in the dietry field including dietician Tania Ferraretto who was quoted saying:
“We are seeing an increasing incidence of orthorexia and this seems to be parallel to the increase use of social media…People are getting their information from lots of different sources, and most of these sources are actually very un-credible, and providing potentially dangerous information.”
With blogging, Instagram and Facebook becoming key components of modern life, people who are popular but don’t have qualifications or substantial dietry knowledge are dispensing nutritional and lifestyle advice. Advocating a “clean eating” lifestyle on Instagram has become a sure way to gain followers.
Our fixation on “healthy eating” has serious consequences. Jordan Younger, a poplar blogger known as “The Balanced Blonde” is a perfect example.
Jordan was formerly known as “The Blonde Vegan”. She broke veganism in 2014 when she recognised her clean eating obsession had gone too far and had turned into orthorexia.
Jordan has written a memoir, Breaking Vegan, which documents her decline and subsequent recovery.
“I started my blog. I was this vegan girl, sharing all her vegan tips — it pushed me into this ‘vegan extreme’ lifestyle,” she says. “I became addicted to cleansing, and then I got wrapped up on raw veganism…My skin actually started to turn orange from these foods that I was eating. (My friends) were alarmed…They said I didn’t look healthy. I was always hungry, and nothing was satisfying. Everyone was walking on eggshells around me.”
Jordan wrote a blog post explaining the reason she was adopting a new direction, why she was facing her restrictive behaviours.
She writes, “…living life in moderation is a sin. It’s a beautiful thing… To accept moderation, to accept balance, to allow for happiness and growth and change and fluctuation. Life is an ebb and flow, and our bodies and our mindsets evolve!
My body was trying to speak to me for many months and I did not listen. As a result, I grew extremely deficient in a variety of vitamins and hormones and knocked myself way out of whack.
So, long story short, I am reevaluating my diet.”
Orthorexia has serious physical impacts with bone mass loss, emaciation and cardiac complications being only a few. Any type of eating disorder or dysfunction impedes your social interations and emotional state because that obsession with food and control becomes your sole priority.
With age we become too critical. We need to return to that youthful contentment where abiding by our instincts wasn’t just accepted, it was encouraged. We need to return to that place where a balanced diet is completely natural.
There is such a thing as too healthy and it’s staring us right in the Instagram feed. When you reach for your phone and hit the explore page you’re more likely than not to come across ‘clean eating’ images. Bowls of salad, acai bowls, bowls of green juice. Bowls everywhere.
Health has become not just an obsession but a moral obligation. Living a balanced lifestyle with a range of foods just doesn’t seem to be acceptable anymore even though balance is what our body seeks naturally.
To stop the growth of eating disorders and unhealthy eating behaviours we need to change the discourse around food. We need to stop using “clean” and “dirty” when we describe food.
We need to stop feeling guilty about what our body craves and desires. We need to embrace balance and remember what we loved about food when we were young.
We need to remind ourselves that we are NOT what we eat. Has healthy eating gone too far? Absolutely.