It seems everywhere you turn these days, there are new diets, body ‘ideals’ and claims of the fastest ways to get ‘shredded’ or get a ‘bikini-ready body’. For someone who has never had a positive relationship with food or my body, it seems like a repeat of The Song The Doesn’t End made famous in the 90’s by Lamb Chops Play Along. It just goes on and on and on and feels like it will never end! Instead of becoming clearer and easier to understand how to really be ‘healthy’ – this so called health and wellness marketing machine is gaining momentum faster than watching Frozen with a group of five year olds.
There is little denying the serious impact of recognised eating disorders such as anorexia, bulimia and exercise bulimia. In fact in Australia, eating disorders affect approximately 9% of the population. It is not something to be sneezed at. And on the flip side, Australia is also ranked one of the fattest nations in the developed world, with over 14 million people classified as overweight or obese. More people than not are battling with some sort of weight related disease or illness.
While it was first coined in 1997, it is only recently that the term Orthorexia has been raised – particularly through the magic of social media. When I first come across it, I had a bit of a scoff and began the call of bullshit, but then thought the old saying to ‘not judge a book by it’s cover’ may have some adage in this case.
If you are unfamiliar with the term Orthorexia – it is almost an ironic definition of an eating disorder:
Orthorexia nervosia: Characterized by an extreme or excessive preoccupation with avoiding foods perceived to be unhealthy.
Now at a glance, this seems almost ludicrous right? Avoiding foods that are perceived to be unhealthy – isn’t that just what we call ‘clean eating’ these days? Is this just another term to be used to ‘diagnose’ people with something that is a figment of the imagination? A way for nutritionists and health coaches to make an extra buck by convincing people there is something wrong with them?
Everywhere you look, there are marketing slogans selling a different diet or plan, exercise routine, recipe book or supplement program. It is an ongoing bombardment that is as prevalent as the aforementioned Frozen phenomenon. It seems for every instance of Elsa, Anna and Olaf emblazoned on a piece of merchandise – there is a food/weight/dieting example to match.
Throughout my own weight loss and journey to health, I’ve been instructed to go Paleo, Vegan, Juice Cleanse, Vegetarian, High Protein/Low Carb…you catch my drift. The options are seemingly endless. It seems like everyone has the magic bullet.
Consequently, one thing I am noticing much more often, is the worry about diet and exercise for people is not aimed at their actual health and wellbeing, but more so, is an expression of guilt or shame. About what they eat, how they look, how much they weigh – the list goes on. And the prevalence of people shaming others is getting out of control!
Comparison is constantly made to people on Facebook/Instagram/Twitter – who are living a completely different life to each individual that sees their photos or reads their posts. It feels like we are trapped in this storm of comparison and putting ourselves and others down. It is no surprise that it becomes all consuming for some people. And manifests itself in ways that would not have been prevalent even just a decade ago.
Comparison is the thief of all joy – Theodore Roosevelt
Opening up a discussion about whether Orthorexia nervosa is even a REAL eating disorder, is of course opening up the proverbial can of worms. But is it not without it’s merits?
We seem to be on the verge of a society that is imploding in it’s own clean eating, carb counting, cleanse focused, guilt ridden spiral that is constantly confusing people about what is ‘right and wrong’ when it comes to diet and health. People are wrestling with their own conscious about whether they are a good or bad person according to what goes into their mouth.
Is there really a one size fits all answer here? I firmly believe there isn’t right now. Who knows in the future if society merges into a picture perfect image of uniform and conformity – where a sterilised standard of living is not a choice but a call for survival – then maybe that may be the case. Cookie cutter so to speak.
But right now, we live in a society that is bombarded with information, options and pressures to be ‘perfect’. Yet, we are all inherently different. We are each a unique make up of culture, upbringing, education, beliefs and values. Yet, in every single way, we are called to compare ourselves to others.
The majority of us allow ourselves to be convinced of our inadequacy and have a need to constantly strive to aspire to be someone we have deemed as ‘superior’ – often based on the number of followers they have on social media or the air-time their fashion sense grants them.
Healthy eating and making an active effort to look after your body and mind is most definitely a positive thing. If we didn’t place focus on this the result of not doing so, then the results would be rather permanent. Yes – death will do that to you.
Yet, like most things, there are extremes that need to be identified. Discussion about eating disorders and the long reaching impact of the world’s weight loss debacle cannot continue to be dismissed or swept under the rug.
With a generation who will only continue to look online to seek the standard of body image that is deemed to be ‘acceptable’ – there needs to be open discussions and action as to why we would even be considering yet another eating disorder in our midst. This is a discussion with which we cannot simply can’t take the advice of our Frozen friends and simply ‘Let It Go’.
The realisation that in this current moment, you are in fact an Imperfectly Perfect specimen is the kind of messaging we need to be seeking for our current and future generations. Where we educate and not shame. Where we look at each person as the magnificent individual that they are and encourage them to cater their eating, exercise, body image and self appreciation to WHO they are and not some crazy IDEAL that they believe they need to become in order to be PERFECT.
The weight of this struggle that many people are finding themselves caught beneath is not simply that of a number on a set of bathroom scales. It is about quality of life and in some instances, about life or death. Let’s start the discussion and set a standard of self love, acceptance and helping people to become their own best self – rather than shaming them into being an ashamed shadow of who they could be.
*If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, please reach out to the relevant organisation for professional help, guidance and support:
Australia – Butterfly Foundation for Eating Disorders
United Kingdom – National Centre for Eating Disorders
United States – National Eating Disorders