The phrase clean eating is often used in wellness circles to denote a preference for natural, organic foods over artificial, processed ingredients. At face value, this is undeniably beneficial. However, I feel using the word "clean" to talk about eating habits is problematic. In extreme cases, I worry it could even influence eating disorder behaviors. In my humble opinion, clean eating is not healthy—it's a harmful trend with potentially serious consequences.
Glamorization of Eating Disorders
Body dysmorphia is a mental health condition that will impact an estimated one in 50 people over the course of a lifetime.1 In some cases, those with body dysmorphia also suffer from eating disorder behavioral patterns such as caloric restriction, compulsive exercise, binge-purge cycles, or obsession with weight. The earliest signs of body dysmorphia often manifest in adolescence,2 and anyone can be at risk—no matter their gender pronouns, sexual orientation, body composition, or ethnic background. Here is what you should know about body dysmorphia in case you (or a loved one) are exhibiting symptoms of this mental illness.
One frequent trap I fall into when I become too complacent in eating disorder recovery is an urge to romanticize the past. I reflect on all those years I was consumed by anorexia with a kind of nostalgia that whispers, "Remember how in control you felt back then? Remember the rush of satisfaction that came each time you skipped a meal? Remember the sense of power that intensified with each mile you ran on the treadmill? Remember how proud you were to have a small, narrow body? Don't you want to feel like this again?"
When I first stumbled upon actress and activist Jameela Jamil's "I Weigh" social media account two years ago, I breathed an audible sigh of relief. Here was a celebrity using her enormous platform to raise awareness to the overlooked truth that humans are worth more than the size and shape of their bodies.
Lately, it seems like my social media feeds are overrun with weight-related memes about how many pounds have been gained in self-quarantine; but, it's worth noting for the record that all those weight-related memes are not funny to everyone. As someone who is on a lifelong mission to recover from my eating disorder—and continues to face body image distortions—I know firsthand just how toxic these weight-related memes can be. While I understand the vast majority of posts are meant to be humorous and lighthearted, I cannot overlook the harmful effect such messages could have on those who already fixate on their bodies. So it's important to remember, those weight-related memes are not funny to everyone.
Competitive sports can create poor body image problems which can lead to eating disorders. There are reasons why this happens to both men and women, and there are ways to lessen poor body image and eating disorders in competitive sports.
Eating disorder recovery is arduous enough on its own, but add in the harmful reality that some eating disorder behaviors are endorsed by wellness culture, and healing from this issue can seem downright impossible at times.
There is a common—and dangerous—eating disorder stigma in society that says eating disorders result from vanity and a need for attention, but the truth is, eating disorders are not for the vain. This eating disorder stigma minimizes just how severe and catastrophic these illnesses can become while reinforcing the belief that sufferers cannot reach out for help, lest they be dismissed as attention-seekers fixated on their own appearance. But in order to dismantle this added layer of cultural stigma that keeps so many victims both silent and ashamed, it's important to realize that eating disorders are not for the vain. Rather, they are caused by intricate, nuanced factors that are often unrelated to vanity and rooted instead in trauma, self-loathing, or insecurity.
There's a new Weight Watchers weight loss application (app) for kids called Kurbo. When I first heard about Kurbo I felt a little nauseous. It’s precisely the sort of thing that a young, adolescent me – embroiled in an eating disorder – would have latched onto as a source of “inspiration” to fuel my illness. I was curious as to how Weight Watchers, recently rebranded as WW, would market and defend their new product – and why they thought the app was even remotely a good idea.
Have the attitudes and conversations around female body image shifted in the era of #MeToo? Is this movement helping to reinforce how bodies should be viewed and talked about? Has it encouraged women to love, accept, and embrace their own bodies, as opposed to self-deprecation and shame? Will positive changes take root, so that female body image is less distorted in the era of #MeToo?