When I first started out with this blog, I didn’t have an exact picture of what I was going to focus on. I knew that, because food is my one true love, I’d definitely lend a hand to my beloved and spread its love and deliciousness to the world but beyond that, I hadn’t a clue. I am one of those people you meet who doesn’t shy away from philosophical topics, and those silly ‘deep’ questions we like to ask ourselves and friends to get an awkward, though useful, conversation going. I added ‘lifestyle’ to my blog’s genre (if it’s even called that?) because I knew that although the majority of what I had to say was food-related, not everything I like to rant about includes just that. Sorry my love, we need to share this space a little.
I’m not going to shy away from this either – my restrictive eating patterns. But I’m going to keep my voice in this post relatively short, just to give you some context as to why this post was created in the first place. I’ve been an on-and-off calorie counter since I was around 17 or so. Clearly, I gave in to the pressure of media, and other girls around me. I thought, If I count my calories, maybe one day I too can look like [insert sickly thin, gaunt model/actress’s name here] and become healthier. I didn’t think restrictive eating was abnormal, it became a part of my everyday life, but to avoid clichés about how obsessive it became, let’s just say there was a huge list of foods I avoided at all costs to ‘save’ calories. It’s a sad truth, but one many (no joke, MANY) young men and women go through each and every day. Once you start, you simply can’t stop.
But this post isn’t about me; let’s save that vent for another rainy day, shall we? This story I am going to present is one that my beloved friend Matt, and I am so proud of him for it, is sharing with you all today. Just so he can inspire one human being to stop restricting and start living. Get comfortable, grab an apple (or a bowl of salted caramel icecream mmm) and please do read on. Even if it isn’t relevant to you, I can assure you there is at least one person in your life who is going through this today.
What is normal eating?
I have been thinking a lot about normal eating. What is it? If you read any form of media or blog, or have ever looked at Instagram, Tumblr or Twitter, you would be forgiven for thinking that Paleo, Quitting Sugar and Clean Eating are the new normal. Despite their huge numbers of near slavish devotees, I see a massive problem with this portrayal of these extreme ideas as the norm, and whilst these all certainly have very healthy ideas, they can promote disordered eating and cause massive problems with body image and lead to food shame, in which a person will feel ashamed for choosing to eat something that doesn’t fit in with these supposedly normal, ideal ways of eating.
Reading through the newspaper this weekend, I wasn’t surprised at the content of the lifestyle pages. What diet is this celebrity on now? How has she lost all that weight? If you cut out carbs, will you feel amazing? Sugar is poison? Well hold on just a second. How do any of these headlines promote healthy, normal eating? I would like to know when it became shameful not to be on a diet. In any given social situation with friends or at work, a common topic of conversation is what diet who is on, and essentially comparing and competing with each other to see who is restricting their food and what they eat in the most creative and exciting way. I sit back in disbelief. Normally rational, very healthy people seem to insist that they need to be on a diet, and go about this with an air of righteousness. The discussion moves on, with each detailing the amount of time spent planning this, how many bunches of kale they have gone through and what superfoods are in their daily green smoothie. It’s a race to the bottom – the prize is self-loathing and a goal that can never be achieved. I grab a handful of fries and begin to contemplate.
Fad diets aren’t normal or healthy – I respect an individuals’ choice, but at the same time I am concerned for them – extreme restriction of any food group is not healthy, although I certainly agree these diets have some very healthy ideas which could easily be adopted without full and near fanatic adherence. You see, I am coming from a long history of extreme diets and an eating disorder. For years I would jump on the latest fad and take it to an extreme, eating a little as I could whilst doing the most intense exercise I could muster. This led to my life reaching incredible low points, and I am one of the lucky ones who made it out the other side – many do not. Anorexia has a disturbingly high death rate, the most of any given mental illness, and having been there, I can see many elements of anorexia and the newer orthorexia (extreme restriction of particular food groups) present in the mentality of many of these fad dieters.
Normal eating is not cutting out carbs or sugar. Normal eating is eating what you enjoy, mostly healthy food that gives you a wide array of nutrients and the energy to go about day to day life feeling your best. Normal eating is having a piece of cake every now and then and enjoying it, not having to make excuses or feeling guilty. Normal eating is listening to your body and doing what works for you – if eating something makes you feel good, don’t apologise for it! If it happens to be a healthy, everyday food, great! If not, there is always a way to work it into your eating in a way that works for you and won’t negatively impact your health – I am certainly not suggesting eating a bag of Peanut M&M’s daily, but as an occasional treat, nothing is off limits.
Healthy eating is not seeing any food as good or bad. It is recognising and being mindful of your eating, realising some foods you should eat more of and some you should not. It is recognising that eating a balance of ALL foods is what normal eating really is, and eating what you enjoy is the best part of this. Normal eating is actually enjoying the experience of eating and sharing this with your friends and family. It shouldn’t be a chore. You shouldn’t have to meticulously count the calorie of every morsel of food that passes your lips – this is just another path to misery, guilt and disordered eating. No social occasion should be marked with guilt or shame over your choices around eating and exercise as is now commonplace – the unspoken competition with your friends about who can order the lowest calorie meal should never be accepted. If you want a burger, you order it and enjoy it, and know that that works for you and you’ve done something to make you happy that will have no negative impact on your health as part of a balanced day of eating. Normal eating is also certainly not exercising to cancel something off, or in anticipation of a big meal. Healthy exercise is because you value your health and the benefits regular activity can bring – one of these certainly being you can eat more with no impact on your size and shape!
Normal eating is doing what makes you happy and what works for your body. If that is paleo, so be it, but I would urge you not to pressure others into believing that this is the one true and correct way of eating. Having recovered from an eating disorder, such things can be triggering, and lead the individual to believe that any form of diet is normal behaviour, and what they are doing is wrong by not being on one. Everyone has a different journey, and food shaming is one way that can seriously affect the thinking of vulnerable young people and can lead to an unhealthy way of looking at food, and at worst, disordered eating. Go out, enjoy food with family and friends, don’t feel guilty about it and be happy – life is certainly too short to not enjoy a full range of delicious food!