Since the 80’s there has been little escape from the rolling fads and crazes of health, diet and exercise. It started with the fitness glamazons of the 80’s who swore by aerobics and low-fat diets. It then morphed into the thinspiration from catwalk models, starvation diets and overexercise.
From around 2010 when Instagram was launched, we started to see a change in public perception from ‘thinspiraion’ to ‘fitspiration’ with the powerful slogan of ‘strong is the new skinny,’ which has the goal of motivating others to pursue a fit and healthy lifestyle. Muscle tone and big booties suddenly replaced the thigh-gap and skinny arm hunch, and social media became flooded with images of smoothie bowls, green juices, fruit, ab shots, gym workouts and yoga by the sea.
Just like most of society, I was suckered in and celebrated the fact that we were moving away from the potentially life threatening aspiration of being thin, and more towards a proper healthy lifestyle. I remember scrolling through my feed in the mornings on the way to the gym before work, obsessing over Jen Selter and Kayla Itsines, and looking up everything under the clean eating hashtag.
I didn’t realise it at the time, but I was getting sucked into a whole new realm of modern-day body obsession. Suddenly sugar, dairy, fruit, wheat, gluten and soy were all bad for you, but now protein, good fats and butter was praised as good. Instead, we had to consume nut milks, Spirulina and chlorophyll, only eat organic, and stock standard pantry stables were now the devil. To be at optimum health you had to now cook with coconut flour, coconut sugar, cacao powder, agave or stevia, and apple-cider vinegar with the ‘mother’ still in tack.
Everyday I would compare my body to other women online, restrict my diet and cut out all the above ‘bad’ food in the pursuit of perfect health and wellness. At the same time, my social anxiety absolutely skyrocketed because social activities were focused around eating and drinking – environments that couldn’t accommodate for my strict clean-eating regime. So I would instead aim to avoid all social situations in preference of sitting at home in my safe little health bubble.
And I know I wasn’t alone. Recently there has been increasing media publicity around the detrimental effects of the current health and wellness trend, along with studies including one from the Journal of Health Psychology which builds on past studies around the effects of the media’s ideal body image. Interestingly, their initial findings was that women were more likely to suffer increased anxiety than men, however an overall state of depression affected both genders after spending 30 mins looking at health and fitness magazines.
However, we as a society are still lapping it up. High profile and respected ‘health’ and ‘wellness’ experts preach to us that our modern-day diet is causing a tyraid of chronic illnesses, IBS and inflammation, yet they then go on to provide the only solution to this by selling their latest clean eating cookbooks and paleo initiatives. But instead of promoting actual health, it promotes a different form of eating disorder – orthorexia.
At the height of my fitness obsession, I did get a banging bod at the time, but I also got sick at lot, I was diagnosed with IBS and developed a social and general anxiety disorder. Having been through the health and fitness craze and coming out the other side, I now have a little bit of perspective. With no guilt, I now eat salami, cheese, wine, chocolate, milk and wheat bread, sometimes a takeout meal and combine them with my healthy meals throughout the week. What I’ve found fascinating since adopting this new lifestyle, was that my anxiety became almost non-existent, I lost weight and no longer have any issues with my stomach. How can I be eating all the demonized foods that I believed only caused my pain and inflammation, suddenly cure me?
I can only speculate on my own experience, but I feel like I have a pretty good theory. It’s all comes down to mindset. Fitspiration and clean eating are society’s distortions of what is supposed to be healthy, yet takes it to the point of unhealthiness that only develops and encourages eating disorders. Making it no better than the starvation days or the 90’s. It’s just another adaptation of unhealthy attitudes towards our body, and is far from embodying what it preaches – “Health is not a before and after photo, it’s not a flat stomach and it’s not a spray tan.”
True health and wellness starts in the mind. In the end, it’s the guilt, the mind games and the comparisons we draw that really takes any health fad into a negative psychological downward spiral. When combined with some exercise and a balance of healthy normal meals, a healthy mind is what I think will free ourselves from disease – physical and mental.