Superfoods, Supplements, and a Breakthrough: How I Learned to Mute the Wellness Noise
NOTNothing screams superiority quite like bringing your own food to someone’s house for dinner. It’s rude, antisocial and downright weird. And yet, despite knowing all of this, it was something I did regularly. A mashed eggplant curry in a small Tupperware container? Yeah. Pre-cooked quinoa and my own “light bowl”? Why not? Leftover “detox salad” from the night before? Then go.
It wasn’t that I was on any particular diet, or that I was a really picky eater. And I certainly wasn’t looking for a way to show off my cooking skills, which I don’t have. It was much simpler than that. I just wanted to be “good”, even though I didn’t know exactly what that meant. Nevertheless, I was desperate for a body that was entirely free of “toxins” – a body that would radiate goodness in all its forms. So, my friends’ chili con carnes and lasagna were wiped off the menu for good. It was wellness, and I was obsessed.
Let’s go back a bit. Like many women I know, I have always been conscious of my appearance and more importantly how my lifestyle affects it. But things escalated when I turned 21 at the peak of what is often referred to as the “clean eating movement.”
At the time, I felt like everyone I knew and their families had been seduced by the promise of this new-age lifestyle which, according to countless social media influencers and wellness gurus self-proclaimed, would propel us into the upper echelons of what life had to offer. We were told it would make our skin dewy, our muscles more defined, our stomachs less bloated. Some even promised us that it could cure serious illnesses.
As a young woman fresh out of college with a generous overdraft limit and multiple body blocks, I was an easy target. And so I ate the “whole” and “unprocessed” foods. I demonized gluten, dairy, and just about anything that wasn’t green. I even spiralized zucchini, for God’s sake.
I walked for a while in this state of happiness (and deep smugness) before realizing that it wasn’t enough. My skin wasn’t glowing, I didn’t notice any difference in my body, and I didn’t feel any healthier than before. So I pushed things further.
In a few days, I was well in my overdraft thanks to the many “superfoods” that I had bought: green juices, chia seeds, maca, spirulina, baobab, cocoa butter… I bought everything, even if I didn’t know what to do with most of them. I quit drinking coffee and instead started my day with a hot water concoction of lemon, cayenne pepper, turmeric and ginger, which I thought was delicious (it wasn’t the case).
I said no to restaurant dinners unless I could find something “clean” on the menu, and I increasingly shy away from social occasions involving food. I even created an Instagram account to document my meals (I know, I know).
I went beyond food too, deepening my discovery to enroll in Bikram yoga, barre and spinning. On top of that, I started doing daily Pilates workouts on YouTube; I actually hurt my back once doing the wrong move. On top of that, I’ve followed hundreds of health and fitness influencers, eagerly taking screenshots of their recipes and regularly watching their YouTube videos to find out what they ate in a day and how. they were training. Wellness quickly became the only thing I could talk about or think about; it consumed me.
It wasn’t until I started hearing the term “orthorexia” that I realized I might have a problem. Although the condition is not officially recognized in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, orthorexia is now commonly recognized as an eating disorder. The National Eating Disorders Association describes it as “an obsession with healthy or ‘healthy’ eating.” And everything I read about it was a perfect illustration of how I was living at the time.
It was a wake-up call, but it would take me years to completely drift away from wellness. The first thing I did was unfollow all the health and fitness influencers whose accounts had become indebted to me. I also weaned myself off YouTube and started spending less time on social media. It helped tremendously. Without the constant reminders of how “good” everyone was, I found it much easier to distinguish between what I had been brainwashed into thinking I would feel good about and what actually did.
Then, after dabbled in veganism – many of the influencers I followed were plant-based – I decided to start reintroducing animal products into my diet, and was pleasantly surprised when I found it gave me more energy. It also made it easier when I was going on vacation with friends or visiting them. Soon I discovered that I could once again enjoy dining out, ordering the foods I craved instead of depriving myself over and over again.
Regarding my relationship with exercise, which was also borderline obsessive, I tried to reframe my mindset, seeing it as something I did primarily for my mind rather than my body.
None of this was easy and it didn’t happen quickly. And of course, I still have times when I find it hard to stop myself from being sucked in. Particularly at this time of year, when I feel like everyone around me has embarked on some sort of post-Christmas cleanse, diet or detox, determined to undo the “damage” of an indulgent festive season.
It doesn’t help that we’re encouraged to do so as well, with a yearly increase in weight loss articles and body transformation posts on social media every January. That, coupled with a society that celebrates unrealistic beauty standards and values women so much for their looks, means it’s no wonder so many of my friends started 2022 embarking on restrictive diets. We may have moved away from “clean eating,” so to speak, but the obsessive lifestyle she celebrated still exists today. It’s just being sold to us in a more tacit way, like a #strongnotskinny hashtag, which of course makes it all the more insidious.
My current relationship with food and exercise is still far from perfect, but it no longer occupies the space it once did in my mind. And I can see wellness for what it is: an elitist industry fueled by pseudoscience. The one that is not at all synonymous with health, but perhaps even diametrically opposed to it. At least, that was in my case.
For anyone struggling with the issues raised in this article, the Eating Disorders Charity To beatThe helpline is available 365 days a year on 0808 801 0677.
NCFED offers information, resources and guidance for people with eating disorders and their support networks. Visit eating-disorders.org.uk or call 0845 838 2040.