An internet 'Dear Diary' of anorexia

The final article I’m going to mention is Are you what you eatan article all about our wobbly relationship with food which was very interesting to read as it makes out perception of ‘healthy’ look very ridiculous. It seemed over the top, clinical and overall – very, very unnatural.

We all know what healthy eating is. Healthy eating is a balanced diet of fish, leafy vegetables, beans and pulses, whole grain carbohydrates, good fats, a little dairy, a little lean meat and lots of colourful fruit. An increase in eco-awareness, coupled with out current devotion to the wisdom of celebrity chefs…means there’s an additional push towards organic, seasonal eating: real foods with a local provenance and none of that nasty test-tube-tampering GM stuff. Salt is verboten, sugar is the devil. Refined carbs? No, thank you. Processed food should come with and Asbo.

But our perception of ‘healthy is always shifting; as science finds out more, as it progresses as things are no longer ‘fashionable’ (Cesar salad vs. roast) our eating changes. But why? its the same food, the same things we enjoy and hate, so why does it change?

(And don’t we love being told what to eat? That’s probably why you’re reading this.) Yet the current thinking is just that: the current  thinking. What qualifies as healthy eating mutates as fast as those GM crops. The orthodoxy is the orthodoxy for only a while, until some new amino acid is spotted down a microscope, or a new wave of thinking comes to dominance. Just look at the rehabilitation of nuts, avocado, eggs, now all promoted as health foods, full of “good” fats and vital nutrients.

And really, honestly, how effective is all this health food? Is it making any difference to us at all? Or just restricting our diet?

For all the availability of nutritional advice – this truly i the age of “nutrition”, not “eating” – the population at large is getting larger. More than 60 per cent of adults in Britain are overweight. Diet-related ill-health is estimated to account for 10 per cent of morbidity and mortality. By 2030, half of all adults in Britain will be obese. Clearly we’re not getting the message on leafy greens. So how to navigate our way to health?

 “But you think you’re eating healthily, and then the next week someone tells you the opposite,” she [Stella Tennant] continues,”I like double cream on my Weetabix. I hate skimmed milt, I like cheese and butter, so perhaps I’m not that healthy?” Double cream on Weetabix? It depends which camp you’re in. (Weight Watchers would show Stella the door.) But common sense (the one substance we could do with in surfeit when it comes to healthy eating) surely dictates that a little of what you fancy does you good. “The five-a-day labeling on everything, it’s great,” says Tennant, “but it does make you feel like you’re taking your medicine every time you drink a smoothie. It seems to take something away from the basic enjoyment of food.”

But maybe this isn’t our fault…maybe is nurture over nature;

That’s because eating is not just about nutritional gain, it’s bound up in layers of culture, religion and the history of human interaction. It’s as much about emotional need as physical requirement, For women, the waters are further muddied by the relationship between food and figure.

Diets are just as lethal as healthy eating, they are even more unnatural than restricting what we eat, it’s a very mechanical way of looking at one of our most basic instincts – animals don’t diet, we do, it’s not natural and not exactly any healthier than the double cream on Weetabix scenario:

Diets often seem to involve this kind of self-lobotomy. Almost none of this would qualify as healthy eating, let alone healthy thinking. We allow our food to blame and shame us, or, equally suspect, to redeem and reward us, These are words [names of diets e.g. the Master Cleanse] that have nothing to do with the right ratio of carbs to fat, let alone enjoyment.

I have to admit, this article did make me feel less ‘guilty’ about my bad relationship with food, because with all these mixed messages being thrown in our faces, it’s easy to get pulled off course. But on a much wider scale, it’s the same for everyone, and if one teenager can get pulled off course, imagine what it’s doing to everyone. No wonder there’s so many eating disorders and illnesses.

People have lost their blueprint for what is normal eating. They know hoe to diet and how to put on weight. But they don’t necessarily know how to keep themselves in a healthy interim state”

Nutritionist Ian Marber is more direct: “Now, the predominant thinking is: food is the enemy, it’s got to be battled. I have so many friends who don’t know what it means when I ask them, ‘Did you enjoy dinner?’ They only enjoyed it if they ate well: if they had the grilled fish and steamed spinach instead of the steak and chips, and only a sliver of cheese afterwards, and half a glass of red wine. Irrespective of whether they had a wonderful evening, if they’d had the chips it would have been ruined.”

So, why?

Control over our appetites is highly prized. But consider this: a 2010 study found that the stress of going on a diet created compulsive, “maladaptive” behavior in mice; the poor creatures tolerated electric shocks just to eat chocolate again.To clarify, we are the mice in this scenario.”

Stella Tennant

Healthy eating borrows much of its urgency and incentive from the pervasive notion that thin is good and fat is bad. (Just think how little sympathy we accord the obese, while anorexia is depicted as a terrible psychological disease.) [bold added in by me] What constitutes our current thinking on physical perfection can be found a quick flick from this article. Models are paid to look a certain way, and by extension eat a certain way too. “You’ve got to be a particular shape to fit sample clothes,” says [Stella] Tennant. “You can’t expect to work if you don’t really fit the clothes. But some designers cut clothes much smaller that others. Do you fight against your natural body shape in order to fit them? As a model you have to make a choice, but you have to make sure you’re sane and healthy.”

Life is harder for models in terms of this fight, especially as they grow up;

But it can get harder as models get older. I [Lily Cole] often see it when girls start getting into boys and going out, drinking and eating junk food. That’s often when you’ll see a girl stop modelling, they just want to be normal and do what their friends do, not stress out if their hips go up by a centimeter.

…I have seen many examples of the long-term physical damage that can be caused to models by not eating healthily, though I would be lying if I said that being self-employed in an industry which demands almost unrealistic body sizes did not distort my perception of myself. At my first ever casting when I was 14, the casting director commented on my weight.”

As well as the physical massacre there’s the mental side, you are denying your basic instincts, changing the way you naturally think and not giving your body what it asks for.

Lily Cole

I found many models – myself [Lily Cole] included – were much healthier in their eating and exercise patterns than other people I know. But the psychological necessity that comes with it is not always healthy.

Most of it comes down to pressure, how we see ourselves in light of how others see us. If that stranger in the street gives you a funny look, you immediately think it’s because your hairs a mess, you’re too fat, what you’re wearing isn’t fashionable.

“Strength is beautiful,” says Erin O’Connor, a model who found her own eating habits – or perceived lack thereof the subject of tabloid fury during the size zero debate. “They said I had halitosis, a hairy back; they speculated if I could have children…It hurt. But it was probably the first opportunity I’d had to think about what influence my image had on a wider audience. All women respond to body aesthetic.” In response she set up the Model Sanctuary. It runs during London Fashion Week, offering models three square meals a day, physiotherapy and nutritional advice. “We ask them, how do you service your body so it works for you not just now but for the rest of your life? If a wider community is looking at our industry to be informed of what us desirable then these women who are so visible should be promoting health.” She adds, “Food is our friend.”

So here’s a little game to test your food perception;

But what our real women – and by that I, I mean my friends – eating? One, a diet lifer, emails from a detox retreat in New York: “Yesterday I had a juice of olive oil, lemon and kale for breakfast, followed by a nut and seed shake, julienned courgettes with smoked tofu, basil and garlic pesto for lunch, and asparagus soup for dinner.”

Person 1: Diet Lifer

Another friend, a very lean size eight, says she “never thinks of food in terms of fat, only of deliciousness”. [Bold added in by me] In one day, she ate: “A bowl of chocolate cereal with skimmed milk, then when I got to work, two slices of toast with butter and peanut butter. For lunch, I had a packet of ready salted crisps and a brie and tomato baguette. When I got home, I had a buttered hot cross bun, another packet of crisps and two chocolate Hobnobs…We had dinner at a friend’s house: Steak and chips with a creamy sauce and meringue for pudding.” She adds an afterthought: “I know I don’t eat enough vegetables.”

Person 2: Lean Size 8

Contrast this with another friends daily intake: “Breakfast is a shake made from almond milk, coconut water frozen pineapple, frozen blueberries, half a courgette, half an avocado, a handful of chopped frozen kale, a scoop of rice protein powder, a scoop of coconut oil, almond butter, green powder and acai powder. I took a bag of cut up veggies to eat at my desk, and seeds and raw almonds as snacks. For lunch, I had seaweed salad and grilled salmon. More veggies and humus when I got home, and some crackers. Then for dinner I roasted broccoli and celeriac with brown rice. I try to eat 30 per cent raw food everyday.”

Person 3: The Other Friend

So I asked my family which they thought was the healthiest and which they would most rather eat:

My Partner: Number 1 has no meat, Number 2 has a lot of carbs, Number 3 is ok but it’s too serious. And he would prefer to eat Number 2 but wouldn’t mind 3.

My brother: Number 2 is healthiest and he would prefer to eat Number 2. Number 1 looks like “s***, s*** with a smoothie”, Number 3 has nuts rice and veg – boring. Number 2 looks the tastiest, but maybe not 2 packets of crisps in a day.

My Mum: Number 3 is the healthiest – it’s got a variation. She would prefer to eat Number 3 because it’s “colourful and less green and I don’t like leaves” Number 2 looks highly fattening, Number 1 is “green…and boring”.

Which of the three is the best example of healthy eating? The first seems too calorie restrictive. The second involves an unseemly smorgasbord or salt, sugar, unrefined carbohydrate and processed food. The third – frozen kale for breakfast – seems like a nutritionists dream, right? Yes, but that’s just the problem, according to Michael Pollen…a nutrient-by-nutrient approach to food, what Pollen calls the ideology of “nutritionism” – eating for antioxidants, for vitamin content and minerals – isn’t eating properly at all. “It encourages us to take a mechanist view of that transaction: put in this nutrient, get out that physiological result. People don’t eat nutrients, they eat foods, and foods can behave very differently than the nutrients they contain.” In other words, we shouldn’t view food in such isolated terms. And we should avoid any food (or “food substance”) that comes with a health claim slapped on the label. “They’re apt to be processed, ” he writes. “Don’t forget that margarine, one of the first industrial foods to claim that is was more healthful than the traditional food it replaced, turned out to give people heart attacks.”

So, what can we do? What’s the solution?

Our pallet has become attuned to appreciate food that’s high in sugar, fat and salt. But what about the Nigella [Lawson] mode of eating? Heavy on the sugar, fat and salt, but locally sourced and organic, eaten around a table with napkins – is that any better for us? “I have people says to me, ‘But I only eat home cooking,'” says Ian Marber. “Well, chips can be home-cooked.”

Can there ever be a consensus on healthy eating? Not as long as there are industries making money from our confusion. [Bold added in by me] Michael Pollen’s description seems almost naively simple : “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” Specifics, please. “A little meat isn’t going to kill you, though it might be better approached as a side dish than a main. And you’re better off eating whole fresh foods rather than processed food products.” If something has more than five ingredients it’s probably suspect. “Don’t eat anything you great-great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food,” Pollen suggests. Use farms’ markets, eat locally, if only because the food tastes better. Don’t restrict food groups. Take enjoyment into account. These are all things we know. So we need to forget about what we think we know about eating, and eat what our instincts tell us is right. (And those instincts are never going to tell you it’s OK to  consume a whole tub  of Ben & Jerry’s.) [Bold added in by me]

…why not take a leaf out of Karl Lagerfeld’s diet book? “I like the smell of coffee and of chocolate,” he writes. “That’s why there is chocolate in the rooms of my home. It’s not intended to be eaten. Moreover, it fits in well with the colour of my house in Biarritz-it is chocolate brown.”

So in conclusion:

  1. “Healthy eating borrows much of its urgency and incentive from the pervasive notion that thin is good and fat is bad. (Just think how little sympathy we accord the obese, while anorexia is depicted as a terrible psychological disease.)” – it’s subjective to what people see as beautiful and what is fashionable at the time – not necessarily what is best for YOU.
  2. “never thinks of food in terms of fat, only of deliciousness” – eat what you want, because if you eat to be healthy and don’t enjoy it, your relationship with food will become even more strained – back to the mice behavior change.
  3. “Can there ever be a consensus on healthy eating? Not as long as there are industries making money from our confusion.” – for as long as someone can earn money off the back of our insecurity there will never be clear water – so make your own way and find what is healthy for YOU.
  4. “So we need to forget about what we think we know about eating, and eat what our instincts tell us is right. (And those instincts are never going to tell you it’s OK to  consume a whole tub  of Ben & Jerry’s.)” – Like I’ve said above; do what YOU think i right, eat what YOU find healthy for YOUR body and follow your instincts and your relationship with food will blossom.

Comments on: "Vogue – The New Body (Part 3)" (2)

  1. Brilliant 🙂 xo.

  2. That first picture is amazing!

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