Orthorexia & Social Media: When Being Healthy Becomes Unhealthy
We've all been there, scrolling through your instagram feed and stopping on an image that makes you feel utterly shit about yourself. Whether it is a girl flouncing around in her gym kit with abs to die for, a plate of the "cleanest" food that painfully reminds you of the burger and chips you had for dinner tonight or even someone having the most productive day, smashing their career when you are feeling truly unmotivated and confused about your life. Social media is a blessing and a curse. It allows us to connect with like-minded people, make friends all over the world and share beautiful images, but it also leads to comparison, jealousy, low self-esteem and a whole host of other problems. Perhaps one of the most concerning aspects to me is the corner of Instagram devoted to clean eating, perfect bodies and wellness. Orthorexia is up and coming in our society and I bet a few of you reading this probably identify with a lot of the characteristics, I know I certainly do.
What is Orthorexia?
Orthorexia, or orthorexia nervosa is an eating disorder described as being obsessed with maintaining the perfect, pure diet. Opposed to an obsession with weight or appearance as in anorexia or bulimia. Orthorexia goes beyond just a healthy lifestyle choice and is a true illness that can be debilitating in day-to-day life.
Behaviours & Characteristics
- Avoiding foods because of perceived intolerances, without medical advice.
- Reduction in acceptable food choices.
- Obsessive concern over the effects of food on health. Such as digestive problems, skin health, allergies etc.
- Feelings of guilt when guidelines are not followed.
- Fear of eating in restaurants, at someone's house, anywhere outside the comfort zone.
- Obsessive meal planning, constant thinking about food.
- Fulfilment/euphoria from eating "pure" foods.
- Increased use of supplements.
- Judgement of other's eating habits.
- Emotional wellbeing depends on what foods have been eaten.
- Anxiety, depression, low energy.
- Focus on food interferes with other areas of life: school, work, relationships.
This isn't to say that you if you have some of these characteristics then you have orthorexia. There is nothing wrong with being interested in a healthy lifestyle, the problem is when this desire for a healthy lifestyle becomes your life. With anything, this is a sliding scale and so you may just have slight orthorexic tendencies, or it may be controlling your life. Either way, being obsessed with eating clean and being uber-healthy is not the way to live.
Orthorexia & Social Media
The problem with social media, Instagram in particular, is that it is addictive. It is so easy to fall down a hole with it and become addicted to posting photos of the healthiest food possible. Another issue is that there are SO many people doing this. The likelihood is, a fair few of these people will have orthorexia and although they may be posting photos of uber-healthy food, they probably aren't in a very healthy place themselves. Then everyone that follows them sees this post and mentally bookmarks it, thinking to themselves "I need to make food like this" or "My food isn't healthy enough, I need to cut out carbs/fat/sugar etc.". It is a vicious cycle, you may start out innocently posting photos of your food, but it can quickly spiral once you are immersed in that community. You also may be looking at this person thinking that they are absolute perfection but you have no idea what goes on behind that person's profile. That body they have may be achieved by an eating disorder or they may secretly binge after eating their perfect food. No one is perfect so remember that we are all humans!!
It only takes one scroll through #cleaneating or #wellness or #nutrition to see millions of photos of perfect-looking plates that are filled to the brim with what are deemed the healthiest foods. Regular features are sweet potato, avocado, eggs, kale, smoothie bowls and macro bowls. It also doesn't take much to realise that the work that goes in to these "insta-perfect" shots takes a long time faffing around arranging food that might not taste great and certainly goes cold, but hey, it looks great. I know I am certainly guilty of all of these things, I bet most of us are! It's hard not to be, and I make a conscious effort to post photos of a range of foods, not all of which are super clean, vegan, gluten-free, plant-based etc etc but it still gets to me on a regular basis.
It is unlikely that the things we are exposed to on social media will change, there will always be people giving out unqualified advice, people posting photos of their amazing figure and people posting photos of their perfect food. The only thing that can change is how we individually approach it and let it affect us. Being aware of orthorexia and aware of changes in your behaviours is vitally important. Your mental health and wellbeing should come first, instagram isn't everything so just take some time out if you need to or seek professional help if things are getting bad. You deserve it!!