Hands Off My Crisps! Food and Body Shaming in Wellness Land
Updated: Mar 9, 2022
In wellness land there is always a new food and diet trend. It can be tough not to get sucked in, forever trying the latest raw gluten free intermittent fasting macrobiotic organic adaptogenic plan. Where we read ‘plan’, read ‘diet’. I have always been sensitive about food and weight, particularly my own. The Wellness Industry is choc full of people who want to tell us what to eat, when to eat, how to eat and why we should/should not eat. Social Media is a wily place, and we can never be completely sure of what is real, authentic. However, if we pay close attention to our own response to many of these influencers who trade in spirituality and wellness and want to tell us what to eat and what not to eat, we have a greater chance of staying true to ourselves and sidestep the food shaming that is rife in the wellness world.
The overarching paraphrased message of many Sprellness (made up by me for combining the spirituality and wellness industries!) influencers in layman’s terms is that the healthier you eat the more spiritually awake and healed you will become. You will be glamorous and forever youthful if you restrict calories form your diet or if you stick to strict food plans. This messaging speaks to Sprellness’ shady preoccupation with youth and keeping the body from aging, see the publisher Hay House's best seller list for an overview of how many body and youth oriented books are on the market.
Let’s be real; frequently eating wholesome unprocessed foods that come out of the ground and off trees is healthy for us, and according to the documentary Game Changers may even give athletes an edge over their omnivorous opponents. Eating only processed foods will leave a person feeling sluggish without so much get up and go. This could be because there is less natural life force energy left in processed foods than in unprocessed foods, I say this with my Reiki hat on but I am not a scientist or dietician so I only speculate. However, not everybody has the money to be able to buy the most organic, healthy, seasonal food. Lines are getting longer at food banks thanks to the UK Government austerity and the harsh minefield that is the benefit system.
I was recently unsettled by a blog post by a very well known, very polished and alluring self-proclaimed spiritual teacher whose niche is abundance and manifesting. I love reading about these topics and I am very partial to manifestation meditations because I feel both centred and uplifted after practising. I own some of her books and have previously recommended her content to friends. Some of her writings and coaching have been insightful and very helpful for me. The blog was about her recent detox programme she had been enjoying helping reboot her into 2021. As well as information from accredited nutritionists about the general purported benefits of detoxing and intermittent fasting (which I now realise is a HUGE trend in diet/fitness/wellness world lately), the teacher gave links to receive a discount on a rehydration product she is now endorsing. It was a helpful piece to those who wished to learn about basic detoxing and of course included the advice to “make sure to talk to your doctor first, before starting any new health regime”. This certainly was a regime reinforced by the connotations embedded by strict intermittent fasting and the posed selfie after sweaty exercise.
I clicked on the link to read the blog because I have also found gentle cleanses beneficial although I remain discerning about committing to new eating plans because of my history of Eating Disorders and Body Dysmorphia. Looking back, I realise that a little piece of my younger Anorexic self, wanted to read the article to find new ways to control and compete. I tuned into my body’s response to the article. I felt shaky, sweaty and the creeping resurgence of shame. As per the article I had “reached for the pack of chips*…..and laid around” during last year and since January too. *crisps if you are English!
I am a recovering anorexic. I say recovering because I don’t truly believe one is every fully recovered from anorexia, it is process which involves healing the root causes of why this insidious and debilitating disease develops in the first place. There is no quick fix. I have learned so much from this illness, uncovering how my anxious/ insecure attachment style made me prone to anxiety while also driving me to assert my control of my eating habits in my teenage world where I felt I had zero control. Insecure attachment coupled with the gnawing, unshakable belief that I not only failed to be good enough, but failed to be enough, seeped into my view of myself and the world when I was a child. The wrong minded thinking of the disease convinced me that I must try to validate myself by having control over what foods entered my body and employ an extreme mind over matter approach to my relationship with rigorous physical exercise. I not only competed with myself to eat less and run more than yesterday, but I would pour over and fixate on the models in Just Seventeen magazine, catwalks and FHM and attempt to compete with their airbrushed bodies.
When I read the blog post I felt for my 15 year old self who wanted to be the most popular and for my 28 year old self when I was most unwell with the illness. I remember food shaming myself and food shaming others, even if just in my judgemental anorexic thoughts. My younger selves wanted to both sob and head to fitness boot camp
to punish the fact that I had laid around and eaten crisps.
Well bollocks to that.
I gave myself space to be with these old feelings and sensations, made a cup of tea and went for some fresh air.
Looking back, I should have known better than to click open the article. I specifically do not buy fitness magazines or gossip mags because I find it all triggering, shaming and offensive to people's natural and varied bodies. Isn’t hindsight a wonderful thing? But I did open it and I own that these feelings and memories regarding shame about my body and the amount of exercise I do or do not choose to do are mine. These feelings come up for healing, reminding me that I am still vulnerable to the messages on social media and articles from glossy, rich, celebrity wellness women whom my upset ego felt threatened by. However, wellness influencers are not off the hook. Many people turn to spiritual teachers because they are looking for guidance and want to feel better and feel safe. I wonder if other people recovering from ED who read this post felt unsettled or at worst driven to act out the shaming with more food restricting or over exercise?
The article subtly insinuated that the body beautiful will magically manifest you a shiny quality of life. But this higher quality of life does not come cheap. If one is not privileged to be able to afford the products, the supplements, the gym membership, the home gym equipment, the at home sauna, the trainer, the life coach, the ingredients fresh from Wholefoods and the influencer clothes from Lulu Lemon-what then? Be damned to an unenlightened existence and feel guilty for eating comfort food?
We are enough whatever our bodies look like. We are whole without the adaptogenic smoothie from Wholefoods.
We all have varying ways of coping with stress, anxiety and trauma. Yes, turning to food is one of those ways but it is not OK for wellness influencers to be harping on about getting healthy by putting the crisps away when they do not know the medical history of their readers, yes they write for a wide audience and many people would love to hear about diets and cleansing, in fact the author did a poll of her Insta followers to see who wanted to read about her detox. 91% said yes, so in her defence she served her audience’s need/wants. But let’s think critically about this because critical thinking is something I see less and less of in Sprellness. Inside of that 91% of those followers (the word follower chosen by Instagram to imply and embed a disciple type relationship) perhaps a number of those are in the thick of an ED and look to the glossy teacher for guidance on how to recover from a spiritual point of view. Anorexia is the 3rd most common chronic disease in America after Asthma and Obesity so it seems fair to guess that a number of the Instagram followers polled will be dealing with an eating disorder. Even though the poll’s result was clearly in favour of wanting the detox tips, is this demonstrative of a Sprellness world starving for the latest hack? Hacks to get thinner, bendier, glossier and to chase the goal of enlightenment which is yours if you pay for it (not just with money either). I found this particular influencer when I was in the very early stages of recovery from Anorexia, so I definitely sway towards considering the impact of articles like these on other recoverees. However I do not think that having a mental illness makes you more likely to be swayed by influencer tactics because this falsity gets rather victim-blamey, when in fact nobody is immune from being influenced, manipulated or coerced.
I am going to continue to eat crisps if I fancy them, stay off booze, practise Yoga, and incorporate accessible, inexpensive aspects of Ayurvedic eating which suit my body and soothe my mind. I choose not to get too bogged down in the finer points of eating plans because of the restrictions and rules around food that I used to impose on myself through the Eating Disorder. In an effort to walk my talk I have written to the influencer in question and am in on going respectful dialogue with her customer service team, who have in fact been gracious and somewhat understanding in their responses, but also suggested I read another article from the teacher to help with my own healing. Why would I do that having already stated in my dialogue with them that the space held by the teacher no longer feels welcoming?
I will do me. You can do you. Watch out for people trying to shame you away from foods you genuinely enjoy and have done the hard recovery work of being able to eat. If you do want to make changes to what you eat, because there is a lot to be said for ideas like eating seasonally or plant based or taking physical strain off one's heart, do it on your own terms not because you have been Sprellness influenced.
For balance I was going to include the article I have been referring to, but on reflection I do not wish to give body shaming or food shaming more air time.
My Yoga website for spiritual practice where you will not be shamed: www.youreenoughyoga.com
Support for eating disorder recovery: https://www.beateatingdisorders.org.uk/
Information on adult attachment styles: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/which-of-these-four-attachment-styles-is-yours/
For counselling and therapy: https://www.bacp.co.uk/search/Therapists
For more insight into spiritual influencer culture check out the Conspirtuality Podcast.