The Dark Side Of Clean Eating

November 4th 2015

Healthy eating is a good way to regulate one's digestive system, lose weight, and stay fit, but social media campaigns dedicated to #cleaneating, #thinspo, and beyond may perpetuate eating disorders and body image issues, as noted in a new piece by Broadly.

Orthorexia nervosa.

Earlier this year, ATTN: wrote about orthorexia nervosa, an eating disorder that revolves around excessive healthy eating and maintaining a low body weight. Though it has yet to be officially recognized by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), nutritionists and psychologists say more and more people seem to suffer from orthorexia, and famous food blogger Jordan Younger is perhaps the most visible example.

Jordan Younger achieved a massive following for her blog the Blonde Vegan when she went vegan to help with her chronic indigestion issues. Though she began losing weight and racking up fans on social media, her obsession with healthy eating turned scary. Eventually, she sought help for orthorexia and rebranded her blog to the Balanced Blonde. Her new book "Breaking Vegan" details her experiences with orthorexia as well.

Not all fans were supportive of Jordan Younger's decision to get help. She told the New York Post in a new interview that she lost 1,000 followers and her site crashed mere minutes after she announced she was transitioning away from veganism. She even received anonymous death threats from those who felt she was betraying the lifestyle.

“It was shocking,” she said. “It made me realize how elitist some of the people within that [vegan] world could be.”

Nutritional therapist and eating disorder specialist Dr. Karin Kratina told Broadly in a new interview that she has certainly seen an increase in orthorexia victims, who can potentially die from malnutrition.

"I have absolutely seen a rise in orthorexic patients as a nutrition therapist," she said. "It's almost rising exponentially. Now I get a new client every week with orthorexic symptoms. It is a serious problem."

Societal obsession with appearance.

Dr. Kratina added that healthy eating alone isn't problematic. Cultural fixation on healthy eating, working out, and appearance, however, have consequences.

"The problem is that we have moralized eating, weight, food, and exercise," she said. "Food has become presented—more and more—as the answer."

Social media and eating disorders.

Social media, of course, plays a big role in this obsession. Many healthy eating and living hashtags such as #Thinspo have received immense criticism in the past for perpetuating eating disorders and self-esteem issues. Earlier this year, teenager India Edmonds revealed that she developed anorexia after comparing herself to famous women on social media for years. She told the Mirror Online that she was just 14 when she started using Instagram for inspiration to lose weight.

“Everyone at school had an Instagram account,” she told the Mirror Online. “Girls put photos up and I always thought they looked thinner and prettier than me.”

She also became obsessed with airbrushed photos of models on the social media platform.

“I loved their thigh gaps—and I’ve always hated my legs,” she said. “Once I remember walking along in shorts and the tops of my thighs were rubbing. I hated that. And a boy at school said I had short, chubby legs and that stuck with me."

Research has shown social media can impact a woman's self-esteem more than certain forms of traditional media. During the spring, the Psychology of Women Quarterly published a paper that found women are more likely to compare themselves to magazine and Facebook images than images in music videos, on TV, and on the web.

"Our research shows that spending more time reading magazines and on Facebook is associated with greater self-objectification among young women and these relationships are influenced by women's tendency to compare their appearance to others, particularly to peers on Facebook," researchers said, according to Science Daily.

Bella Younger's humorous but important response to #cleaneating posts.

As noted in the Mirror article, India is not the only person to develop an eating disorder as a result of getting caught up in #Thinspo and related #cleaneating posts. Some turn to pro-anorexia sites and hashtags as inspiration to slim down, oftentimes to an unhealthy degree. Many people go to extremes to look a certain way after getting caught up in these social media movements, and that's partly why standup comedian Bella Younger created Deliciously Stella, a hilarious and telling Instagram page that celebrates cravings, carbs, and unhealthy foods. It's also a play on popular health blog Deliciously Ella.

The goal of Deliciously Stella isn't to disparage healthy eaters by any means, but to draw attention to the way people distort their lives on social media.

“I went on Instagram and everyone seemed to be doing yoga on a beach or eating vegetables masquerading as desserts," she recently told the New York Daily News. "I'm not saying I don't like to look nice in photos—I do. But I also want to have fun, not stand in a mirror trying to get an angle on my abs.”

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