Whenever I’m scrolling through Instagram, I invariably come across an influencer who’s promoting a healthy lifestyle.
Most of her photos consist of some variation of her with perfectly toned abs and a glass of green juice – or some other kind of liquid meal – in her hand. (Inevitably followed by a picture of her doing an insane yoga pose on the beach.)
Of course, I fully support anyone who encourages people to make their health a priority. But I have a problem with this intense focus on detoxifying and eating “clean.”
Before we get to that, let me state the obvious: I live an overall healthy life. I’ve been a vegetarian for almost 25 years. I adore juicing, and I’m a former marathon runner. I’m even a registered dietitian.
But let me tell you what happens whenever I see these kinds of pictures from the clean-living community: I feel bad about myself.
Yes, me . . . a super health-conscious person who has an entire business built around teaching women how to live their healthiest lives. As soon as I see one of these influencer’s posts I think about how much I fall short.
But this is exactly the point: we all fall short. And we should.
As unhealthy as it is to overload your body with crap food, it’s equally unhealthy to spend your days obsessing about every bite of food you take and how clean your intestines are.
They are two sides of the same coin: imbalance. And I don’t mean nutritional imbalance – I mean psychological imbalance. In fact, there’s a medical term for this kind of extreme focus on healthy eating: orthorexia.
People with orthorexia are fixated on health to the point of obsession, and it’s not just unhealthy for them, it’s unhealthy for the recipients of their message. And the harm is magnified because of the heavily stylized photos these influencers use to depict their flawlessly healthy lifestyle.
There are several reasons that the promotion of a nutritionally flaw-free existence is harmful, and I want to talk about those here.
1. It’s black or white. Most people are very aware that they need to be healthier. The average person doesn’t get enough fruits or vegetables, drink enough water, or exercise sufficiently. That’s because we live such hectic lives and have so many responsibilities – especially if you’re a mom – that it’s overwhelming to try and do it all.
But, actually, we can’t do it all. And we certainly can’t do it all perfectly. Trying to attain perfection makes us feel defeated when we fall short, which makes it harder to get motivated to do anything.
So when we’re assaulted with images of women who do do it all and who do seem to do it all perfectly, we figure “Why bother?”
This black-or-white mentality is deadly if you want to improve your health. If you’re not 100% vegan, all the time, then you give up and eat cheeseburgers. If you’re not ripped and have 2% body fat, why go to the gym? (And get judged by all the perfect people there?)
Life isn’t perfect, and your health shouldn’t be either. Which brings me to my second point.
2. You don’t need to detoxify. Unless you drink excessively, frequently use drugs, and chain smoke all day, you don’t need to be concerned with detoxifying your body.
Look, I adore the concept of cleaning out. I’m obsessed with a sanitized countertop and a clutter-free kitchen, and the idea of bombarding my body with nutrients and having pure water flowing through my veins is highly appealing. But you do not need to live “clean” to have a healthy body.
Your liver is designed to clear your body of toxins. Your digestive tract also filters out toxins and eliminates them as waste. Even your skin is an organ that helps get rid of what you don’t need. (Provided you stay hydrated enough to sweat.)
There’s nothing wrong with going all-in with fresh water and tons of fruits and vegetables, but don’t become preoccupied with this concept of having to eat “clean.” After all, what’s the point of eating clean if your mind is diseased?
3. The illusion of a better life. This is the most damaging thing of all. Because what’s wrapped up in this message is the promise of a happier existence.
It’s Skinny = Happy on steroids. The dieting mindset is damaging, but the clean-living bandwagon takes it to a whole new level. The endless social media selfies with influencers drinking green juice while showing their abs makes it clear that this is about more than just your health.
It’s about what you look like. And if you don’t look like this, you can’t be happy. And you can’t look like this unless you eat clean.
This is a dangerous message. Eating healthy isn’t about your looks. Eating healthy is about having an optimally functioning body so you can live as long as possible. Eating is about social engagement and sharing time with people you love. It’s about enjoyment.
Eating isn’t about control, and spending your life trying to control and monitor every bite of food you put in your mouth isn’t living at all.
Besides, what’s the point of eating perfectly, having the perfect body, and supposedly living the perfect life if all you’re doing all day is taking selfies and posting them on social media? I’m not really sure.
So what’s the solution to all of this? I have two.
Number 1: Get off social media. Or at least try to spend as little time there as possible. Unfollow people who spread the message of getting the perfect life via what you eat.
I have to be on social media for my business, but I stay off of it as much as I can. As someone who used to have an eating disorder, I know it’s mentally unhealthy for me to constantly bombard myself with these images.
And as a side note, I have a responsibility to my daughters who are on social media (a lot more than they should be) to model a truly healthy lifestyle – which means balance and a total lack of extremes, in every area.
Number 2: Set a bigger goal. This is my go-to for a truly happy life, one that’s lived from the inside out.
Taking your focus off what you look like and shifting it to what you’re capable of is the fastest way possible to being fulfilled. I have tons of advice on exactly how to do it, which you can read about here, here, and here.
There’s no such thing as perfect health – and even if you were able to achieve it, it wouldn’t bring you the perfect life. There’s also no such thing as the perfect body, and spending your life trying to get one equals a wasted life.
It’s really hard to let what I’m saying here sink in when you’re faced with a constant barrage of images and messages like these. Please know that I’m always here to support you, and if you know someone who could benefit from this post, please share it!
Choose to feel good about every step you take in the right direction. Taking small steps to change your habits is the only way to make permanent changes.
And every single one of them counts.