In the past few years, in western society, I feel like we’ve seen a huge shift in consciousness take place surrounding health and wellness – more specifically with healthy eating. This is partly due to the luxury of the internet and having instant access to boundless information about nutrition, ethics etc.
I myself follow a mainly plant-based diet. Being raised vegetarian by my Dad, I’m lucky in that I was always aware of the ethical issues surrounding the meat industry and also was raised on vegetarian home-cooking – so living in this way is easy for me. As I got a bit older and decided to be vegetarian of my own volition (I ate meat here and there throughout primary school at my friends’ houses or whatever), I also started to phase out dairy from my diet. This was for my eczema (I barely saw an improvement, actually) and also for ethical reasons.
I’ve been back and forth with my level of discipline surrounding eating plant-based. A little over a year ago, I started eating dairy again for health reasons, then decided to give it up again. I’m pretty off and on with eggs too. I don’t care about fitting into the vegan lifestyle 100%, which might sound bad but I feel content with doing my bit to eat more sustainably and live more responsibly.
I gave this bit of background to illustrate that, yes, I do in some way feel resonated with the “healthy eating” movement and I’m happy with the rise in numbers of people turning vegan and the advent of so many vegan options for food; but there’s a certain amount of elitism that accompanies some of it.
There seems to be this idea that if you eat only whole foods, everything will be perfect: your physical health, your mental health along with any tendencies for bingeing. And also there’s a lot of demonisation around junk food that seems to go on.
I’ve seen more than one vegan YouTuber announce that turning vegan cured their eating disorder.
Now, that’s fantastic and wow, what an achievement. Good for you. ❤ But for me, as someone who hasn’t exactly had an eating disorder but has always struggled with disordered eating and unhealthy relationships with food, this hasn’t been my reality.
I didn’t stop binge eating when I started eating solely plant-based. I still found myself bingeing on popcorn, vegan chocolate and biscuits (hi, Oreos), vegan ice cream – and even bingeing on whole foods (yes, whole foods!) like plates of rice and lentils. For me, if I eat way past when I’m already full, or don’t stop to rest a little to see if I’m full, it’s a binge. Now, sometimes, if I’ve not eaten all day and I’m trying to catch up on calories then I don’t really pay attention to how much I eat, I just listen to my body and eat accordingly; but I do still struggle with binge eating regularly.
I’ve heard vegan YouTubers also say things like the great thing about vegan whole foods is that because they’re typically low in calories (like vegetables with a high water content), you can eat as much as you want guilt-free. But is that not just giving yourself a free pass to binge and not look at your desire to eat too much and fill a void? I don’t want to seem obtuse or facetious, I know they mean that you typically have larger portions of food that really satiate you when you eat whole foods; but I just don’t want people to think that veganism is this holy grail of health that solves all your problems – because it might not.
Another thing I want to bring up is the arguably orthorexic belief that junk food is intrinsically bad in every way and people should not eat it. “Junk food does not nourish you in any way” is something I heard a vegan say. And I get it, a bag of crisps doesn’t have much, if any, nutritional value. But I think that in certain circumstances, junk food can nourish your soul.
I don’t want to promote eating unhealthy food all the time, aiming to eat healthily is great – but do not denigrate yourself for wanting to treat yourself every now and then.
I’ve gone through periods of being very disciplined with what I eat. I gave up refined sugar for six weeks, I went through a phase of snacking on ricecakes and oatcakes instead of crisps, I often restrict gluten if I’m feeling bloated and I often abstain from taking any form of caffeine. But sometimes I simply don’t feel emotionally strong enough to completely remove “junk food” from my diet. And honestly, when I go through a phase of being really disciplined and restrictive with what I eat, I wind up feeling…exhausted at my own obsessiveness. Even if what I’m eating is improving my physical health, I feel so upset when I don’t have something fun to treat myself with. It makes me feel like a little kid desperate for a gold star on their work.
It can be an act of self-care to suspend the healthy eating regime for a few minutes here and there and really relax with a well-earned treat (not that you have to earn food in any form). And buying the bag of popcorn, or the chippie or the pack of vegan rocky road is what that feels like: a reward, a pat on the back, a treat. Whether that’s “right” or “wrong”, I don’t know. But I do know that in that moment, my inner child feels happy, content and safe. And when you’re struggling with depression and urges to self harm and wanting to even stay alive at all, having something nice to look forward to at the end of the day is vital. I’m also dealing with a breakup, so there’s that.
Maybe I’ll get to that holy mecca of only eating whole foods at some point. Maybe at one point I won’t need the “junk food”. But at the moment, I see no benefit to blacklisting any type of food that I still feel like I gain something from. I have a history of disordered eating and I know that being too restrictive with what I eat is unhealthy.
“Sugar is poison”, said Teal Swan (who I love) in one of her daily Instagram updates whilst admitting that she believed candy floss was the best food in the world. Maybe it is. But like the cocktail I had last night, it’s a poison I’m okay with putting into my body for the happiness it gives me in the moment and it’s part of how I currently choose to enjoy my life with all the ups and downs that it inevitably brings.
Thanks so much for reading.
– SMUT. ❤ xxxx