OK, this is likely to be a rant, containing not very well formulated arguments, incoherent (no! I haven’t been drinking), and most likely very biased – you have been warned.
In the past few days I learnt a new word, ‘Orthorexia’. It has been bandied around the media, particularly the ‘sloppy’ media (Sky News in particular) and the finger is pointed at people like myself for creating the problem. I will explain, but maybe first a definition of Orthorexia may help:
‘Orthorexia is the term for a condition that includes symptoms of obsessive behavior in pursuit of a healthy diet. Orthorexia sufferers often display signs and symptoms of anxiety disorders that frequently co-occur with anorexia nervosa or other eating disorders. ‘
First off, I have no issues with Orthorexia as a diagnosis. I fully understand eating disorders both from my own and from others around me and those I know. I can also understand how pursuit of a ‘healthy diet’ can become obsessive, both from the ‘good buzz’ it can create in a person and with a modern society where there is still a focus on super slim models as the role model for adolescents and adults alike, continued size-shaming, and also a growing level of, and I am going to use this term in what I believe to be a just use of the word, ‘bullying’ of people that pursue what would be regarded as an unhealthy lifestyle.
I don’t drink, I gave it up a few years ago as I realised I was developing an unhealthy relationship with drink. However I would never ‘bully’ someone into giving up drink saying it was unhealthy etc. There is a wealth of scientific literature supporting the notion that over consumption of alcohol is linked to a myriad of adverse health outcomes – but it really isn’t for me to ‘shame’ someone into giving up. The same is for food. Just because I have changed what I do, I would never push this on to someone else or say they are wrong because they eat junk food, or food from a different ‘diet’.
Where I do have issues with Orthorexia is how it is being used as a tool by media to villify people who write about healthy eating and wellness, to make them look as if they are causing the problem. Recently Sky News posted an opinion piece on their website: https://news.sky.com/story/social-media-influencers-fuelled-my-clean-eating-disorder-11798392. This tells the story of Pixie Turner who developed Orthorexia, subsequently acknowledged her problem, became a nutritionist and highlights the dangers of following advice you see on blogs/social media on healthy eating from people who are not qualified to give that advice. I have no issue with the fundamentals of what Pixie is doing, in fact I will most likely buy her books as I think we probably agree on a lot of things around society influences and over focusing on ‘going on a diet’ and all the psychological connotations of that word.
No, what I have an issue with is the way Sky News picked up this story and portrayed it as bloggers and social media ‘influencers’ (I hate that word/concept SO much) are the root cause of people with eating disorders, It took a very one sided view of a single person who developed an obsessive, and medically acknowledged, disorder following reading social media content. At no point did it explore if Pixie has other obsessive compulsive disorders, had previously had an eating disorder, had other aspects of her life which influenced the decision to seek out ‘clean eating’. Instead the focus was on the Orthorexia being solely caused by social media content, because we all know that social media is all fake news and causing the downfall of the planet, society and indeed all humanity.
Cigarettes get stamped with a government health warning, and social media should carry the same warning – I agree with that. There is an awful amount of shit on social media, ‘facts’ with absolutely no basis in reality, ‘scientific evidence’ which is neither scientific or evidence and this can lead to serious issues, I think Pixie and myself are in agreement here. BUT, don’t tar the entire social media spectrum with that brush. Some responsibility has to be taken by the social media consumer. There is a latin term ‘caveat emptor‘ – ‘buyer beware’ or the principle that the buyer alone is responsible for checking the quality and suitability of goods before a purchase is made – and that is a principle that should be applied for all social media consumers. This I believe is one of the ways in which Pixie went wrong, she consumed social media content and didn’t check if the ‘goods’ she was consuming were suitable for her requirements and she got caught out because of it. Now, she eventually acknowledged this, did something about it, found her own ways of checking for quality and suitability based on sound scientific evidence and for that she should be applauded.
So, Sky News, I say to you, thank you for highlighting an important issue, Orthorexia, it is an issue that a few more people will be aware of today because of you. However, as usual as ‘sloppy media’ you fucked it up by wrapping it into a story that is pretty much aimed at having a pop at an aspect of social media without giving it any balance, and as such it makes people like myself angry.
Project 50 deals with my own struggles with health issues, how I have personally tried to address them, how I have altered what I eat, how I live my life. This blog also gives links to evidence based research on how the changes I have made are anchored in science, they are not fad. I know that as a result several people have made similar changes in their own lives, and from what I am hearing this is producing good outcomes, and for that I am glad. However, here is the problem, I am not a nutritionist, I haven’t gone down the Pixie route and become a RNutr and got a Masters in nutrition so does that mean my blog should be struck off the face of the Earth because I don’t know what I am talking about ? Of course it doesn’t, although the Sky News article might hint it should be. What is important is that blogs like my own become part of ‘the dialogue’, allowing people to add the messages in here into their own decision making processes, it becomes part of caveat emptor.
So Sky News, you pissed me off with your handling of the subject, so much so that I was forced to write this and have a rant. Social media, yes, it can be part of the problem, but it most certainly can be part of the solution.
So I am going to leave the last word to Pixie, as I think this is only fair as she ultimately led to me writing this post. It comes from her own blog, and I think that for anyone who blogs, these are wise words.
Postscript: For anyone who feels that my blog contravenes point 1 made in Pixies post just remember that I am not actively recommending my approach to life, but rather putting it out there as what has happened to me – consider it a very extended gym selfie.