The New Normal: 7 Almonds Just Fills Me Up for Hours! Or Clean-Eating and Chronic Illness

So there’s a global pandemic and I’m sure you’re thinking, “What is the point of this?” Or maybe even, “Nobody wants to read your column we are all going to die.” But I am a humanitarian, a philanthropist, a saint even, and I have decided to continue to bless you all with my wonderful words in these troubling times. I wanted to talk a little bit about clean-eating and chronic pain. In the past decade or so, there has been various trends and fads centred around clean-eating, mindfulness, wellness, and so on. These days, I have access to these movements only from my Instagram explore page, when I get so bored I just need to mindlessly scroll and look at photos of courgetti spaghetti. However, I was once an impressionable 14-year-old, feeling isolated and unwell, and I thought these things could save me.

Clean eating is a fad diet – let’s not dress it up – that advocates the consumption of whole foods and the exclusion of processed foods. Doesn’t sound too extreme, right? The issue here is that a lot of the campaigners for clean eating used to preach on Instagram, through their cookbooks and on their YouTube channels of the near-endless benefits of the consumption of this diet, to a point where anyone who was impressionable (me) would believe that this diet was a miracle. I can make your hair grow long and shiny in a month! I can cure your headaches! I can make you have friends! (wishful thinking on my part) All of these mad promises would come with a disclaimer: stop eating carbs/dairy/meat/sugar. This is the second issue I have with many of these diets; they centre on exclusion. They put pressure on you to cut things out of your diet and label those cast-offs as ‘bad’ food. There was no gradual learning curve or sense of balance with the bloggers I used to follow, and if you caved on day 3 and ate a sandwich, it was your own fault for not having enough willpower. I went vegan overnight, with no idea how to cook anything and all these big plans about what my life was going to be (I am so sorry to my mum for the supermarket shop bills from this period of time, and I am sorry that I never used up those goji berries and you had to eventually throw them away like you KNEW you were going to).

I wasn’t in school at this point, so I essentially devoted my entire life to this self-improvement project. All of these beautiful bloggers told me that if I changed my diet this way, the rest of my life would be amazing. I just had to get up every day at 6am, do yoga for three hours, drink a green juice, go for a run, journal mindfully, go to Pilates, eat three almonds and express gratitude for my existence. My therapist when I was younger told me that I had a problem with what she called ‘the boom/bust cycle’. When I was feeling well, I would rush to overhaul my life and do everything ‘right’ – tracking calories, going running, being ‘mindful’ all the time. When I would experience a flare up of pain, I’d be convinced that it was my fault for not eating ‘clean’ enough and therefore not being good enough, so I’d just lie in bed for a week and eat sweets. I recognised this pattern in myself and realised I do it with near enough everything in my life. I put too much pressure on myself to do everything and then, when I burn out, I blame myself and stop doing anything.

I want to say that I know all food bloggers are not like this. Through the clean-eating online world, I gained access to all of the ethical arguments around the consumption of animal products and, although I am no longer vegan, I have been a vegetarian since then. I learned to cook for myself and it has since become my favourite thing to do in the world; these days I believe myself to have a very balanced diet. By balanced I mean I don’t track calories or macros and my diet usually follows that Instagram yummy mummy quote that’s like “green juice for your body, champagne for your soul” or something. I honestly love that dumb quote. To put it simply, I have spent the past five years or so trying to break the habit of narrating my life in my head like I’m being interviewed for a clean eating podcast. I have to consistently reassure myself that skipping a lecture and eating 3 packets of crisps doesn’t signal an impending flare up, and getting up at 6am and meal prepping for your week doesn’t make you a good person either. I have consumed so much information around food and diet and health, yet still the only advice I follow is five portions of fruit and veg a day. And sometimes I don’t even do that! I’m just crazy that way. Stay safe guys.

[Madeline Docherty – she/her – @Maddydocluvs1D]

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