Clean eating is ruining my gut

Off the Beat


If you have an Instagram, you know that there are millions of photos out there that make you feel pretty guilty about what you eat. At least that happens to me. My search history has made the app aware of my tendency to look at photos that make me extremely conscious of my belly pushing through my shirt, supplying my feed with endless photos of thin women eating expensive and vibrant foods.

I consider myself a relatively nutritional eater. I typically aim for foods that will supply my body and mind with energy and vitamins and all those other nourishing things doctors remind us to consume at check-ups.

I don’t like using the word “healthy” when I refer to food. Some people think “healthy” means the food isn’t processed, while others say that something is healthy because it’s low-calorie — making “healthy” a loaded and harmful word. This word is used to dichotomize foods as “good” and “bad,” which can cause serious problems with individuals trying to diet or change their eating habits. Cheesy sticks may not be the most nutritious dinner option, but satisfying such a craving isn’t going to immediately deplete one’s overall health.

I won’t pretend I haven’t struggled with my own dichotomy of foods in an attempt to reach my health and fitness goals. This is partly due to countless social media users reinforcing the toxic notion that failing to eat foods prepared directly from the soil will lead to poor health and weight gain. It’s worrisome that we have come to use images of colorful, “clean” and often expensive foods (such as acai bowls and pressed juices) as forms of social media aesthetic and a classist reflection of health.

A diet of pressed juices is a completely false depiction of what a body needs, even if that body can afford to spend $10 on a drink that will leave it feeling hungry and unsatisfied. Bodies need fat and protein, which pressed juices and acai bowls can’t sufficiently provide.

Coming from Los Angeles, I’ve been exposed to countless fads that I will admit to trying — despite my skepticism — in my desperate attempts to stay thin. Fortunately, my wallet has prevented me from falling too far into the “bougie” phenomenon taking over the Internet and most gentrified neighborhoods. Access to clean eating aside, the root of this issue isn’t in social media.

My Berkeley humanities education has made me a heavy user of the term neoliberalism. Wendy Brown describes neoliberalism as the state in economic history at which point one commodifies the self, thinking of one’s body under economic rationale and investing in one’s own future value. It’s the dominant mentality that causes us to view the world through free market rationality, even outside of economic spheres, affecting every aspect of our lives.

The pursuit of physical perfection and corporeal capital affects everyday decisions through images and ideologies, making clean eating and fitness an achievement — another addition to our social resumes. This model of clean eating and fitness can easily be accessed through popular Instagram accounts that post photos of thin, fit young adults — typically women — revealing their perfectly toned stomachs while product placing a bag of Fit Tea or a quinoa salad from a hip Santa Monica cafe.

       Yes, there are foods that have more nutritional value, and I have no problem with folks cutting back a bit on foods that don’t supply many nutrients and are hard on the body. Moderation is extremely important, and our bodies need all kinds of food, even the stuff we crave. It’s simply a matter of giving the body the variety of foods that it needs to function.

Branding only a selected group of foods as “clean” and pairing them with young adults’ stellar abs and calling that the achievement of health is a problem. The instant gratification that we Millennials are constantly seeking is promised to us through the reworking of our diets into eating only clean foods — as if anyone really knows what that means. These images proclaim that health is a visible, tangible thing that can only be achieved by eliminating certain food groups and working out just to gain muscle mass in the “correct” areas until your stomach is as flat as the pancakes you feel bad about eating. Health and fitness are so much more than how tight our abs are or how pretty our food is. I find it triggering when people talk about some foods as bad and others as good because I’m constantly working to eliminate those thoughts within myself. Nutrition is important to me. I’m not telling anyone to live off carrot sticks or ice cream alone, because your body needs so much more than that, and your soul does too — if you believe in that.

“Off the Beat” columns are written by Daily Cal staff members until the Summer semester’s regular opinion writers have been selected.

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