Food blogs can be great inspiration for healthy eating and living, but there's a dark side. Today we're talking food blogs and disordered eating and whether they're adding fuel to the fire.
Last week, my friend Alexis, the dietitian and blogger behind Hummusapien, posted this incredibly honest article about her realization that as a healthy food blogger, she had been part of the problem fueling disordered eating. It's a really fantastic read (and for the record, even though her recipes are the stuff clean eating is made of, she has always approached food from a place of love, not deprivation). I immediately texted her with a semi-coherent message that very likely contained the phrases "OMG," "#preach," and at least 7 exclamation marks.
There's a reason I had such a passionate response - I know from personal experience how healthy food blogs can fuel disordered eating.
Back when I was a newbie dietitian, I read my first food blog. My cousin started one for all of five minutes (hi Shira!), and on her homepage, she had links to her favorite blogs. I clicked them all and spent the next few hours pouring over the photos, stories and recipes on blogs like Smitten Kitchen and 101 Cookbooks and Love & Olive Oil. Living by myself for the first time in a new town where I didn't have many friends, reading food blogs in bed was one of my favorite ways to pass the time. They fueled my foodie soul.
Around the same time, I discovered a childhood friend of mine had started a blog. She was a plant-based health food blogger and was really into holistic health. She lived in a big city and had tons of fabulous friends and was always doing fabulous things. She blogged about things like green juice and herbal supplements and the alkaline diet - all those trendy topics that weren't really covered in depth (or at all) in the very conservative, science-focused dietitian curriculum.
To be completely honest, I was totally hate-reading her blog, making fun of her lack of nutrition science education and cultish obsession with healthy eating. As a dietitian still wedded to calorie counting, margarine and the idea that if something didn't have 4 decades of research, it wasn't evidence-based, her posts often made my blood boil. Still, slowly and unconsciously, I was being influenced. I began to think of vegan/vegetarian diets as the "ideal" and I became more interested in holistic health, which fascinated me but also made me feel completely inadequate as a health professional. Her approach fed right into my underlying disordered thinking about food, my body and myself, creating a constant sense of anxiety, guilt, and shame around the way I ate.
Then, as the paleo trend began to emerge, she was at the forefront. All of a sudden she started blogging about the benefits of grassfed butter and the evils of gluten. Her blog became her business, and a thriving one at that. She had already been a health coach, but now she was working for a fancy celebrity doctor while making a six-figure salary from blogging. She became BFF's with people I'd seen on Oprah and even made a few appearances on Dr. Oz. All of a sudden, I didn't know what to think anymore. The nutrition world was moving in the exact opposite direction of what I thought was "right." I was second guessing everything. I felt like a failure, as an eater, and as a dietitian.
More than that, she seemed to be overwhelmingly, totally and completely happy. She was rich, internet famous and helping people change their lives, or so it seemed from all the comments on her posts. I, on the other hand, was overwhelmingly, totally and completely unhappy, stuck in what had become an unfulfilling job in a Mean Girls work environment, dealing with what I now know is generalized anxiety disorder. Was a clean, paleo, sugar free, locavore diet with a dozen supplements and daily dose of raw, fermented vegetables followed by a $40 yoga class and an hour of meditation the key to happiness?
Thankfully, I had read Intuitive Eating and a few books on mindful eating back in the day. That, along with my foodie roots and lack of dieting willpower (not necessarily a bad thing!), served as a sort of buffer that kept me from getting too far into orthorexia territory. I was still working through some of that when I started my blog about four years ago (scratch that - exactly four years ago from the day I was writing this! Swear I didn't plan that). I knew enough to promote normal eating, but you can still see some underlying anxieties about food occasionally pop through in that first year of blogging.
In hindsight, I see that my jealousy over what I perceived to be the perfect life pulled me away from all the things that I knew to be true, and from a peaceful relationship with food.
I share this story because if you visit my blog, it's safe to presume it's not the only one (not to mention healthy instagrammers, vloggers, snapchatters and whatever else the kids are using these days). Whether consciously or unconsciously, you're being influenced. And that's cool, if a healthy food blogger leaves you feeling inspired without chipping away at your self esteem. But be honest with yourself about how that person makes you feel. Is learning a new way to make avocado toast really worth feeling like shit about yourself?
With food blogging, there's a lot that you don't see. People don't only eat highly saturated, well lit and perfectly styled food. Most people don't only eat healthy food (and if they do, that's a problem). People don't spend their entire day doing instagram-worthy things. For many, myself included, a blog is their entire business or is part of their business, so what you're seeing are highly curated messages meant to build a following, convey a message or sell something - it's not real life.
With healthy food bloggers, there's also a lot you don't see in terms of their relationship with food. Disordered eating is rampant. Months ago, my friend Kylie shared this picture from a conference she attended:
Like, whaaattt? I knew disordered eating was common among healthy food bloggers, but those numbers still surprised me. So many of the people you view as an "authority" on healthy living may actually have an eating disorder speaking to them as their authority. Their insight might not be coming from knowledge or passion or compassion....but fear.
I highly recommend doing a social media detox. If someone makes you feel ewww, it's time to unfollow. And if you'd like to surround yourself with some more positive influences, here's some healthy living bloggers (and friends!) that approach food and fitness in a balanced, non-diety way: