No matter what the time of year, I can find it difficult to encounter a shop, magazine, TV show, You Tube video or Instagram picture without being tainted by a message related to eating clean or embarking on some particular health and fitness routine.
An obsession with what others are eating or how they may be exercising has gone beyond any of the boundaries we have ever seen before, as the drive to feel accepted by others and, most importantly, ourselves has risen through the roof. Although many of these messages may appear positive and in favour of our overall wellbeing, behind the scenes they may insidiously be poking a nerve that augments an already low sense of self-worth and esteem.
Not to mention, for individuals who may have already experienced an eating disorder or unhealthy relationship with food, seeing messages about clean eating, pursuing a plant based lifestyle or taking up a gym membership can shoot them right back into a mindset of self-destruction.
You may have some experience with the type of messages Im referring to. The pictures showing the before and after shots of someone who has shed ‘X’ amount of pounds after embarking on a plant-based lifestyle. The glowing skin of someone who has cut out sugar for 6 months. The perky bum of someone who hits the gym and follows a perfectly rigorous workout regime at least 3 times a week. The message underneath these images seems to be one of encouragement. A message that, with a bit of self-control and effort, we can be successful too. We can get those abs, we can clean up our diet, we can avoid becoming ‘fat’, and we can become something more than what we think and feel we already are.
And yet, there is something seriously missing from these pictures and messages. That ingredient is an understanding that we are all already worthy of love and acceptance - Without shaping up or cleaning up our diet.
If we look a bit more closely, Underneath the clean eating and fit-spiration trends, we can see a few parallels with the insidious dieting industry - just repackaged into a more socially acceptable and moral format. If we place our reality goggles on, we can see how once again, our society and vulnerable selves come under the control of organisations that want us to buy into their products and regimes. Just this time, those organisations have recruited individuals who we can relate to and look up to. Often the people and brands supporting these messages don’t even realise how they have equally been manipulated into spreading something that could potentially cause much more harm than good.
Although we may shed some pounds, we are more likely to lose even more of our self worth. As we become indoctrinated to certain ways of living and eating, so too do we become indoctrinated so some pretty limited ways of living that seem more aligned with being suppressed rather than liberated. Personally, I feel that messages about eating clean and shaping ourselves up physically can lead us to neglect our mental health, by encouraging us to live limited rather than liberated lives. For example, messages around these topics, even from the people we adore and look up to, can suggest the following:
We need to stay in control
We need to live in fear and experience guilt if we don’t meet certain standards or if we fail
We need to remain safe and follow certain rules
We must follow the latest trends and health guidelines in order to feel accepted and worth of love
We must neglect our dreams and our authentic selves in favour of a perfect diet and body
We must not listen to our deepest desires and craving, or else we might be seen as a failure
In a nutshell, particular messages about eating or exercising a certain way keeps so many of us living in a box - unable to thrive. I myself have fell into this trap, believing that a 100% clean diet and exercise routine would make me feel worth and full of self esteem. In reality, the exact opposite became true. I would feel guilty for missing the mark, or even craving to eat a piece of chocolate rather than a preplanned healthy snack bar when in a cafe with friends. I would even cancel plans socially just so that i could fit my life around the false rules that I never needed to follow in the first place.
My message to you all here today, is to know that you don’t need to eat clean or follow a particular exercise plan in order to be a beautiful or worthy and lovable person. That right was already instilled within you from the moment you were born. You never need to hit a certain weight, or be a particular shape or even attain a high level of fitness in order to reach your full potential. In fact, following rules that feel out of line with your authentic self and real desires can leave you living small rather than having the courage to step outside the lines and the rule books.
Our world needs more people to be their authentic selves and throw away the rule books in order to become a better place, so what is it that truly feels right for you? Do you feel satisfied with just following a particular eating and fitness regime in order to make the most of your time here on earth? Or, is your heart calling for you to do something more? What is it that really lights you up and make your heart sing?
All I ask is for you to answer those questions honestly. When you do, hopefully you will understand and find a pathway in life that makes your whole being feel fulfilled - even if that does at times mean walking around with a tummy full of cake and a hearty guilt-free smile upon your face.