The phrase "clean eating" is often used in wellness circles to denote a preference for natural, organic foods over artificial, processed ingredients. At face value, this is undeniably beneficial. After all, the human body requires essential nutrients to function, many of which come from vegetables, fruits, and other whole foods. It's important to be mindful of this. However, I feel using the word "clean" to talk about eating habits is problematic. In extreme cases, I worry it could even influence eating disorder behaviors. In my humble opinion, clean eating is not healthy—it's a harmful trend with potentially serious consequences.
Media Portrayal of Eating Disorders
Body dysmorphia is a mental health condition that will impact an estimated one in 50 people over the course of a lifetime.1 In some cases, those with body dysmorphia also suffer from eating disorder behavioral patterns such as caloric restriction, compulsive exercise, binge-purge cycles, or obsession with weight. The earliest signs of body dysmorphia often manifest in adolescence,2 and anyone can be at risk—no matter their gender pronouns, sexual orientation, body composition, or ethnic background. Here is what you should know about body dysmorphia in case you (or a loved one) are exhibiting symptoms of this mental illness.
Around this time last year, I was in serious need of a social media detox because doom-scrolling on Facebook and Instagram had monopolized most of my free time and sabotaged my mental health. This habit morphed me into someone who was constantly anxious, irritable, tense, and frantic. I could not seem to redirect my thoughts from the vitriol that spewed in the comment sections on my newsfeed, so to regain some measure of control, I turned to a familiar distraction: my eating disorder.
When I first stumbled upon actress and activist Jameela Jamil's "I Weigh" social media account two years ago, I breathed an audible sigh of relief. Here was a celebrity using her enormous platform to raise awareness to the overlooked truth that humans are worth more than the size and shape of their bodies.
As the eyes and ears of American society are fixed on dismantling more than 400 years of racial injustice at this pivotal moment in time, the intersection of racial trauma and eating disorders must be part of this broader conversation.
As the United States is ablaze in chaos that has erupted from systemic racial violence, I find myself worried for the mental health of Black men and women because—false stereotypes aside—Black people suffer from eating disorders too.
While it has been proven that anyone—no matter their life circumstances—can suffer from an eating disorder, some people who experience acute trauma could be more vulnerable to this illness than others. So, I think it's important to raise awareness for the prevalence of eating disorders in human trafficking victims.
Lately, it seems like my social media feeds are overrun with weight-related memes about how many pounds have been gained in self-quarantine; but, it's worth noting for the record that all those weight-related memes are not funny to everyone. As someone who is on a lifelong mission to recover from my eating disorder—and continues to face body image distortions—I know firsthand just how toxic these weight-related memes can be. While I understand the vast majority of posts are meant to be humorous and lighthearted, I cannot overlook the harmful effect such messages could have on those who already fixate on their bodies. So it's important to remember, those weight-related memes are not funny to everyone.
Competitive sports can create poor body image problems which can lead to eating disorders. There are reasons why this happens to both men and women, and there are ways to lessen poor body image and eating disorders in competitive sports.
The rate of eating disorders in the transgender community is an epidemic. While it has been estimated that over 30 million people in the United States alone suffer from eating disorders1, how many of these individuals conform to the heteronormative standards of body and gender—and how many don't? The research into this question is sparse, but there is enough to infer that eating disorders in the trans community are both epidemic and overlooked. While the archaic notion that eating disorders tend to primarily affect those who are female, white, and cisgender has been dismantled in recent years, the transgender population is still marginalized—or worse, excluded—from this conversation. Their stories of body-centric violence, trauma, prejudice, and exploitation have caused untold numbers of transgender people to fall into a cycle of disordered eating behaviors. But it's time society is made aware of these men and women in the transgender community who suffer—and recover—from eating disorders, so this epidemic will not be overlooked anymore.