One thing is for sure – I thought about food less when I was maintaining my weight than when I’m trying to gain. Now I know that if I can keep this up and get to a more healthy place, chances are those thoughts will become less invasive and I can get on with something more productive, but I still have to get to that point first. Right now, I’m obsessing. Constantly. About what exactly I am putting in my mouth – and I really do mean exactly. Unintentionally, I’m finding myself drawn to the idea of “clean” eating. I didn’t seek it out. It was rather that I followed my own beliefs about food to their natural end. This sort of thing never ends well for me.
Clean eating is actually quite a nice philosophy. If you have the time, money and energy, making most of your foods from scratch out of unprocessed ingredients isn’t a bad thing. It doesn’t mean cutting down on any major food groups or nutrients and lends itself to simple, tasty foods. I mean, I don’t eat much processed food as it is, I like to cook and I have lots and lots of time. I’m big on whole grains and pulses and not too much meat and less ingredients and natural products regardless of whether it’s a particular philosophy or not. In fact, in general I think it’s quite nice and fits my lifestyle well and is generally something I adhere to anyway.
The problem is that I take things too far. Whilst recipe hunting I came across the idea in a more formal sense and I started to worry. I mean, in an effort to eat less fibre, I eat white instead of whole grain bread. I shouldn’t feel bad about this. It isn’t some sort of moral choice, or even a choice based on taste, but a practical one based on how my body responds to fibre overload. Now I feel bad though. Now I feel guilty for eating such highly processed bread products. I mean, it isn’t natural to refine flour that much and I shouldn’t be eating something so unnatural because it can’t be good for me. And I don’t make my own hummus. I actually like the hummus you can buy in Tesco, but now I’m ashamed. Ashamed of my mass-produced hummus. And don’t get me started on Nutella – right now I can’t think of anything I eat that gives me quite as much guilt.
So I started making things. I whipped up some lovely chilli and garlic hummus, sorted out a super honey, fruit and nut granola, made my go to dressing and I’ve even in the process of making some frozen berry yogurt so that I no longer rely on prepackaged full of artificial chemicals and sugars ice cream. I actually think this is quite good in a way. I mean, I love cooking and this is helping me get excited about new foods again rather than relying on the same old meals to get me through and although I eat all these foods already, actually making them means actually adding high calorie ingredients like olive oil and sugar to foods in quantities I’m so unused to. Mostly though, it’s quite fun. Plus I get a lot of tasty food out of it so on a practical level, there’s nothing wrong with it.
Except I shouldn’t feel bad. I shouldn’t have guilt about white bread or hummus or even nutella. Subscribing to a food philosophy only means that I can avoid some of the things I find hard. I mean, sure I love home-made hummus, but I also love potato waffles. If I try to avoid processed food, I’ll never get to a waffle. Or sausages. No joke – cheap, crappy sausage baguettes from greasy spoons are my ultimate fear food combo because I just love them so much and I have no idea why. Giving myself a justification to this avoidance doesn’t change the fact that it’s easier to avoid then to be scared shitless by actually trying them. All it does is moralize food in a way that makes avoiding the fear seem more logical. It isn’t though. Food shouldn’t be moralised and feared – not to me or anyone else. Food is just food. I grew up on cheap oven food and it didn’t hurt me, so why should it now? I do not need to feel guilty for chosing foods for their ease to prepare, how natural they are and (gasp!) what they taste like. Sure, worthy food can be really tasty, but so can chicken and chips. What I need is a balance.
For me at least, signing myself up to a food philosophy quickly becomes an obsession. It just gives a reason to eating disordered thoughts. I take things to their extremes and end up ignoring what I actually want and need, putting food on some moralistic pedestal and patting myself on the back for all the foods I don’t eat. Food philosophies can be great for some people, but they aren’t that healthy for me – at least not right now. Having a justification does not make it a rational choice – it’s still entirely motivated by anorexia. It’s really not helpful for me to place any restrictions on myself because my overarching aim shouldn’t be to have a perfectly clean diet, but to get healthy and have a more normal, less obsessive relationship with food. Most people don’t think twice about picking up a quick bite to eat from Gregg’s if they’re hungry and on the go and I want that too. Ok so maybe not Gregg’s, but you get the idea. I don’t want to constantly have to carry a little pot of seeds around for if I get hungry and there isn’t anything “clean” enough around. I want to be able to share chips with my friends and have micro-meals with the boy and get chinese and eat poptarts and have hung over breakfasts at greasy cafes and eat bloody sausages again. That used to be my normal and I don’t want to settle for less than that. Scanning ingredient lists on chocolate bars to make sure it’s not too processed is not a fun way to live. If I let fear impose restrictions on my diet, these things will forever be out of my reach. I want to feel good about something that isn’t just another way to restrict myself. I want to feel good because I’m joining in rather than the superiority I get from avoiding what other people don’t feel the need to even think about.
So yes, clean eating is a nice enough idea, but for me, it’s only a way of moralising food that’ll perpetuate my fears of so many foods I used to enjoy. Nobody has a perfect diet, but I’m pretty sure the closest you can get to one involves eating both the foods you like and the foods your body needs. You can’t just live on vegetables the same way you can’t just live on sweet and sour chicken. Everything in moderation.
I’m deciding not to eat clean. And I’ll eat my nutella to prove it.