Hiding in plain sight

Like an enemy lying in wait, the anorexic mindset exists among us. Perhaps not in its most extreme, brutal state, but in the comments and remarks, actions and decisions many of us make every single day. Choosing not to eat that slice of cake in a café, picking the lowest calorie salad for lunch, running that extra mile in the morning despite your sore feet and aching muscles. The vast majority of us have these niggling voices in our minds, always judging and bargaining and instructing us about what to eat and what to do. Our inner critic, making a carefree, joyful existence seem like a distant fantasy.

Of course, our imaginary gremlins criticise us over far more than just the food we consume or the exercise we complete. Our careers, perhaps, or our education, berating us for not achieving the highest grades or securing a promotion. Maybe we don’t work hard enough or act selflessly enough or have enough friends. Or perhaps these viscous voices thrive off our feeling of general inadequacy, of not being quite as talented as a sibling or as successful as a neighbour.

But it seems that these days, our relationship with food and exercise is so loaded and complicated that it’s easy for the devils inside our minds to abuse this vulnerability. Never to the same extent as today have morals been attributed so profoundly to what we eat, as if our self-worth and our food choices are inextricably entwined concepts strongly influenced by one another. We choose to eat kale and we are good, clean, pure. We choose chocolate, and suddenly we are bad, monstrous beings with no self respect or self control, and our deep-rooted demons exploit this society-driven ideal by inflicting upon us feelings of guilt, shame and unworthiness.

Somewhere along the way, something has gone very wrong indeed. Marketing companies are advertising foods as guilt free, perpetuating the presumption that we should feel ashamed for responding to our most fundamental human need. In adverts and television shows, in books and on social media, women are consistently conveyed as hungry, unsatisfied and restricted, forever pursuing the ultimate goal of thinness, masked effectively beneath the accepted euphemism of health. Obliterated are healthy attitudes towards food, and in their place a world where every decision to nourish our bodies is weighted with anxiety, panic and confusion. A world where we label food as good and bad. Where entire food groups are shunned in favour of supposed good health. Where what we put into our mouths has become more important than what we put out into the universe.

The anorexic mindset has become the norm. Feeling guilty for eating is like feeling guilty for breathing. We have been taught to feel ashamed of our basic human needs, and that is wrong. That’s what needs to change: not what we are eating or doing or feeling, but what society is promoting. A beautifully baked slice of chocolate cake, nourishing for the body and nourishing for the soul, will always be a billion times healthier than society’s vision of health, one of deprivation, starvation and shame.