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  • Writer's pictureGina Cullen

Modern Social Media's "Health" v. Health

Updated: Jul 2, 2023

In today's age, when one thinks of health, one usually envisions a plate of whole foods, a strict fitness routine, and a lean, trim body. What one is forgetting is that a life of pursuing health reaps different physical outcomes for all people. The truth is that our genetic makeup is what establishes our body's shape, size, and set-point weight. In other words, our bodies have an individualized set point of what health looks like. Yes, weight, size and body composition can be altered through restrictive eating and over-exercising; but our body is put out of its equilibrium when one does so, which is not healthy.


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Disclaimer: I am not a registered dietician, and therefore cannot give medical advice to any who seek it. I can only speak through the words of my dietician's and my experience in recovery. (I will of course share everything I have learned and endured, though!)


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A common video that appears on my For You page goes along the lines of, "What I eat in a day..." and it's filled with smoothies, a diet of "all whole foods," and 10k steps a day. Let's debunk this...


What is a whole food? A whole food is simply a food that is non-processed. Some examples of whole foods are oats, vegetables, nuts, fruits, beans, chicken, etc.. Our bodies thrive off of whole foods, and eating whole foods is healthy! But when done in moderation, eating processed foods is also healthy. Moderation is simply the act of balancing. Many people take the word "moderation" when speaking of processed foods, and then apply it to the idea of once a week, once a month, and some, three times a day; However, moderation is individualized to the body and it depends on the food. For example, if I had a large salad with grilled chicken for lunch, I may go lighter on vegetables at dinner, and instead incorporate more fruits instead. The same applies to processed foods and/or the things we identify as desserts.


When one does not allow themselves to eat anything else other than whole foods, or one fears "becoming unhealthy" from eating processed foods, one is experiencing a behavior that is labeled Orthorexia. Many fitness influencers live in denial of their Orthorexia, and claim that they are simply "healthy;" but the argument of what health is can be debated. Is it truly not healthy to have a cookie for dessert after a day of salads, fruits and grilled salmon? The true, dietician-approved answer is: No. You can be healthy while having your cake, and eating it too.


Orthorexia is also very common in one's initial eating disorder recovery, whether it be from compulsive exercising, anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and/or binge eating. There is a common fear of allowing of a sweet or processed food when the day is over, as this addition may put one over their usual energy intake. (Fun Fact: If only done every-so-often, most people actually lose weight after a day of intaking more energy than usual. This is due to a short-term increase in metabolism. However, the weight will balance back when normal eating patterns resume, and will increase if overeating becomes a normal behavior.)


Another common fear about allowing sweets or processed foods, even if fitting into one's normal energy intake, is that the composition of their bodies will change. The truth is that the contents of our bodies are constantly communicating with each other, and our bodies will rid the excess nutrients that it does not need unless of course, binging or overeating becomes a regular pattern. This is why metabolism speeds up when we finish a larger meal, or why we sometimes get sick after a high-sugar snack. Sometimes, it's these foods that actually catch our bodies up to where they need to be. And we usually didn't even know it! (When I entered treatment and began consuming food again, I had initially lost 5 pounds - even though I was eating thirteen times the amount of food I had been consuming!)


Many Orthorexic patients will also claim to simply not like processed or "unhealthy" foods, and while that is often true, I can guarantee that every human has had at least one food that is deemed "unhealthy," and enjoyed its taste and dopamine kick. The reason why I don't doubt it when an Orthorexic patient talks poorly of processed food and sweets, is because of the fact that food aversion is a common effect of Orthorexia. Our tongue pallet strips itself every 3 days, and when we mentally and physically restrict or overeat certain foods, our bodies tend to suffer a new repulsion or disinterest of these foods. This, too, would have to be a repeated behavior. (Example: I don't have pizza every 3 days, but I still love pizza because there isn't an added mental or physical restriction!) Our bodies, when suffering from food aversion, then have to be trained to take in certain foods again, without feeling repulsed or un-interested. This is why balanced eating is important; Balanced eating keeps our receptors in check, and doesn't leave us craving or getting tired of certain foods.


With this being said, I would like for those reading to exercise caution when feeling "inspired" by these TikTok health influencers. There are many ways to pursue health, but health is not confined to what you eat. It is also defined by your actual relationship with food. You are allowed to have a cookie a day while exercising the practice of moderation. You are allowed to have rest days from a fitness regimen. You are allowed to sleep until 11am every now and then. You are allowed to enjoy foods that the media has painted to be detrimental to our health.


The moment you feel anxiety over eating that cupcake, ask yourself if it's rational for that one cupcake to stick to your waistline until you burn it off through compulsive exercise, compensating with whole foods for the rest of the week, restricting even harder tomorrow, and/or making yourself sick. The scientifically proven fact is: NO.


Your body is your best friend, even when you are not it's best friend; and it will take you or keep it where it needs to be if you are in turn, giving it what it needs on a regular basis.


With many hugs to your beautiful body,


Gina Cullen


If you are struggling with an Eating Disorder, you are not bound to suffer or heal alone. There are so many hands and hearts who live to help people in your position. You are worthy of a happy life, and you deserve true mental and physical health.

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