Body Image

Clean Eating: the Other Emotional Eating

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I am warning against subconsciously accepting the messages of the new “cult of clean,” and using food in a way it was never meant to be used. I am asking you to reflect on your attitudes towards food and the “evangelical” messages you receive from others, from a rational perspective, considering deeply before internalizing.

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When you think about juice cleanses, clean eating, high-intensity exercise routines, gluten/dairy/soy/sugar/fat/wheat/carb/etc-free eating, what comes to mind? Do you think “emotional eating?” We are quick to label the eating of ice cream, chocolate, casseroles, and cookies as emotional eating, regardless of whether they are being misused or enjoyed as a part of a healthy, intuitive diet. At the same time, we are very slow to label the use of “clean eating” as “emotional eating.”

Yet how often do we use eating behaviors to try to assuage our guilt?

How often do we turn to them to try to cope with anxiety? How often do we rely on them to try to cover our insecurities? Unfortunately, we do this very often.

Our society has deified food, making eating a form of religion.

When we feel dirty, sinful, lazy, insecure, sad, terrified, lonely, etc., we turn to the rituals and practices of our new religion.

We hope if we can just eat clean enough, just avoid food temptations enough, just exercise enough, just approach perfection enough, just be admirable enough, we will achieve salvation from what ails us.

We turn to the “priests” of our new religion — eighteen year old girls online or pseudo-professionals on a blog or the man next door who evangelizes about how his new religion has cured each and every ailment, physical and emotional, he has ever had.

Unfortunately, this new “religion” is more like a cult,

with misinformation abounding, all out-group experts (the only real experts in this discussion) written off as ignorant, indoctrination subtle but infiltrating, increasingly intense demands, and severe consequences for leaving.

More importantly, this new type of emotional eating is just as ineffective and harmful as consuming a gallon of ice cream to deal with anxiety, guilt, or sadness.

It is rationally obvious no amount of food or food behaviors can solve an issue at an emotional level.

However, the cult-like aspects of the “clean eating” culture often mean we implicitly accept the deification of eating as savior before first looking at it from a rational point of view.

Consequently, rational, intelligent people end up in a self-perpetuating cycle, in which the failure to achieve the impossible frustrates them into reattempting the same impossible task. The result? They are drawn even deeper into the cult of “clean.”

Not only do they have no chance of salvation through the new cult, but they also end up at risk for harm. The more they fail, the more extreme their attempts. For a percentage of the population, this could end fostering an eating disorder such as anorexia, orthorexia, bulimia, or binge eating.

For almost all of the population, this will end up fostering an unhealthy relationship with food, body, and self.

Self-hate, low self-efficacy, low self-esteem, frustration, and guilt often result. Relationships, hobbies, work, and rest are often shoved into second-place, leading to a poorer quality of life.

Furthermore, such extreme attempts can have negative effects on the physical body because when eating and exercise behaviors are used for purposes they weren’t intended for, they can be dangerous. True, intuitive wellness is no longer the goal, and thus the risk for overuse injuries, menstrual irregularities, nutrient deficiencies, fatigue, weakness, depression, digestion problems, and anxiety, rises.

Healthy eating and attempts to improve one’s diet, when used correctly, are positive endeavors for many people. I am in no way discouraging consultation with a health professional in order to work towards a healthier, more balanced, more intuitive, approach to eating.

Instead, I am warning against subconsciously accepting the messages of the new “cult of clean,”

and using food in a way it was never meant to be used. I am asking you to reflect on your attitudes towards food and the “evangelical” messages you receive from others, from a rational perspective, considering deeply before internalizing.

I am asking you to be honest with yourself about whether you are an emotional eater, and then take whatever steps (this may require professional help) are necessary to make a change!

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Elizabeth currently holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology and is planning to work towards becoming a licensed clinical social worker. Elizabeth feels blessed to have been surrounded with support during her journey with depression, and she is passionate about using her experiences and education to bless people in the same way she was blessed. She hopes that as a contributor to Libero, she will be able to provide very practical support.


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