I will have my slice of cake and eat it – and no it’s not “cheating”!
As a certified foodie who also loves the gym, in (far too much of) my free time I browse the web for new food blogs to follow and recipes to try out. When my two interests of exercise and food combine, I’m faced with wealth of ‘eat fit’ instagram pages and a whole load of health food blogs.
I make an effort to cook and feed myself balanced, interesting meals which will provide me with all the energy I need to keep me going on long work days followed by tough gym sessions. But don’t get me wrong – it’s not all green and glory. I bake a lot, and therefore – I eat a lot of cake! I also happen to love ice-cream…don’t know how ‘nutritionally balanced’ we can call that. And if I grab a bag of crisps while I’m out (or more likely a delicious fried empanada while I’m living out here Colombia), well that’s just fine too. Or is it?
Recently, there seems to be an obsession with ‘clean’ food and it’s apparent opposite – so called ‘cheat’ foods, which are deemed to be some form of ‘sin’. It is important that we know what’s going into our bodies. We should not be eating foods that have a shelf life of a zillion years and would survive a nuclear bombing. Ideally, we should eat fresh foods, and have a diet that contains copious amounts of nutrient rich and all round good fruit and veg. But…if you eat a snickers bar, you’re not eating ‘dirty’. You haven’t ‘cheated’, and that packaged bar of choccy delight is not a sin.
Susie Orbach, author of the famous book Fat is a Feminist issue, has commented on how food can become a “completely fetishised and privileged thing”. If we treat eating certain ‘dirty’ foods as “cheating”, and something we will only do as a reward after having eaten majority ‘clean’ food for the rest of the week, are we not just perpetuating this concept?
This fixation on what food is clean, pure, or natural leads to something Steven Bratman has described as “righteous eating” – an obsession on food quality and purity, and in its extreme it has actually been recognised as an eating disorder, orthorexia. If this sounds like a far-fetched reaction to certain people just trying to eat healthy, perhaps you should think again. Anyone refusing to touch sugar, salt, caffeine, alcohol, wheat, gluten, yeast, soya, corn and dairy foods may fall into the category of orthorexia. It’s one thing to be a celiac whose body genuinely cannot process gluten, and another to eliminate dairy and carbs because you believe it is better for your body, with no real medical evidence to validate the exclusion of two entire food groups from your diet.
Deanne Jade, founder of the National Centre for Eating Disorders, has commented on how “modern society has lost its way with food”. It is important that we take the time to eat well, and understand what food is going to provide us with the energy, vitamins, and necessary nutrients and fats we need to function and live as happy, healthy individuals. Food is important, there is no doubting that. Eat McDonalds every day and you ain’t going to feel good. But treating a slice of cake as some kind of ‘cheat meal’ defies the whole point of any efforts to eat well in the first place. If it’s all about balance and moderation, then as the old phrase goes, that’s got to apply to moderation itself.
So what’s the solution? In no way do I want to claim that people making the effort to live healthily have got it all wrong. We’ve got one body, so we should feed it well! Despite however lazy we may be, where possible we should avoid having our bottoms stuck to chairs all day every day. Who said you had to join to a gym to do exercise? Run/skip/swim/box/play football/find your zen through yoga/head to a CrossFit class and try your hand at some weightlifting and gymnastics – whatever the hell tickles your pickle, but the point is there’s a million ways to get our bodies moving. And while you’re eating your fruit and veg, running through the meadows, I’ll quote you my favourite food personality, the great Anthony Bourdain – “your body is not a temple, it’s an amusement park. Enjoy the ride.”
(I’d like to credit two excellent articles published in The Guardian online which helped me with this article: Fitspo, how strong became the new skinny by Roisin Kiberd and Healthy food obsession sparks a new obsession by Amelia Hill. Also, thank you to my wonderful friends at CrossFit Leeds for some great opinions about the topic).