#CleanEats and Health Food FOMO: Two Ways Social Media Can Mess With Your Mind

Let me paint a scene. You wake up feeling great. You eat breakfast, have a good work out, get ready for work, and then while  sipping on coffee you browse through instagram. You start seeing pictures of dreamy colorful foods, things you don’t have, places you’ve never been and people with your #fitnessgoals. You may start to feel a bit envious. Before you know it, your mood starts to drift southward. “Should I be eating this way? Are my workouts not hard enough? Am I enough? I wish I made more money.” — It can be a pretty quick downward spiral, depending on your emotional state. If you’ve ever experienced something like this, you’re certainly not alone. While I believe social media is a great way to share information and document things, it can also really mess with your psyche, especially when you’re in a vulnerable place.

If you’d asked me a year ago what my thoughts on were on healthy eating and living, you would most certainly get a different answer than you would today. I had started following a few healthy eating and wellness accounts on my personal social media — before I started my own — and began to admire the “healthy” foods I was seeing. I’d always liked cooking well balanced meals, since college really, and decided I wanted to make my own healthy food instagram account. I started posting photos (terrible ones at that) of my meals and snacks, tagging all the brands and sharing recipes. Looking back on that first month or two, I question my motive. Was I really doing it just to share recipes? Was it to feel accountable to healthy eating? Was it to prove to others that I ate healthily? Was I trying to make others view me as healthy? Honestly, I’m not so sure. I do know, that it probably wasn’t coming from the most healthy place. While at face value I looked pretty normal and healthy, under the surface, my on and off again struggle obsessive wellness was coming to a head.

#CLEANEATS

At the beginning of my food and wellness documentation, I followed the example of others and adopted the use of the hashtag #cleaneats, #cleaneating. At the time, it felt like such an innocent tag, one I didn’t think twice about. One that I just so robotically threw on to the list of hashtags I was using for each post and continually used for months. I never associated it with being a problem, But after really coming to terms with my own struggle, I can reflect and realize the underlying issues.

First, it drove me to feel like I needed to only post photos of foods that were deemed worthy of a #cleaneats tag. This led me to start classifying foods as “clean” or “not clean,” which is one of the biggest cornerstones of how healthy eating can so quickly become unhealthy. #Cleaneats can seem like no biggie, like you’re simply stating that what you’re consuming is healthy, but the problem is that by saying something is a “clean” food you’re insinuating that other foods are “not clean,” and therefore bad. When a food becomes “bad”, negative feelings such as guilt or lack of power can becomes associated with the food and it can drive disordered thoughts and behaviors; the need to avoid the foods that are not clean.

Look, there is nothing wrong with striving to eat well, but we are living in a time where it is easier than ever to feel levels of stress and anxiety when it comes to eating and living well. Social media is a very powerful and influential tool, and has such an impact on impressionable young people. #Cleaneats is one of those things that can stare a person in the face and make them feel like they could be eating healthier than they are or make them feel guilty and anxious about eating something that doesn’t fall under those parameters. I truly feel like my use of this hashtag last summer is one of the main reasons I took a break from Instagram at the end of the summer and had to reevaluate what I was trying to accomplish with my account. I would feel guilt when I was eating meals that I couldn’t possible post to my account, which is so f–ed up, right?

Food is food, an inanimate object with no conscious ability to be good or bad. A food becomes good or bad based on the judgement we pass. and I as well as so many others are ready for the conversation to not be about clean eating or deeming a food as straight up good or bad. Instead,the focus needs to be on listening to your body and treating it well; Nourishing yourself with real, wholesome, less/non-processed foods as often as possible, but also not feeling guilty when eating pizza or a cookie or savoring a large glass of wine. I stopped using the clean eating tag when I started to address my food struggles and began working to erase my black and white classification of food. Meg Dixon and Victoria Myers have said it well in their Nourishing Women Podcast: We really need to spend more of our time living in the grey area of wellness. Our daily diets should still consist of mostly fresh and whole foods, but you should also honor your cravings and enjoy those less healthier food items with out guilt or the feeling of needing to “work it off.” I’ll admit, there are still times when this is still a struggle, but there are many more days of where this is not a thought.

Again, I don’t hate instagram. I do love it, and I enjoy it more now that I don’t get wrapped up in what other people are posting. I still like to share the foods I eat and the delicious recipes I make; I find it to be fun. But these days, you won’t find me deeming a food as clean or not. Healthy or unhealthy. Nourishing? Yes. Delicious? Also, yes.  Its the food that fits into my overall wellness in one way or another. The foods I crave and the meals that provide me the right energy — and also the foods that are just too delicious to pass up. Those who follow can feel free to deem my food whatever they please, but my hope is that they too refrain from considering them to be good or bad. How great would it be if we passed less judgement as a whole?

Health & Wellness FOMO

If you have no idea what FOMO is, its the Fear Of Missing Out. As I started my accounts and followed new handles, I started to see so many different products and supplements and trends. The collagens, protein powders, adaptogens, probiotics, enzymes and trendy snack foods. Its pretty crazy how quickly you can feel like you need these things in order to live well, and even crazier how big of a bill you can rack up at Whole Foods when you try and purchase all of the said items. This Health and Wellness FOMO can be pretty intense as you start to compare your nutrition, products and routine to others. Early on in my instagram days, I was still very new, influenceable and lost as I navigated the wellness space. I don’t think I quite understood how influencer marketing worked and the fact that so many of these people were not necessarily buying all of these products they were pictured using. Many of them are ads. Some ads: very genuine and done by people who use the product they are advertising, while others not so much.

I found it pretty tempting and alluring to seek out many of these buzzy wellness items in the first few months of instagramming and blogging, but I started to wonder, “is this seriously all necessary for my wellness?” I mean how many superfoods do I really need to consume in a day? I started to find it hard to believe that people have a place for every single wellness trend in their daily life. It makes me completely exhausted just thinking about cramming every supplement, superfood or buzzy ingredient in to my own routine!

So I want you to know; I get it. Its very easy to feel like you need every product that you see others using, but let me assure you, you can be well without. These products are not the be all end all to health and wellness and you are not necessarily any more or less healthy by using these or not! Now don’t get me wrong, some products are so beneficial and can be so necessary for individuals depending on their own health needs. This is why I urge you to do your research when trying new products, especially supplements. Not everything is meant for everyone. I encourage you to read ingredient labels of “natural” beauty products and understand that just because something works for 90% of the wellness space, doesn’t mean it couldn’t have an ingredient that irritates your own skin (I speak from unfortunate experience on this one).

Your wallet will appreciate me when I say, don’t rush out to buy a new [insert wellness item here] just because you saw a million others using it. I’m not saying don’t try it, if it fits your budget and you think its something you’d benefit from or enjoy, by all means, give it a go. Just don’t feel like you need that product to be living your best and healthiest life, because the odds are that you don’t. Just listen to your own body, give it what it needs, and don’t stress over trying to give it all the extras if its not necessary.

Fitness FOMO

Another way this fear of missing out can get you is in the fitness realm. Its easy to compare the exercise routine of another and feel like you need to do more or get into better shape. Listen because this is important; the only fitness routine you need to worry about doing is the one that makes you feel your best. If high impact/ high intensity intervals have you feeling sore for days on end, you may be better off sticking to lower impact and less intense movement. I’ve said this in previous blog posts: you must find the exercise routine that works for you, no matter what others think you should be doing.

Seeing fitness on instagram can be very triggering to people and make them feel like their fitness is inadequate or that their bodies are inadequate. Please, I urge you to not let this negatively impact you. Every one and every body is unique and responds differently to stimulus. Seek out what works best for you and do it because its good for your joints and bones and makes you feel happy, not because you are striving to look a certain way.

And a note on the boutique fitness world. It can certainly spark feelings of envy when you see photos or hear about all these awesome boutique fitness classes and studios. If you don’t live in a major city, you’re instantly going to have less of gym/studio/class selection. Or maybe you do live in a major city, but don’t have the funds to go to these classes. My advice, having lived in NYC on a tight budget, don’t get upset over things you can’t control. You aren’t going to miraculously make more money, so a monthly membership to soul cycle just might not be in the cards. So compromise. Instead opt to regularly do free online workouts, or go for a walk and enjoy the outdoors. Walking and jogging are always free. Then, as a monthly or once per paycheck treat, attend that Barry’s Bootcamp, or go that Flywheel class! You can still get to enjoy those experiences but on more of an occasional level.

It can be hard to feel like you’re wellness is adequate when you see others able to do these fancy classes all the time, but the only thing thats really important to your health and wellness is that you’re just doing some sort of movement!

Final Thoughts

Looking back, I’m glad I created my initial food focused, #cleaneating instagram because it led me to finally start addressing my own struggle with healthy eating/obsessive exercise. It was also a large stepping stone in starting a blog and finding a new focus and mission for my life. I just end with encouraging everyone to be mindful with their social media usage, especially when it comes to your health and wellness. Facebook and instagram are great tools for forming communities and finding inspiration but if you’re not in a personally sound place, or are easily influenced, it may be best to steer clear of health and wellness related content. I also urge everyone to only follow accounts that serve themselves and don’t spark feelings of comparison or envy.  If you regularly feel this on instagram, it may be best to just step back and leave the app alone for a bit. At the end of the day, social media is a glimpse of life. The content you see is just a second of time captured in a frame. Don’t compare your entire self to a split second of someone else’s life. Be yourself, and be sound in your own ideals. And the same goes for the opposite; share your life and advice with others if you chose, but make sure in doing so you’re staying genuine,  trying to help others grow or to learn from experience and not intentionally trying to make others feel envious of the life you live or have.

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I would truly love to know what you thought of this blog post. Leave a comment or message me directly and we can keep the conversation moving!

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