In January 2014, I reached my breaking point and decided to take a stand about a fairly controversial topic.
I’d been using Instagram as a ‘food diary’ to help me recover from anorexia nervosa and chronic fatigue syndrome for sixth months at that point – and around that time, many of us within the recovery community had become acutely aware of the pressure on us (and on the general public) to eat clean and only clean.
The Instagram eating disorder recovery community is one where there are many mutual followings. We all saw each others’ posts. Hundreds, if not thousands, of people were all interacting and sharing their struggles in an open forum. This meant shared thoughts, behaviours and ideas had an impact on the whole community – and so these worries only multiplied.
The ‘clean eating’ drive became a pressure that spread like wildfire amongst the recovery community.
Am I recovering the ‘right way’?
Am I meant to be eating this?
Is this ‘healthy enough’?
Will ‘x food’ make me fat?
Questions like the above became more and more commonplace in the community and a sense of doubt seemed to be bubbling up in our little ‘online haven’. A lot of people relied upon this Instagram community to help them recover (particularly if family members or doctors were not supportive). However – it got to the point where people were relapsing into their disordered eating and habits because they felt scared to trust in the recovery process and instead felt they were being judged by their peers. They felt that they didn’t live up to the expectations that had been set by ‘clean eating’ regimes. I was only one of many affected.
I was aware that, like many plans and regimes and lifestyles, clean eating had and still has a lot of supporters. However – something had to change, at least for those in recovery. The last thing people need when recovering from eating disorders and body image issues is a seemingly never-ending list of things they can’t do or can’t eat.
That’s why I started #balancednotclean that January. I didn’t want people to be scared anymore.
I didn’t want people to feel like there’s only one fixed path to being healthy and happy – there isn’t. I wanted to encourage people to drop the idea of whether or not a food is ‘healthy’ or ‘unhealthy’ and instead focus on whether their diet makes them feel good, without sacrificing physical or mental health.
I wasn’t saying that ‘clean’ foods like quinoa, chia seeds and banana ice cream are off limits and I wasn’t saying that fast-food meals, chocolate and cake are bad either. #balancednotclean is about taking perspective of your diet and mindset as a whole, rather than scrutinising individual ingredients or meals. This is why so many people from so many walks of life have adopted it.
It seemed my feelings really struck a chord; the hashtag #balancednotclean now has 304,662 posts as of me writing this post.
It started with a small group of us using the hashtag in our food posts as we documented our recovery intakes, but it soon spread out of the recovery community into those such as Instagram’s ‘#fitfam’ and to health bloggers such as those on this site.
As it continued to grow, I decided to start afresh on a new Instagram account once I had reached weight restoration so I could continue to talk about #balancednotclean and how people can find their balanced of food and fitness. My own ideas surrounding #balancednotclean continued to grow too. Building a website from scratch became my summer project while school was out and with this, I kickstarted my blog (which is where I post reviews, recipes, recovery information, personal and fitness posts). Every day, I committed myself to at least one ‘little’ task – even if it was just designing a logo or updating the URL of a page. Bit by bit, my vision took shape and became real.
However, it wasn’t until 2015 that things really took off. Being weight restored, I found I could enjoy Pilates at home without relapsing into exercise addiction or making my chronic fatigue syndrome worse. I found more inspiration and experimented with my photography and styling and started to develop my interest for fitness and food even more as my health improved. Within the past month, I have found that I love how empowering strength training is.
As #balancednotclean and my Instagram @balancednotclean became more popular, I suddenly found myself being approached by organisations and companies about #balancednotclean. Recently, I was interviewed by BuzzFeed UK about my role within the Instagram recovery community – the article is going to be released soon.
I’m still astonished at how it has grown from one post where I just felt like I had to say something. I didn’t think anyone would listen – at the time, I was only 14. I’ve gone from being unable to eat fruit because it’s ‘not in a pre-portioned packet’ to being able to have meals out, unknown calories, barbeques and social outings without worrying.
Being told I’ve managed to help and inspire others with my journey is a responsibility, but definitely one that is incredibly motivating.
The support I’ve had has been phenomenal – sure, not everyone agrees, but that’s okay. It was never about forcing people to eat – or think – a certain way. I’m now focussing more on learning about the science behind recovery, exercise and nutrition so that I can continue to make a difference in a healthy way.
If you take only one thing away from this post, let it be this: if you have something you really believe in or want to make a difference with, speak up.
Even if you feel like no one will listen or care, the internet is an amazing catalyst for change. If someone had told me two years ago that I would no longer be afraid of food, that I would be happy and that I would spark an online movement with thousands of followers, I never would have believed them. But sometimes, all you need to do is believe in yourself and believe in your vision. As the cliché goes – who knows where it will lead?