Back in the day, all it took to be a healthy human being was a basic diet of tatties, veg and the occasional portion of tinned spam, a bit of walking (fetching the groceries) and a bit of housework (beating rugs, scrubbing period stains out of linen by hand).
Nowadays we’re a little more fussy, and a common or garden health regime typically includes:
- Gadgets: household appliances for a very niche set of tasks, e.g. extracting the juice from kale; squeezing raw courgette into spaghetti-like strings
- Whole foods: lentils, black rice, other poncey grains, chia seeds, granola, almond butter, coconut flour…
- Trendy vegetables: kale grown by Douglas & Phoenicia Potter of Ayredale’s Farm, Upper Wallop in Gloucestershire; purple sprouting broccoli; smashed avo; acai berries
- Gym membership: £70/mo is considered a reasonable expenditure
- Faddy classes: Extreme Yoga (like normal yoga but in carefully-controlled 45-degree heat with 1kg weights strapped to your wrists and ankles), or Boot Kampf (outdoor group exercise run by sadistic ex-army general, in which if you can’t human javelin your friend to a length of 20 metres, you’re forced to complete 50 press-ups using one arm only)
- The embrace of extremes: size zero, zero-gluten/dairy, juice cleanses, 48-hour fasts
- Running: everyone’s doing a 10k these days
- Being vegan: but not for medical reasons and not because you object to killing cows
These fads seem prevalent among the LYP (London Young Professional), a particularly fruitful demographic for ridicule. Why? I think there are two strands to the problem.
1. Expecting a band aid to cure a bullet wound
Is it because we insist on taking jobs that force us to sit still all day, or keep us there till it’s too dark to walk or run outside? Because we’re too lazy to exercise without the knowledge that we’ve paid for the gym to spur us on? To compensate for bouts of chain drinking and smoking brought on by the stress of said jobs or the peer-pressured lifestyle? Because we can’t but follow the pack? Because we’re hooked on the dopamine hit that exercise gives? Because we can think of nothing better to do with our time?
If any of these is the case, investing time and money in diet and exercise fads won’t solve your root problem, but will suck you in and get you addicted before you can take stock of your spiralling costs: one does not simply join a gym until one gets fit – one then has to continue to invest to maintain one’s fitness; one does not simply juice cleanse one’s way to thinness and then go back to Burger King; that’s a sure way to yo-yo in and out of one’s favourite jeans. It puts a patch on the problem after creating it, rather than fixing the problem itself, which seems to be meaningless and/or gruelling jobs; low mood; lack of motivation and drive; addiction; in other words, that well-known virus of lifestylus occidentalis or Western-Lifestyle-itis.
Unfortunately, buying quinoa instead of pasta won’t solve my life or the Western lifestyle at large, and is no longer particularly counter-cultural; it probably feeds us (and those who grow the grain) far far less than it feeds whichever big corp packages, distributes and markets it.
2. I’ve got 99 problems – self-esteem is all of them
Here is the possible second set of reasons for our flourishing industry of fads: is it that we’re incredibly insecure about our looks and will go to any lengths to look good? Is it because we’re so desperate that we’ll believe the first person, and then the next, and then the one after that, who tells us they’ve cracked the secret to a healthy hot bod? Is it because we actually hate ourselves and our bodies and want to punish them/us by snacking on bird food instead of chocolate?
Why is this? Despite more and more advertisers putting out ‘body positive’ messages of encouragement to ‘real women’ (e.g. Dove), the images that bombard us every day are still more likely to have us wondering whether we’re ‘beach body ready’ or crying over our lack of thigh gap, bikini bridge, A4 waist, etc. Do we really want healthy bodies, or do we primarily want thin bodies?
Here is a picture of my 19-year-old torso:
At that time, I GENUINELY believed I was fat. I’m sure we’ve all suffered some form of body dysmorphia; even in its mildest form, it is painful and annoying to feel like a suboptimal human every time we look in the mirror. Now that I’m a little rounder, older and wiser, it’s hard for me to believe that I honestly gave credence to that thought, which was so obviously untrue. I’m not sure where I first got the idea that I needed to fix the one inch of pinchable flesh between my hipbones; maybe I compared myself to naturally thinner friends, or maybe I had internalised the Victoria’s Secret ideal. I’m posting this to try and show how wrong self-perception can be (and how unnecessary extreme remedies would have been, had I invested in them), and how easy it is to start hating ourselves in consequence.
While I’m still as guilty as anyone of paying over the odds for a Waitrose avocado in the vague hope that it will trim some of the excess baggage off my hips, nowadays I at least try and remember that emaciated chic was not always all the rage. Once upon a time, you could have a chubby tum, small boobs, thick hips and unexplained bumps and be the epitome of female beauty:
And I don’t imagine Paleolithic woman could in fact be bothered with the Paleo diet:
If you go home from your alternative spin class (‘5k to Kim K: cycle your way to a hot bod while making cocktails and networking’) to spiralize a plate of brussels sprouts into your mouth, just make sure you’re actually, for health reasons, required to spend more time on the cross-trainer than with your friends. If you’re attempting to sweat out the toxins from your traumatising job, or if you’re, like, a size 10 (to give but one example), then you probably don’t need to be spending money to put your body under near-torture conditions of deprivation; you probably just need a new job, or an attitude adjustment. I wish that we could all detach ourselves a little from the demands of the trendy lifestyle, and the fitness and beauty industries that know just how to make us feel we need what they’re selling. I wish that we could all refuse to let self-worth or other issues spiralize out of control.