How many of you out there follow a blog that features “What I Ate Wednesday?” Raise your hands high, now–and then look around. I bet you see a lot of (imaginary, virtual) hands in the air.
During the days of my second relapse with EDNOS (circa 2009), I discovered food bloggers. You know the ones–run by stick-thin plant-based runners* with high-quality cameras and perfect, stick-thin plant-based running boyfriends with cute pseudonyms based on the blog title.** The ones who post their workouts followed by high-res pictures of their oatmeal with peanut butter mixed in (a “treat meal” for after their long run).
Around the time I discovered food bloggers, I also happened to be obsessed with “clean eating” and bodybuilding, so my days were full of “good” bad food habits: eating 200 calorie “meals” made of protein, protein, and protein (with vegetables) every 3 hours and hours spent lifting weights and pedaling away on the arc trainer at high intensity every single day.
Because I wasn’t working at the time, my days (post-workout) were spent standing in “my corner” in the kitchen (I was too high-strung to sit), reading these blogs, and starving until I could prepare and eat my next “meal.”
Like an alcoholic who goes to a bar just to sit and watch others drink, I followed the women who wrote those health blogs, feeding myself on the imagined enjoyment of the “decadent” foods they’d post on “What I Ate Wednesday.”
Why We “What I Ate”
Now, I understand why so many people feel the need to document their meals–many of these bloggers have gone through fitness-and-weight-loss journeys and have turned their lives–and their pantries–around. They’re now examples for thousands of other men and women who are looking to live better, healthier lives.
Posting pictures of food is now such a pervasive part of our society (thanks, Instagram!) that it seems necessary to document each green smoothie or “hugh jass salad;” however, I think that, for all of the good that could potentially come out of it, “What I Ate Wednesday” is becoming a way for other men and women to do like me and turn it into a way to feed their disordered eating habits.***
If you look back at my story, you’ll note that I wasn’t diagnosed an anorexic until very late in the game. For the majority of the last 13 years before my recovery, I was a closeted EDNOS (eating disorder not otherwise specified), and my habits looked more like yo-yo and fad diets than a clinically diagnosed disorder. Even when I was diagnosed with anorexia, I wasn’t purposely starving myself: I was following the “Eat-Clean Diet” and supposedly prepping for a bikini competition.
And for a lot of us out there who maybe just have bad relationships with food but haven’t had a doctor say, “Get help,” disordered behaviors like obsessively reading food blogs can go completely under the radar.
Here’s how, in hindsight, I realize that there was something wrong:
What I Ate Wednesday (or even food blogs that posted their meals on a regular basis) became my by-proxy nourishment. I felt fulfilled imagining all of the “amazing” and “filling” meals I could make. I was excited by ingredients that I would never actually go out and try (even if they were healthy) because they interrupted my established food routine. But because someone was cooking with them, and I had developed a weird, one-sided, parasocial relationship with these women who had let me into their lives and their kitchens, I almost felt like I had made the recipe myself.
But I’m Only Interested in Food Porn…
At the same time, in a slightly ironic–though not unsurprising in hindsight–twist, while I was reading my health blogs for “fitspiration” and “clean” protein “pudding” recipes, I was also watching the Food Network (literally all day) and browsing the #foodporn on baking blogs. In between bites of chicken breast with frozen stir-fry mix sautéed without fat, I was bookmarking recipes for triple layer brownies and drooling over the meaty absurdities on Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives.
As I starved myself on protein shakes, I dreamed of all of the recipes I would someday make, salivating over the thought that I might someday taste a forbidden, “unclean” chocolate chip cookie. But since I was too scared to indulge in a “clean” “treat” like protein powder cookie dough or “cookie dough” oatmeal, there was no way in hell that actual cookie dough would make its way into my kitchen. (Thank god Pinterest didn’t exist at the time, or I guarantee you I would have had a board dedicated to food I “wanted” to make, but never actually would.)
Sometimes I would make the recipes I’d found and give them to my parents and siblings without tasting them myself just so that I could appease my cravings with the visceral act of making brownies. Just as I had salivated over the pictures on the food blogs, having the Maillard reaction happening in my oven was enough to “keep me accountable” to my “lifestyle” (read: diet).
If I “What I Ate Wednesday,” Do I Have an Eating Disorder?
Not necessarily, no. There are a ton of incredible food blogs out there, from plant-based to Paleo, and they’re fantastic resources for recipes (are often written by really wonderful people with interesting lives).
But if you find yourself obsessing over food blogs without ever actually intending to cook any of it–from the Hugh Jass Salad to the Protein-Oatmeal-Peanut-Butter-Sludge to the Triple-Decker-Actual-Brownie-Plus-Cookie-Dough-Plus-Cookies-n-Creme-Frosting–then, yeah, you might want to reassess.
Are you giving your body the proper nutrition it needs, or are you feeding your senses on someone else’s meal?
Do you spend more time on the blogs than you do in the kitchen, and does your RSS read like a bucket list of “fear foods” you don’t want to want?
I think it’s worth looking at your motivation for reading these blogs, just as it’s worth looking at the bloggers’ motivation for writing them. Remember: there’s no regulatory body for blogs, so you have to take everything you read with a grain of (pink Himalayan sea) salt. While you’re living vicariously through marathon weekends and carb loads, through yoga detoxes and green smoothies, through Crossfit competitions and grain-free bacon cupcakes (whatever your poison may be!), ask yourself: am I reading this for inspiration, fitspiration, or punishment? DoI look forward to these recipes because I will use them to augment my own health or nutrition, or because they look good on my Pinterest board? Am I covering or suppressing a craving by living it vicariously? Am I torturing myself with images of foods I believe I can’t have?
Above all, ask yourself:
Why do I care what you ate?
Do you read “What I Ate Wednesday” posts (or food blogs in general)? What are your reasons for reading and following? How can you change your habits while still continuing to enjoy keeping up with your favorite bloggers’ lives?
*Not trying to discriminate–those were just the types of blogs I found and followed
**Mr. Fit-Butt, or whatever. If you’ve read these blogs, you know what I’m talking about.
***This is NOTHING against recipe blogs at all. I think it’s awesome that there are those of you out there who share your kitchen adventures. As with everything in the health, fitness, and nutrition world, I think there’s a tipping point between sharing your latest creation with an included recipe and documenting every single salad you eat down to the calorie.