British summer is always guaranteed to bring several things: a disappointing lack of sun, an influx of Brits flocking to seaside resorts; and the flooding of social media with ‘hot dog legs’ and bikini body selfies. For the latter of these, you can almost be sure that both women and men from around the country have undertaken a ‘fad diet’ to ensure their photographs achieve as many ‘likes’ as possible.Whilst many look on with body envy, the realists amongst us can see beyond the aesthetics; we have to ask ourselves – ‘Is all as it seems?’.
As you will know, I have previously expressed my interest in the publishing industry. At the moment, I am particularly interested in the marketing of food and drink books. The UK Health food industry is worth an estimated £2 billion pounds, and it is impossible to go into a local store recently without being bombarded by the newest healthy cook book or fitness regime. Over the past few years, particularly through the rise of the internet ‘vlogger,’ this market has been expanding exponentially.
Two of these internet sensations whom focus on ‘healthy lifestyle’ are Niomi Smart and Ella Mills – more commonly known as Deliciously Ella. Both of these women have adopted plant based vegan diets for a range of reasons. They have both become extremely successful business women and have millions of followers on their YouTube channels. Both of these women have publicly shared their lifestyles through videos and blogs and have created cookbooks sharing their own recipes. Alongside this are notes and advice on how you can change your lifestyle too. It is worth noting these women are naturally beautiful and slim, so you can already sense the hoards of young teenage girls desperately attempting to recreate their look; whether this is detrimental to their health or not. It’s so easy to be drawn in by an image, that’s the terrifying reality of marketing.
I have a variety of friends both from home and university who have adopted similar lifestyles. I adopt the ‘live and let live’ philosophy to life but I do not appreciate being preached to or told that, in their opinion, I’m living an aspect of my life incorrectly. These health bloggers merely suggest the lifestyle changes; there is no pressure to conform from them. But we must consider: ‘When does the desire for a healthy lifestyle transform into a compulsion for an healthy obsession?’
Science vs Social Networking
One night I was flicking through the TV channels and came across a programme on BBC One called ‘The Truth About Healthy Eating’. The programme focused on disproving the variety of health myths that have infiltrated through society, through scientific testing and research:
“The market in dietary supplements is worth a staggering £13.5 billion worldwide, as more people turn to ‘miracle’ fat loss or muscle-building products. Yet many of the claims behind them are unsubstantiated, the ‘miracles’ unrealistic, and in some instances, even dangerous”
When reading recipes which advertise this type of lifestyle the same common ingredients are cropping up each time. During a supermarket trip, the presenter accumulated goji berries, chia seeds, coconut oil, kale and red quinoa – all advertised for their health benefits. The cost of this small basket came in at £36! However, when a nutritionist sought out substitute ingredients with the same nutritional value she picked up: rapeseed oil, sesame seeds, pearl barley and fresh spring greens. This basket came to £6. Throughout the programme, they also visited a variety of research universities an found there was little or no difference in the nutritional value of ‘superfoods’ to normal high street produce.
I’ve always had an interest in cooking healthy meals. Ever since I’ve been living on my own, as a student, I have been especially keen not to gain excessive weight through alcohol and takeaways. I’ve since realized that takeaways are a necessary evil when you have deadlines due, or just can’t be bothered cooking! So when I came home from university this summer I decided to conduct my own experiment to see if this ‘revolutionary new lifestyle choice’ is the way we should all be looking.
‘Big missed steak?’
Over several weeks (whilst sticking to a firm budget!), I overhauled my diet to ‘plant based vegan’. As this was merely a point to prove I allowed myself small cheats, if I wanted to eat meat then no one was going to stop me. I started small, swapping packet porridge to homemade creations with almond milk for breakfast. Personally, I absolutely loved this, because porridge always makes me feel full all day and I got a small kick out of the health benefits. Plus I could add my own flavours such as apple and cinnamon or blueberries and vanilla which I found to be gorgeous! I will probably continue with porridge for breakfast – though I must emphasize, for the taste rather than the nutritional benefits.
Another breakfast which was recommended from various cook books were ‘chia pots’ These include the magical namesake ingredient chia seeds which apparently are packed with everything you’ll ever need but are probably the most overrated and extortionately priced seeds you will ever come across . These are made by combining almond milk, coconut yoghurt, oats, chia seeds and fruit of your choice in a jar and refrigerating it for at least 6 hours, (I left mine over night).These were more complex to make and not as filling as the porridge. Therefore, I found them adequate as a breakfast if I had grown tired of porridge, or if I needed to get to work quickly in a morning; however I would find myself snacking through the day to fill myself up.
The next step for me was to incorporate smoothies. With the British population spending more than £250 billion on smoothies a year, you would expect these drinks to be packed full of everything you’d ever need. I found an old blender from the back of the cupboard and threw in the basic ingredients in the fridge such as oranges, frozen berries and spinach (which often turned my creations a fetching shade of green). Added to this came the ‘superfoods’ such as chia seeds or other such innocuous berries which were meant to provide the protein. Similarly to the porridge, I loved these smoothies and found they were delicious and did make me feel fuller and healthier so I might still have one once in a while – as long as it’s not a meal replacement.
The main problem I faced with this diet was healthy lunches or dinners. I could get away with a bowl of cous cous with vegetables for lunch, but the main meals were packed full of too many expensive ingredients for me. I also disliked the insinuation that I must remove meat from my diet. As a student, my main meals would consist of staples such as chicken or fish alongside potatoes and vegetables. As this was not possible in a vegan diet, I found myself filling up on grains and vegetables, which would leave my energy levels horrendously low, which lead to me sleeping more than usual and an inability to get out of bed some mornings.
Overall, during the few weeks living this way, I found that I lost a lot of weight and my clothes were much looser but this all came at a price. I soon found that I had no energy to do normal things without effort. One night I was doing the washing up and found myself sitting against the cupboard in the kitchen, trying to find the strength to stand up. So yes I’m thinner, but was it all worth it? I came to my senses that I’d started to take things too far when my family started to worry about me. My boyfriend told me over the phone one night:
“I want my happy, bubbly girlfriend back! I don’t like it because you’re down, you’re completely shattered and I’m not sure what I can do to help?”
Maybe the lack of energy was because I wasn’t following the diet to the exact letter? But if it was my unwillingness to spend my entire student loan in Holland and Barrett that caused my lethargic behaviour then this lifestyle is beyond ridiculous. I’m not in a position to criticize those who choose this lifestyle though, many do it for health reasons. But if you are one of those social media, image obsessed fanatics then you may want to reassess. Yes you’ll be thinner: countless people have asked me if I’ve lost weight, and undeniably, it’s a good feeling but if that comes with less money, energy and a taxing amount of time spent sourcing and creating these meals. Ask yourself who the real winner is here. Is it you with your ‘hot dog’ legs and 100 likes on your Facebook selfie, laden with comments about how you ‘slay’ or how you are ‘body goals’? Or is the rest of us over here laughing with our wine because we can eat pizza without caring about calories, gluten or carbohydrates and knowing this way of life, in moderation, will make us healthier and happier.
As for me, I’ll stick to being healthy – to me that’s not defined as having no energy!
Do you comply by the rules of a specific diet? Maybe you’ve picked one up to get yourself ‘beach ready’? Let me know your thoughts on healthy eating in the comments below.