The Health Fever

If sometimes you wonder and search around for the best and most effective ways to get healthy... I don't have a straightforward answer for you. But I'm pretty sure that despite popular opinion at the moment, it's probably not Pink Himalayan Salt.

I can't be the only person that has noticed the increasing discussion on social media around health, specifically 'health foods' - stuff like nuts, seeds and healthy ingredient alternatives for baking or cooking. Before I jump into what I think about the whole thing, there are many reasons why the craze has all the potential to be brilliant. Everybody has a Facebook account, 99.9% of people are on twitter and YouTube... so using social media to promote a healthier diet and lifestyle can only be a good thing, right? But there are just as many reasons why the whole thing troubles me.

I want to make it clear that I have no issue with an individuals desire to change their life in a positive way, and concerning diet; I think it's important to be self-aware and not completely oblivious of what you are doing to your body. But this desire to be healthier should be a well informed and healthy desire in itself. I think what I am trying to say would be best explained using a real life example. This is going to be quite a long-winded post, and you might stop and wonder what the hell I'm moaning about - but just bear with me.

I was recently watching a video by Tanya Burr (pixiwoo2 on Youtube) entitled 'Healthy Chocolate Brownie Recipe', which I re-watched for the purpose of this post.

I was sceptical before I even watched the video: 'brownie' and 'healthy' are two words that you wouldn't expect to find in the same sentence. Before I go on, this video isn't exceptional, I have seen numerous ones like it. It just takes a quick search to find one.

In her video, Tanya substitutes the usual ingredients you would find in a regular brownie recipe with apparently healthier substitutes. For instance swapping out caster sugar for coconut sugar, and using ground almonds in place of flour. She explains her reasoning behind this, and the benefits of the substitute ingredients. So far so good, there's nothing wrong with a few facts and figures; and she's right, even a healthy brownie isn't the same as eating a plate of fish and vegetables. But then when she is spouting out all of this information, she uses words like 'awful', 'terrible' and emphasises the correlation between really serious risks like heart disease, depression and increased blood sugar levels (which can lead to diabetes) with butter and sugar.

What I think is really important to establish when talking about quite a serious subject like this is audience and demographic. Going back to what I was saying earlier about an individuals desire to improve their diet and lifestyle, it used to be the case that if you were intending to make these changes, this sort of information was readily accessible, but really only if you were looking for it. Now, it's becoming more the case that this health fever is being imposed on people left, right and centre.

You might say that only you can be responsible for the decisions you make. You don't have to jump on the bandwagon, you don't have to do what your best friend is doing or have the same opinion as the next person. But Tanya's audience, like many other popular Youtubers and bloggers, is predominantly made up of teenagers, a lot of whom are girls fifteen and under. Youtubers are slowly becoming more like celebrities. Every body's heard of the term 'fangirling', and young girls are mostly guilty of it - being so obsessed with a celebrity that nothing they say or do can really interfere with that infatuation and it turns into a sort of worship. This might sound dramatic, but you only need to look at the rabble of screaming girls that turn up at Vidcon just to get close to these people - and this isn't a new culture either, The Beatles had exactly the same effect on people.

Beatles fans outside Buckingham Palace, 1965

For this reason it is not difficult to see how a video like this can be actually quite damaging for the audience that are subjected to it. The celebrity culture, particularly Youtube culture, is largely built on trust. Audiences and fan bases put a lot of trust into what the people they are viewing say. We go out and buy products that they recommend, we visit places they have visited, subscribers are also called 'followers' and we do essentially follow what these people do. Which is why it is dangerous that they are promoting such an ill informed and unrealistic preoccupation with being healthy. The reality is, people have been eating butter, sugar, flour and the likes for generations, and they were all healthier than we are. Depression is an incredibly serious and life threatening mental disorder and to lead young girls to wrongly fear that they might end up depressed if they let a bite of cake pass their lips is irresponsible and thoughtless. These girls are more likely to end up depressed by injecting into them this fear of not being healthy or getting 'fat'. Just like makeup and fashion, eating doesn't have to be a constant worry about what you're putting into your body. It should be fun to create new dishes and to experiment. And it should be easy.

You won't find Coconut Sugar at your local Spar. You won't find Mary Berry putting avocados in her brownies. You won't get depression if you're having pizza for tea. If you want to be healthy; eat in moderation, get your five a day, exercise, and for gods sake, if you want a brownie, eat a bloody brownie.

Paper and Promises

I should probably start by saying that I don't intend for this blog to be a diary. Although this post is going to be a bit 'me, me, me', I thought I ought to introduce myself, before I expect people to trust or even listen to what I have to say.

The prospect of doing this has been playing on my mind for months. I've always enjoyed writing, English being one of the few lessons that actually excited me throughout school. Something else I enjoy, and perhaps do too much of, is voicing my opinion. So, a blog was pretty much the perfect thing to get going on - somewhere I could think and speak freely. I even scribbled down five or six possible blog post ideas while I was sitting waiting to sign on at the job centre, back when I didn't have a job. So I'm not really sure why it's taken me this long.

Confidence, probably. It's not like I didn't have the time, facility or inspiration. When it comes to doing things, I never have a problem planning. In fact I tend to plan relentlessly, mentally noting everything that needs to be done or avoided, writing infinite lists and personal instructions for myself. But then sometimes, that long winded process sort of ends there, and I give up before I've even begun.

I was sifting through what felt like an absolute river of junk in my wardrobe last week and came across a couple of things I didn't know I still had. An old diary, and another filled notepad of around two-hundred pages. I remember beginning and consequently forgetting about endless diaries throughout my childhood, of which I've come across many over the years, with the first few lines of writing going something like 'This time, I promise I really am going to try and keep up writing in here.' And I never did. What a waste of a promise, and paper. But the diary I found last week amongst all the crap in my wardrobe was battered and drawn on, with two years of entries inside. Not just once a month entries, either, but pretty regular ones. I may have missed a couple of months here and there, but it seems I had been pretty persistent.

As for the other notebook, I was pretty shocked to find that at 12 years old I had started, and finished, a two hundred page (bearing in mind it is handwritten) story about a white lion who gets taken to the circus. And I didn't even remember I'd done it. 

The past six months have been very strange. I went to university and came back after two months. I think that would knock a fair bit of self belief out of anybody. I spent the first couple of months looking for a job, found one, applied to university again, and then didn't really put my mind to anything else. I didn't really do anything at all. My song writing hit a brick wall and I stopped reading and singing. I looked at the people around me in awe at the amount of talent and passion people had, and then constantly asked myself why I wasn't doing the same things. For a good amount of time I forgot that I wasn't a robot, I forgot that I had feelings and not an infinite amount of confidence. I forgot that actually, I had just made quite a big life decision, one that caused me relief, but also pain and made me feel to put it rather bluntly, like a failure. Yet I expected to be able to get up, shake it off and get on with life straight away.

Finding my diary, and the story I had written... in the least cheesy way possible, sort of ended what I can only describe now as a bit of a slip up. Recently, I've been writing songs again, reading and I'm hoping this blog becomes another thing I can take pride in.

No, being the author of a rather badly punctuated story about a white lion doesn't mean I'm now sorted for life, but it did confirm for me that if I could produce something like that all those years ago, then perhaps I am capable of a lot more than I give myself credit for sometimes.


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