Never Enough (or How I Learned Clean Eating is Just an Eating Disorder Trussed Up in Yoga Pants)

The other day in a health focused online group, a member was feeling unwell and seeking advice. She described her eating regimen, so sparse it didn’t even cover the food pyramid let alone allow for new tastes or joyful flavors. She proudly listed the 5 things she allowed herself to eat and wanted to know why she felt so bad when she was eating so “healthy”.

When a kindly dietician gently suggested she might have an eating disorder, she was flabbergasted. 

WHAT!? An eating disorder? but, I’m healthy. I take care of myself.  I eat so CLEAN. 

Reading her self-assured proclamation of health, I burst into tears. For I had been the lady on the other side of the keyboard.

I was a good yogi.

I practiced non-grasping.

I ate only organic, pure, clean foods.

I was good and pure and clean. 

What I was though was in the depths of an eating disorder, but no matter how bad I felt or how many times I overslept or snapped at my family from hunger and exhaustion – I could not see that I had an eating disorder.  No. there’s NO WAY.

See the problem, the reason that I was so sure that there was no way I could possibly have an eating disorder? I wasn’t thin. In fact, at 5 foot 2&¾ some chart in some doctor’s office somewhere proclaimed my current size as overweight and even – HEAVENS TO MERGTROID NO – obese*. 

In other “facts”, my body size was “getting in the way of my yoga practice”, a popular yoga magazine that shall not be named and rhymes with Toga Mournal told me – have you tried these herbs?  I had not, but on my next lunch break at Whole Foods I certainly added them to cart. 

Because there I was, a yoga teacher in the “it” studio in the largest female body of any of the teachers. I must set an example. I am in control. Will power? Have you met me? I am the queen of will power. Once an interviewer asked me – do you always get what you want?  Without even stopping to think I said YES. I am Leigh Fisher and I get what I want.

and what I wanted was a smaller body.

nothing could stop me. certainly not biology.

I dedicated and re dedicated to “practice” more and more and more yoga.  

This was my career, my lifestyle. Yoga heals, right? certainly you can’t do too much?

I taught 2-3 classes a day but those didn’t count, because it’s not like you do “everything” when you are teaching. So I also had to take another class. maybe 2! why not! and then it’s off to film my videos for my online classes. and those don’t count as practice either because, I’m performing. Yoga isn’t performative so I must do real yoga later as well.

It’s fine

I’m fine

I’m good

I am healthy

I am clean

The trouble with clean eating (and let’s take a moment to acknowledge the BREATHTAKING amount of problems with this as a concept including, but certainly not limited to racism and classism) the trouble on a personal, microcosmic level is: nothing will ever be clean enough.

Those bars with only 5 ingredients?  yeah, those are still processed food.

can’t get non-organic grapes because growing grapes without pesticides is really fucking hard?  no more grapes!

chicken? is it organic? is it cage free? okay but is it free range? are they blissfully happy as they frolic in a field before they are slaughtered?

NO!?  no chicken for you.

is Chinese food clean? (OMG MSG ARE YOU KIDDING)

is Mexican food clean? (THERES LARD! LARD IN THERE ARE YOU NUTS)

is there any food that will actually pass these examinations? are you allowed to have food? 

You have so much fat, surely your body can live off that. surely you can shrink enough to finally be called healthy.

surely you can shrink enough to finally be worthy.

surely you can shrink enough to finally be whole.

I would say I miss having a smaller body – but that wouldn’t be true, on an embodied level, I feel the same now as I did then, after all, no matter how small I got, I was very certain that I was fat.  And now I am actually fat so, *insert shrug emoji*, whatever man, it’s all the same fucking day.

But you know the part of this whole thing that really gets me? The thing I just can’t stop thinking about?  Is how much my obviously unhealthy behavior was praised. It’s not just that I thought my size 8 ass was fat, It’s the fact that the community I was part of constantly upheld that belief and willfully pushed me to continue to try and shrink my body in the name of health and wellness.

I don’t think I can adequately explain to you what it feels like to have people constantly tell you to “keep up the good work” when you are actively starving yourself and over exercising to attain a smaller body.

I wish I could say that when I left the toxic studio that I magically got better, but that would be a lie – in fact, for a time I got much worse. Because the culture of yoga, the business of yoga, the entire WORLD of yoga has become completely ensconced in diet culture, this idea of clean “yogic” living is so entwined that many yoga trainings actually offer starvation level diets or fasts as part of their curriculum. There are teachers taking the concept of Aparigraha (non-grasping) and applying it to FOOD. Yes food – the thing that we all have to have to live. There are teachers leading classes through postures spouting about veganism or keto or paleo or fasting or whatever the diet flavor of the month is that they can loosely tie to yoga in order to sell more mat spots with the promise of THE YOGA BODY.

I don’t know how to fix this but I can tell you that the t-rex arms on my yoga body can no longer bind around my luscious thighs. The boobs on my yoga body now threaten to suffocate me if I go anywhere near a shoulder stand. My yoga body doesn’t fit in most yoga lifestyle brands. But somehow, I’m still here, and I’m still trying my damnedest to break the link between yoga and diet culture.

*obese is considered by many to be a slur, there is no measurement for “obesity” outside of the BMI and the BMI is complete and utter tosh.