The Elephant in the Room (My Blog + Its Role with ED)

After (finally) purchasing an iPhone and joining the Instagram community, I watched my follower count grow quickly. This should have been exciting for me, but instead I began to worry. I noticed a pattern immediately. At least half of my new followers used similar handles: most of them made references to “ana” (short for anorexia) or “recovery” (as in, recovering from an eating disorder). Similarly, when I searched the #oatmealartist hash tag, they were accompanied by ED-related handles and hash tags. Here is a glimpse of some of the pictures I frequently see:

Why did this worry me?

As someone who is awkwardly tall and thin, I have received my fair share of condescending weight comments and have always been self-conscious about it. Thus, when I started seeing all these Instagram followers, I freaked out. My thought process was as follows: Is my blog the new hangout for teenage girls with eating disorders? What does that say about my blog? About me? Do they think my blog is diet food? Do my friends and family think that my blog is diet food? Do my friends and family think I am eating oatmeal to diet?! Do my friends and family think *I* have an eating disorder!?

I suffered silently with these thoughts for months until I collaborated with Charlotte, May’s Oatmeal Enthusiast. She wrote:

I have struggled with an eating disorder for 8 long years, but it got very bad in 2011. My anorexia took over my life, and I was no longer able to enjoy food. I found Lauren’s blog in 2012, and even though I was still very much in denial and did not want to get better at all, there was something about those delicious looking oatmeal recipes that caught my attention! I suddenly had an interest in food again, which was both scary and exciting. I started experimenting with my breakfasts, and although I was too afraid to follow the actual recipes, it was still a step in the right direction. 

I went inpatient for 4 months in the summer of 2012, and as I was getting better all I could think about was going home and finally be able to try all of the recipes on The Oatmeal Artist’s blog. Unfortunately I had a very bad relapse, but even through that relapse I continued to eat oatmeal almost every single morning, and that was without a doubt one of the reasons I made it through. Today I consider myself recovered, and Lauren’s blog has definitely helped me get to where I am now.

 I heard similar narratives from many other young ladies, all with the same point: my blog helped them recover, not fuel the disorder. I then recognized that the Instagram handles I was seeing all discussed recovery; these were victims of EDs who were using online communities to overcome their tough relationships with food.

I recently read this article on Buzzfeed called “Teenage Girls are Using Instagram to Fix their Relationships with Food.” By the title alone, this article struck a chord with me. Considering that the majority of the pictures tagged #oatmealartist on Instagram also contain hashtags like #EDrecovery, I have personally witnessed this trend. The article states:

“I think sometimes that people (me included) get so caught up on having what some might regard as the perfect and healthy diet, that they forget that it is also very important to have a healthy mentality towards food and not be obsessive,” wrote 15-year-old Tina, who recently shared a bowl of oatmeal cooked with artfully displayed raspberries, banana, sesame seeds, cacao nibs, medjool dates, and homemade chocolate almond butter to her 45,000 followers.

[…] Aside from purported health benefits — less bloating, more energy, clearer skin, etc. — popular users said the practice was therapeutic, not just because it helped suppress the urge to diet but because it made eating fun instead of traumatic.

Several months ago, somebody left a comment on one of my posts stating that they used my recipes during the peak of their eating disorder, and was wondering what my role was in fueling eating disorders. My initial reaction was horror, and then anger. To suggest that my recipes caused her eating disorder was infuriating to me. The comment bummed me out for days, until I responded with some almost-cordial-but-mostly-snippy comment about how my blog does not need to play any role at all.
Any health-focused blog could obviously become a haven for someone looking to restrict calories, but that’s not what my blog is about. Never does my blog discuss limiting calories, trying to lose weight, or dieting. That has never been my focus. I create recipes that I believe are nutritious, filling, and delicious; what someone chooses to do with those recipes is out of my control. Am I to blame if someone cooks their oatmeal in water instead of almond milk and omits the peanut butter?
Furthermore, you will not find calorie counts on my blog. This was a choice I made from the beginning. I believe focusing on calories creates feelings of guilt or stress that should never be associated with food. Food is fuel! This is the vibe I try to create on my blog, to empower us to make healthy choices not as a “diet,” but as a way to nourish us physically, mentally, and spiritually in a world where we are constantly bombarded with options that are making us sick.

Anyway, I’ve been avoiding the “ED recovery” community because I did not want my blog associated with eating disorders in any way, mostly stemming from my own self-consciousness. However, after seeing the role my blog has played in so many girls’ recoveries, I have realized I should no longer ignore this community out of fear of what others would say. If my goal as a blogger is to alter people’s perceptions of food, then my vision aligns with theirs. May my oatmeal bring them nourishment and recovery.
Instead of posting a recipe today, I would like to share with you four Instagram users whom I personally follow, who are winning  (or have won) the fight against an ED, and who post gorgeous food pictures almost daily. Most of them are vegan because vegans are the best. 😉

Please check out these ladies, and feel free to share your story below in the comments!

**You can also find hundreds of other oatmeal recipes (as well as tons of other meatless recipes) on my Pinterest account!  You can also like The Oatmeal Artist on Facebook. Thanks!

About Lauren Smith

Lauren is a herbivore, Slytherin, and connoisseur of oats. She is a former teacher who is currently studying to earn a master's degree in curriculum development. You can follow her on Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, and Facebook.

22 Responses to The Elephant in the Room (My Blog + Its Role with ED)

  1. June Baby says:

    Great post! I love that nutrition facts label so much. 🙂

    I’ve seen the ed recovery / fancy oatmeal community a lot since I signed up for IG just a few weeks ago, and personally I find it slightly disturbing how elaborate some people’s creations are…and you can’t help but be concerned when they post enough fruit to make a grown man cry and no “real” carbs or proteins or whatever..but I mean, more power to them if it makes them happy. I think your blog is different though, I think it is like about making breakfast delicious rather than “OMG superfoods so healthy”, which I like.

    Sorry for the rambling comment, I think you said it beautifully! 🙂

    • Lauren Smith says:

      Yes, I will never understand the logic behind the “80/10/10” diet, but whatever. Occasionally, I enjoy stuffing my face with watermelon, but the stomach ache afterwards is miserable.

  2. Aroeckner says:

    This is a beautiful post. Two years ago as I was starting college, I found myself overly concerned with my self image. Scared of gaining the freshmen fifteen, I started dieting and exercising excessively. By the end of the year, I was about ten pounds underweight. A minuscule amount compared to some cases, but enough to effect my health.

    I discovered your blog about half way through that year. Recreating your recipes in my dorm microwave, much to the chagrin of my room mate, I became hooked on your beautiful oatmeal. Your recipes have helped me both lose and gain weight in the past two years; with the help of friends, I was able to catch where my body concern grew too large. But whether the loosing weight was good or bad, I learned from your blog a love for food as an art, a lifestyle, and a way to keep your body and mind happy and healthy.

    We all go through different parts of our life, some hard to control. But – as I sit writing this post with real meat and weight on my bones, after an eight mile run, after eating a breakfast of your amazing banana chocolate oatmeal with two heaping spoonfuls of peanut butter – I can only say thanks for your work, your dedication, your care, and, most importantly, your amazing oatmeal. Thanks.

    • Lauren Smith says:

      Thank you so much for sharing. This is exactly what I wanted people to take away from my blog! I wonder if I will ever be able to work up to eight miles. I seem to be stuck at three!

    • Aroeckner says:

      I never saw myself getting past two miles, and now I do half marathons! You can do it! 🙂 I’ve spent years building up endurance. Slow but steady is the key so you don’t injure yourself (I learned that the hard way…). The never-increase-your-weekly-mileage-by-over-10% rule is a good rule to go by. 🙂

  3. Such a a great post that really points out the truth of the Instagram-ed phenomenon: posting pictures of food doesn’t help or hurt, it’s what the people choose to do with the recipe. Personally, I have celiac disease and when I first starting scrolling down Instagram looking at the “gluten free” tag, I was surprised by how many recovery/ed tags were associated with gluten free. Just as you pointed out, any food can “fuel” an ed because it all boils down to the person’s intent. Personally, I think you are doing a fabulous job of sharing nutricious, delicious concoctions that make me drool over breakfast every morning! 🙂

    • Lauren Smith says:

      Someone on Facebook commented that those recovering from ED gravitate toward healthy food to help them with weight restoration (I suppose because it is less “scary” than conquering their “fear foods”). I think this is why they are infiltrating all the gluten free, dairy free, vegan, raw, and other special diet communities on IG. (And thanks, by the way!)

  4. Perfect post! I completely agree with you.
    If you don’t mind, I’d like to share my experience with an ED and your wonderful blog. I never mentioned it in my Oatmeal Enthusiast post, nor do I mention it on my blog and I never made a “recovery account” on IG, but I struggled with anorexia for a long time. I hit my lowest weight in March 2013, was completely depressed and hated food, and my doctors thought I wouldn’t see the end of the year. I don’t even remember how I found your blog – it may have been through the Huffington Post or BuzzFeed. Immediately, I was struck by the creativity of your creations and I was inspired to experiment! Moreover, it gave me ideas on what a nutritious breakfast looked like – before I found your blog, I’d meticulously measure out teeny, tiny amounts of oats and eat them with half an orange and never consider maple syrup. Seeing that happy, healthy people could eat 1/2 cup of rolled oats, fruit and *gasp* peanut butter changed my whole outlook on breakfast. As your creations looked so good to me, I worked my way up to eating 1/2 cup of rolled oats and adding exciting things to it. While I started off with options that seemed “safer” to me, soon enough I was adding in peanut butter and chocolate chips and all sorts of fun foods.
    Your blog helped me rediscover a love of food. I am so sorry if other people use your recipes in negative ways. But I want you to know that your blog has been one of the biggest positive experiences in my life 🙂

  5. Maggie says:

    As someone who’s had ED, I think it can work both ways. My ED was always about eating healthy, never about losing weight, but it was the restriction of my diet to only “healthy” foods that caused me to lose weight.

    I found your blog before I had ED. It was the first time I’d discovered anything dedicated to healthy eating, and it played a big part in me getting ED. BUT, at the peak of ED when oats, fruit, veg and nuts were the only things I felt comfortable eating, the recipes on your blog were the only recipes I dared to try, and your blog probably kept me alive.

    When I started getting medical help, my dietitian allowed me to continue visiting your blog she probably saw it as a good thing since without your blog I might have lost all interest in food. At the same time, she limited oatmeal to breakfast only, and increased my portion of non-vegan foods, specifically whole fat dairy and meat.

    I don’t know what conclusion you might draw from this. Unfortunately, your blog does play a big role in ED circles, and I am extremely happy that you have chosen to acknowledge this now. I don’t know if there’s anything you can do to help people use this blog as a means of recovery rather than as a trigger for ED, but this post is a positive starting point. Thank you for this.

    • Lauren Smith says:

      Yes, and that is what I meant when I said *any* health-focused blog could become a haven for someone looking to restrict calories. I’m glad my food was there for you and helped “keep you alive.” My point is is that my blog cannot be blamed for “fueling” someone’s disorder since that is not what I am promoting. It’s just not fair because it’s out of my control.

  6. Natalie says:

    My heart started pounding when I saw this post. I don’t use Instagram, but I do have an ED. I used to be terrified of oatmeal because it was filling and never tasted good enough when I prepared it. Two months ago, I was in the hospital for anorexia and I discovered your blog. I was amazed at how creative your recipes were, and they all sounded to appealing! I’d never thought about baking oatmeal or even making it with milk!

    The more I browsed your blog, the less scared of oatmeal I became. In fact, oatmeal is the perfect recovery food for me because the oat base is consistent and safe to me, yet the variations in each of your recipes keep it interesting and help me step out of my comfort zone in a manageable way. Also, I can get all of the food groups in a single breakfast item, which eases my anxiety a lot.

    To celebrate my discharge, I made your almond joy oatmeal. It was glorious. Since then, I’ve been trying different recipes from your blog every day, and it’s the reason I look forward to eating breakfast now. I had my dietitian design my meal plan around my morning bowl of oatmeal, and I convinced my therapist to try baked oatmeal.

    I’m sorry that some people use your blog to embrace their eating disorder, but always remember that there are many more (including me) who have been inspired and helped immensely by it. This morning I made your peanut butter cookie baked oatmeal complete with TWO tablespoons of peanut butter, which would have given me a panic attack two months ago. I still have a long way to go in recovery, but I’m really grateful for your blog, which has made eating slightly less daunting. Thank you so much.

  7. kats9lifes says:

    I didn’t realize how many people had stories similar to mine until I started reading these comments. Terrified of the “Freshman Fifteen,” I set out to eat meticulously and exercise a ton. However, my obsession with food turned into orthorexia, and I went from a healthy weight to extremely underweight in only three months. I loved reading your blog (mainly because oatmeal was the only “safe” grain in my life–and that only a few times a week), but I thought that I would never be able to enjoy many of the concoctions because they contained milk (oh! the horrors!). In the past two months, I have begun gaining weight back (and had MANY cups of milk 🙂 ). Thanks for promoting healthy choices, not skinny choices.

    • Natalie says:

      I feel you. I was afraid of the freshman fifteen as well, along with some other things, so I started restricting and overexercising. It took me five months to go from healthy to hospitalized for anorexia. It really sucks how little attention orthorexia gets, though, because it’s just as terrible as other eating disorders. I hope that you have a good support system and that you keep on the path of recovery!

    • Lauren Smith says:

      “Healthy choices, not skinny choices.” I love this!!

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  9. Great writing and haha I love your nutrition label (team banana sugar!) I’m one of those hashtag users and when I posted my oatmeal pictures, almost half of the likes came from young girls with eating disorder or currently battling against ana so I understand your concern perfectly! Anyway, rest assured that I’ve never seen your blog as a diet blog 😉 instead I see you as a comrade who shares the same obsession to oatmeal (and banana) and see your blog as a source of inspiration for my everyday breakfast 🙂 Thank you for the post!

  10. daisy says:

    Oatmeal is such a soothing,calming ,nourishing,energizing,delicious,versatile,warming,nutritious,inexpensive grain.It is my favourite grain for sure. What other words does oatmeal bring to your mind?

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