Blogger BalancedNotClean On How Instagram Is A Positive Force In Her Recovery From An Eating Disorder
It's not always a force for negativity.
Social media can often be seen to have a bit of a bad rep thanks mainly to internet trolls and the unrealistic pressures that photoshopping apps can put upon us.
But there's a growing movement of people using Instagram for good and that includes blogger Ashleigh Ponder (who you might know best as @balancednotclean), who is using the platform both to help her recover from her eating disorder and put on emphasis on creating a positive, fun relationship with food through a sustainable and balanced diet.
Hi Ashleigh! For people yet to discover you, can you tell us a bit about what inspired you to start using Instagram to document your recovery and help others?
I wanted to find other people in a similar position to me. As a teenager, social media was probably the first thing that I could turn to when I was recovering from an eating disorder. At first I didn’t know the depth of my problem so having that place where I could confide in what was going on was important to me.
I used to observe people who were recovering from eating disorders on Instagram. I wasn’t actually following them because then people at school would be able to see it, but then I decided if these people had made a recovery account, I could too. I started one and people supported me. Even at first when I didn’t have many followers, they would check in on me everyday and that gave it a very personal feel.
Then I made another recovery account as it became more of food blog and that’s when my community really grew. I unlocked my account from private and now people at school all know about it, the teachers know about it, my parents know about it, my brothers friends at university know about it! It’s not something I’m ashamed of anymore. Where it started as a last resort, it’s now grown into something that’s a lovely hobby.
And it’s something you’ve grown into a viral movement and support network using the hashtag, right?
The hashtag #BalancedNotClean has been used over 400,000 times! It actually started because I was so angry at how the recovery community were terrified of certain foods so it was sort of an angry protest, but now I’ve developed it and it's reached out to people beyond recovery.
A lot of people in fitness use the hashtag as well as other food bloggers, which is great.
How do you think your Instagram provides an outlet for other young people who may be suffering the same issues as you?
Instagram is very visual so you can show different messages very easily across the platform. With the hashtag I was trying my best to show it's not so much about healthy eating but eating in a way that means your lifestyle is enjoyable and sustainable.
I think that helps a lot of people to really enjoy their food again because sometimes people get quite afraid of what they’re eating, not just how much but more specific things they’re having. It’s an important way of sharing that you can have different foods and you shouldn’t feel guilty about what you’re eating.
How important has Instagram been in your journey and recovery?
It’s been the thing that had made the most difference. I did go to therapy and they weren’t very supportive of Instagram at first, but actually I managed to convince them that it was the most useful thing in my recovery as it got me in touch with people that were exactly like me.
Not only could I improve things for myself but I could help other people and show them that it's possible. It gave me a creative outlet and food became something I could enjoy again.
As well as being a force for positivity, Instagram can be used in a negative way, right?
Instagram is a tool and is a great way of connecting communities and depending on the position that people are in, that community can come from different parts of their life whether it's positive or negative, but ultimately it is a tool.
So there are negative aspects of it but for the most part it is very positive. Even those who are struggling and are in a negative place, I think they’re just trying to reach out and find someone who can help them.
When your followers look through your feed, how do you want them to feel?
I want them to feel inspired and I want them to think ‘mmm that looks really tasty!”. If they’re looking through some of the blog posts, I want them to think they can relate to me and find things useful. I want them to enjoy looking through it!
We've seen that you’ve recently made a Bullet journal – how does it work and how does it help you?
The bullet journal tracks how I’m feeling. Instead of writing ‘Dear Diary’, it's more of a spread sheet where I colour in the different trends, and you can change what you want to track.
In October, I’m tracking how many meals I have a day, when I go to bed, that kind of thing. Hopefully over the course of several months I’ll be able to see differences in those habits and it'll be a useful resource.
Do you have any heartwarming stories where you have made a difference to someone’s life through your Instagram?
Across the board with recovery, I’ve had lots of people saying how much my Instagram has helped them, and that’s what’s kept me going in my own recovery. I wasn’t just doing it for me; I was doing it for those people too.
I receive direct messages quite often. One girl had been struggling with her eating for a long time and she’d come on Instagram to find help. She’d had a similar background with chronic fatigue syndrome which is an illness that I’ve got so she related to me. She said because she had read my blog, she could open up to her parents and that meant she could get help.
Unfortunately, that doesn’t always spread to real life so it’s about widening those connections and helping people as much as I can.
Your Instagram name is ‘Balanced Not Clean’ – what are the main differences between balanced and clean eating?
Clean eating has got so many definitions, it's quite absurd really. It's often very restrictive, it's an attempt to have perfection in your diet, one that you’re proud of but in a way that is obsessive and almost ritualistic.
A balanced diet is something which fits your lifestyle. You never feel guilty with a balanced diet. You enjoy your friend’s birthday, eating a slice of cake, you just have it in moderation. You have what you need, when you need it so you can enjoy the things in life that make life more than just a diet.
Often people ask me how I eat balanced and I always tell them that it's very relative - they have to listen to their body and find out what works for them. For someone who’s got no issues with gluten to eat gluten free is just unnecessary and very expensive!
What's your advice to young people who are going through the same thing that you did?
I think it’s so important to reach out. Even if at the moment you can't speak to people in real life, go on a social network like Instagram and try to connect with people to help you and support you to make little steps.
Also, try to not feel ashamed of your issues because I know people often don’t want to seek help because it's so scary because there’s so much stigma around it still. Even though there have been quite a few leaps forward for mental health in terms of talking, I think its still very stigmatised.
You're very interactive with your followers – how important do you think that is to have that sense of community?
Humans are social animals. We love reaching out and helping people and I think if I can help out people with what I’ve been through then I’ve done something important. Even though I don’t always know the answers, I always feel really happy to know that people look up to me and feel that they are able to ask for help.
I’ve made genuine friends through Instagram, ones that have gone beyond just the food. We've gone to fitness conventions together and different meet-ups, it’s really nice!
Your Instagram and blog is all about positivity - how has having a more positive and open relationship with food made your eating disorder more manageable?
I’ve learnt how to cook which for a teenager going off to university is useful! Where I was scared of food, I’ve now managed to channel that fear into a very creative outlet through taking and posting photos and making recipes. I think it’s made me so much more confident.
When I started my Instagram I was too afraid to share a picture of my face on any social network, I didn’t speak to many people at school, I was very introverted and I would hardly speak to people at all.
Now I’ve come out of my shell and I think that’s a really good thing. I’ve done an almost 180 on how I used to be!