As an actress, I’ve always craved having some sort of routine, some form of control. When wellness reared its head on social media, I felt like I had finally found something that would genuinely give me a sense of stability and order within all the chaos. It was so easy, I just had to read some books (full of glossy, aspirational bodies) then follow the rules which would lead to happiness, health and a toned, Victoria’s Secret-style body.
So, as with everything in my life, I went all in. I stopped eating gluten, sugar, dairy and meat. I started eating the most expensive ingredients known to man. “Ashwagandha” (I still don’t know what that means), spirulina, reishi, matcha… the list went on and on. The compliments came in thick and fast — everyone wanted to know my secret.
Even during acting jobs, my mind would be consumed with my inner wellness guru shouting out my daily routine: “Don’t eat more than 12 almonds… check the almond milk is organic… make sure you know every single ingredient in every meal.” I was being praised for my healthy glow, but my mind was spiralling into a dark obsessive place.
Clean living brings its own set of commandments. “Thou shalt not eat anything processed”, “thou shalt not eat after sundown”, “thou must make own food from scratch.” The rules are adhered to by a tight-knit community who congregate on social media, particularly Instagram, where they show each other how peppy and empowered they all feel. If you type in “wellness” to Instagram, you will see that this pseudo-religion is thriving, particularly for women between the ages of 16 and 40. I was an orthodox wellness believer, until I got sick.
I was brought up in north-west London in another tight-knit community inextricably linked to an obsession with food. Food to soothe grief, food to celebrate birth, food to toast coming-of-age, food to celebrate marriage and food to mark festivals. This close connection became tricky at the height of my wellness obsession. I remember being at my cousin’s wedding, toasting the queen with my mind telling me not to raise my glass at the end of the speech so I didn’t have to swallow any alcohol. I’d find excuses to not see my family for Friday-night dinner unless I brought a dish of my own.
It was only in November last year, when my sister told me she was pregnant that I began to reassess my wellness faith. When she told me her news (over a Sunday lunch of bagels and smoked salmon from which I was abstaining), I hadn’t had a period in over two years. My sister was married, had a wonderful job and now a baby on the way and she couldn’t care less ab-out the joys of matcha and maca.
I went to the doctor, and swiftly realised I was struggling with an eating disorder called Orthorexia Nervosa — an unhealthy obsession with healthy living. Wellness had made me sick. The only way to get my periods back, was to relinquish control.
After winning the Underbelly Award and Holden Street Theatre Award at the Edinburgh Fringe a few years ago with Mush and Me, a personal show about an interfaith relationship between a Jewish girl and a Muslim guy, I decided that my experience with wellness and its extremes was dramatic territory for a new show.So, this month at the Edinburgh Festival, I’m performing Hear Me Raw, my autobiographical account of the journey through the world of contemporary wellness.
It’s about food, growing up in a north-west London Jewish community, anxiety, death and control. The show peels back the Instagram filter to reveal the dirty truth behind the clean-living movement, and the existential angst at the centre of this millennial obsession.
It’s based on my own experience of working within the wellness industry and developing an eating disorder which dominated my life for a number of years. It’s funny, dark and genre-bending. It’s also packed with superfoods and very, very messy.
As I’ve been making this show, my orthorexic voices are slowly turning into whispers. I’m on the road to becoming a wellness atheist.
‘Hear Me Raw’ is at the Underbelly, Edinburgh, until August 28.