Clean eating, one of the most popular food trends in recent years, seems like a really great idea with no downside right?
Eating real, unprocessed food is the best way to eat isn’t it?
So what could be wrong with it? Nobody brags about eating a bad diet do they?
Sure, eating clean feels good and it looks so much better on your Instagram feed – those beautiful natural vegetable colours, the vibrant smoothie bowls… For as long as people have been eating, there have been fad diets but none quite like this.
“Clean eating” is different; driven by social media, it has gained an impressive popularity in recent years – more so than any previous school of modern nutrition advice. But it has quickly become clear that “clean eating” is seen as more than a diet, it has evolved into a belief system that suggests that the way most people eat is not simply unhealthy, but impure.
That being said, there is no real, consistent definition of “clean”, most people take it to mean unprocessed foods including fresh vegetables, home-cooked meals made from scratch that aren’t linked to any of the fad diets, like eating low-carb or low-fat. At its simplest, clean eating is about ingesting nothing but “whole” or “unprocessed” foods (whatever is meant by these deeply ambiguous terms). Some people interpret this as vegan, others paleo, others juice and smoothies.
We all know that fad diets don’t work; what you need to be healthy is a overall lifestyle change. So, when a fairly sensible concept is paired with our modern society’s obsession with “instagramming” every aspect of out lives, showing off an apparent enviable lifestyle, what you get is a collection of influencers who can paint you a picture of the amazing person you will be if you eat what they eat.
So why is that a problem?
With every influencer sharing half truths and cherry picked data with their thousands of followers, many people end up going into these lifestyle changes with no real idea of what they are doing, resulting in illness, weakness and eating disorders.
In fact, in 2014, wellness blogger The Blonde Vegan, Jordan Younger noticed that her hair was falling out in clumps. “Not cool” was her reaction. At the time, Younger, 23, believed herself to be eating the healthiest of all possible diets. She was a “gluten-free, sugar-free, oil-free, grain-free, legume-free, plant-based raw vegan”. She had 70,000 followers on Instagram but no qualifications as a nutritionist.
Despite this Younger had sold more than 40,000 copies of her own $25, five-day “cleanse” programme – a formula for an all-raw, plant-based diet. Far from being super-healthy, she was suffering from a serious eating disorder: orthorexia, an obsession with consuming only foods that are pure and perfect.
Her raw vegan diet caused her periods to stop and all the sweet potato and carrots she was consuming as her only form of carbs had turned her skin slightly orange. Eventually, she got psychological help, and began to slowly eat a more diverse diet, starting with fish. She recognised that the problem was not her veganism, but the particularly rigid and restrictive diet regime she had imposed on herself in order to “eat clean” which was failing to supply her body with the nutrients it needed.
When we look at the foods and diets of “regular” people who don’t qualify as “clean” you have to question, does that make them dirty? In reality quinoa and rice, sweet potatoes and regular potatoes, blueberries and goji berries, are all, in terms of nutritional value, somewhat similar but with vastly different price tags.
Then there’s processed food. It’s not that processing is inherently bad but it’s more about how and with what the food has been processed, for example: chocolate chip cookies, they are not “unclean”, they are just high in sugar and low in a lot of healthy nutrients, so it makes sense to avoid them for the most part, but the occasional treat is not going to kill you, nor will it make you a bad person.
In 2015, Nigella Lawson expressed “disgust” at clean eating movement as a judgmental form of body fascism. “Food is not dirty”, Lawson wrote. One of the most important things to remember is that food and morality have nothing to do with each other. Carrots aren’t angels and cake isn’t the devil A healthy diet is made up of all types of food and can be enjoyed guilt-free. Because you never need to feel guilty for eating.
Do not blindly follow the heard, use your common sense and listen to your body. The only time you should be avoiding any type of food if it is for a genuine health reason, i.e. auto immune conditions, allergies or severe intolerances. Other than that, enjoy a healthy diet of good wholesome food, and remember: everything in moderation.