Clean Eating

I cannot stand the ‘clean eating’ trend that is so prominent in the media at the moment. Everywhere you look there is a new recipe book or cookery TV show with very pretty women vouching for the brilliance of ‘clean eating’, how they feel so much better for following this diet, how it has transformed their lives. 

Take the sisters Jasmine and Melissa Hemsley (known as Hemsley and Hemsley). They have their own restaurant, their own cook book, their own TV show all based around the idea of ‘clean eating’; producing meals free from gluten, grains and refined sugar. They promote the idea that this diet is the healthiest form of eating, that it is good for digestion, that it nourishes the mind and body. And they are not alone in this. Gwyneth Paltrow, Katy Pery, Deliciously Ella…everyone is promoting the ‘clean eating’ diet as THE diet to follow. But it is all based around unfounded health claims.

A true, healthy balanced diet should include ALL food groups…I repeat ALL food groups. Far from being healthy, diets that restrict/limit/exclude food groups are not good for providing the body with what it needs. Certain medical conditions do require exclusion of certain food groups and obviously in this instance this is necessary. For example celiac disease affects approximately 1 in 100 people in the UK, requiring them to avoid eating gluten. However, 66% of the gluten-free population are avoiding gluten, not because they suffer from the serious condition of celiac disease, but because they believe gluten is bad for them. But unless you suffer from celiac disease or a serious intolerance to gluten, there is no need to avoid gluten. And the same can be said for other food groups such as dairy, fat, sugar…these should not be eliminated from diets unless medically diagnosed as required.

And you may think who am I to say what people should be eating, what do I know?  But I have studied nutrition as part of my university degree in great depth and I know a healthy balanced diet needs to be inclusive, not exclusive. You only have to look back through history to see that 100 plus years ago, when bread was the staple of most diets, the majority of people weren’t overweight or unhealthy. Banning sugar, banning gluten, banning dairy…this isn’t making people healthy. Look at the Italians. A meal would not be complete in Italy without beautifully tossed pasta or deliciously baked breads. In Italy, less than 10% of the population are obese, compared to 27% in the UK. A slice of bread is not the devil. A slice of bread provides carbohydrates, protein, vitamins, minerals and fibre, all of which are essential for the body and help protect against certain cancers and diabetes,  promote cell growth, immunity and oxygen transport. The brain can only be fuelled by glucose which is released when carbohydrates are broken down…the brain needs carbohydrates to function.

But fad diets and the ‘clean eating’ trend continue to promote the idea that certain foods must be avoided. But there is not a truer saying than ‘everything in moderation’. The idea of courgetti spaghetti and cauliflower couscous is ludicrous! Removing carbohydrates and replacing them with vegetables is not good for the body. Yes, generally people do need to eat more vegetables but they need more vegetables in addition to carbohydrates, proteins etc, and not substituting one for the other. The body is made of so many different components…it is multi-faceted and it needs multiple food groups to function optimally.

You may think I am being very hypocritical, that I suffer with an eating disorder and have restricted my diet to the point where I have not eaten anything, and here I am telling people they need to eat all food groups in their diet. But anorexia isn’t a choice…it wasn’t a lifestyle decision that I chose to restrict my food or even that I thought it was good for me. You have no choice with anorexia; it is a mental illness, not a way of choosing to live. And it is trends like ‘clean eating’, with its cauliflower rice that is fuelling eating disorders. Take for example orthorexia. This is an eating disorder driven by an obsession to eat healthily. Clearly, clean eating can put people at serious risk of developing this. and I myself, having suffered with anorexia nervosa for well over a decade, find it increasingly difficult to reintroduce ‘normal’ foods back in to my diet, that I have been terrified of for so long, because the media and the ‘clean eating’ activists demonise them as sinful. Anorexia makes you fearful of food and with the media suggesting certain foods are bad for you, that you shouldn’t eat carbs, that you shouldn’t eat dairy etc and instead have cauliflower mash or almond milk, it just makes food ever scarier and makes recovery ever more difficult.

‘Clean eating’ adds fear to normal foods, portraying them as the devil. But they are not. Anorexia is the devil and ‘clean eating’ promotes this. There is nothing wrong with normal food and normal ingredients. People need a balance of everything. I used to love my mums apple crumble but I haven’t eaten it since being a teenager. The thought of eating it terrifies me and I don’t think I would be able to, not at the moment anyway. But in the future, and hopefully not a too distant future, I want to reach a point where I am able to eat my mum’s delicious home-made apple crumble. And when I do, it will be made as she has always made it, with flour, sugar and butter, not the ‘clean eating’ method of ground almonds, coconut oil and maple syrup. Please, do not fool for this ‘clean eating’ trend. It is an unhealthy way of living and has the potential to lead to serious, life threatening eating disorders. It’s easy to fall into its trap; to be sucked in with these pretty women making you feel bad for daring to put a spiral of pasta into your mouth. But if I can have a diet inclusive of all food groups, anyone can. And it is this that is healthy.

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