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Clean Eating: ‘The Latest Extreme Diet Craze’

So yesterday, in my post-graduation boredom, I came across a documentary called ‘Clean Eating’s Dirty Secrets’. It was every sensationalist’s dream – an expose into food choices which, although promoted as healthy and nourishing, could actually have hugely detrimental effects on both physical and mental health. It questioned the phenomenon of healthy eating and the active, positive lifestyle that came with it, leaving the viewer even more confused about how to live their lives.

©bbc.co.uk
©bbc.co.uk

The show was hosted by vlogger Grace Victory, who chatted to health bloggers and dietitians, attended a high-profile health and fitness event and even tried out a vegan, plant-based diet herself to see if she saw any health benefits. To be honest, I didn’t think much of the documentary itself. It was pretty obvious that switching to a plant-based diet overnight wasn’t going to do immediate wonders for Grace, who had proudly described Dairy Milk as her ‘life’. On top of dismissing plant-based eating after just one week, the documentary then seemed to demonise the frontmen of the Health and Fitness (or ‘wellness’) industry. Yes, people make a lot of money from the ‘wellness’ industry, but it’s a business opportunity that entrepreneurs would be pretty stupid to miss. Should the fact that the industry is successful be used as a tool against it? Definitely not. Complaints aside, what really interested me was that the programme’s description referred to clean eating as ‘Britain’s latest extreme diet craze.’ It was as though something that I’d previously viewed as a positive and healthy was suddenly being transformed into something remotely comparable to the ‘Cabbage Soup Diet’.

#Eatclean is a widely recognised hashtag of social media, often found on Twitter or Instagram. We’ve all got a friend who feels it’s necessary to take pictures whenever they eat anything slightly aesthetic. Unfortunately for my friends, that person is me. It’s true that the health and fitness industry is huge, and it’s sucking more and more people in. So, should we really be focusing on eating clean? Honestly, it totally depends on what we think clean eating means. It turns out that clean eating has its own magazine, and guess what it’s called? Clean Eating. Seriously. Anyway, the magazine states;

“Clean Eating is not a diet, it’s a happy and healthy lifestyle… Delicious, real food recipes and weight loss meal plans that showcase fresh, unprocessed foods that are seasonal and nutrient-dense. BBC Good Food (who have an entire section devoted to clean eating) came out with something similar. To us, [it] means enjoying whole foods in their most natural state, and limiting anything processed.”

Interesting… So in some cases there’s a very clear weight-loss element and in others it’s more about feeling good within yourself… But the common factor in most descriptions is that processed food is limited. So what on earth was Grace Victory doing eating just potatoes for a whole week (yup, that happened) and then using it against #eatclean? The documentary painted clean eating as an unsustainable life choice, overflowing with restrictions, but it’s clear to see that really, it’s a multi-layered term with no actual rules. And it’s got no exclusive association with vegetarian or plant-based diets. Clean eating can refer to anything from a strict vegan lifestyle to simply avoiding processed foods. As always, clean eating seems to be the next step up from simply eating well. Anyone in their right mind knows that eating ‘clean foods’ isn’t a necessary prerequisite of being an accepted member of society, no matter how much the programme presented the everyday person as a helpless fish in a sea of aggressive advertising.

One issue flagged up by the programme was the rising numbers of Orthorexia cases in the UK. Orthorexia (yep, this is new to me too) is a mental condition in which the sufferer avoids ‘bad’ foods at all costs, only eating what they perceive as ‘good’ foods. According to one of Grace’s many interviewees, more often than not these cases involved the actual promoters of the wellness industry – the bloggers and writers who preached a clean lifestyle were presented as both antagonists and victims. By definition, I suppose if you’re not a die-hard clean eater then you must be eating badly and deserve to go to nutritional Hell. But that’s the thing – who really cares if you have the occasional slice of cake? It doesn’t make you a ‘dirty eater’ because you ate something that contained refined sugar.

One of the biggest issues with this so-called lifestyle documentary was that it presented the clean eating ‘craze’ as a cause of eating disorder. It failed to take into consideration the fact that some people simply have obsessive personalities. Blaming clean eating for disorders like Orthorexia and Anorexia is easy, but it’s probably quite unfair. Britain’s ‘latest extreme diet craze’ IS NOT forcing people to live or eat a certain way, because it’s up to the individual how they view clean eating. The problem lies with how the individual chooses to receive the messages from the wellness industry. If  I’m being totally honest, I do buy into the wellness industry, because it makes me feel good. I love trying out so-called ‘Superfoods’ like Quinoa, Cacao and Chia seeds, and I really like incorporating them into my diet because variety is a beautiful thing. Would I say I ‘eat clean’? Yeah, and every now and then, I’ll eat a 15” pizza to myself. And that’s okay.

When it comes to questioning people’s lifestyle choices; whether they be vegan, vegetarian, pescetarian or whatever else, it’s really up to them how they want to live. ‘Clean Eating’s Dirty Secrets’ presented the advocates of #eatclean as under-qualified money-grabbers and their followers as gullible sheep. The overall positive messages associated with healthy food choices were ridiculed. Questioning the phenomenal success of the health and fitness industry is absolutely fine, so long as you aren’t dismissing other people’s lifestyle choices in the process.

 

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Laura Cox

News Editor 2015/2016.