Clean eating – it’s a term bandied around across social media, on adverts, across television and fitness magazines; if we eat clean we can expect to be happier, healthier, thinner and… cleaner?
Propelled across Instagram and shovelled into the mouths of young adults, clean eating can result in a heightened sense of paranoia about the foods we eat and an obsession with the way that we look. It used to be that stick thin models on magazine covers were the epitome of cool – in the 90s everyone wanted to be rake skinny (think Kate Moss). It made women feel inadequate and was even a driving force behind eating disorders. And while ‘Heroin Chic’ has long gone out of fashion, the new ‘Clean Eating’ trend has become the latest fad to prompt a nationwide lack of self-acceptance in the Millennial generation.
Now, I’m not for one second going to say that we shouldn’t promote a healthy approach to nutrition. In many ways, it’s fantastic that crisps and sweets are the unpopular kids at school on apps like Instagram. But describing some foods as clean and as such, labelling others as dirty is a dangerous game to play.
Fitness Magazine describes clean eating as eating ‘real’ whole food. They say it means eating food that is completely unprocessed and many advocate that we should only eat foods that have either lived or come from the ground. Whilst the trend claims to be easy (simply eat clean) there are actually a million and one rules that you can choose to adhere to if you want in on the ‘clean eating’ craze. You can cut out grains, gluten, dairy, meat, carbs, sugar, anything cooked above a certain temperature… or, in fact, pretty much anything on your plate that makes you feel happy inside.
And like any revolution ‘clean eating’ has its leaders. An army of white, well-spoken bloggers and Instagrammers such as Tess Ward, Clean Eating Alice, Madeline Shaw, the Hemsley sisters and Ella Woodward lead the way – some with a very bizarre approach to eating. Speaking to The Spectator, consultant dietician Sian Porter warned that ‘if people do not plan really carefully for substitutes of food groups then you can end up malnourishing yourself.’
The Danger Of The Instagram Brigade
Even I beat myself up these days after eating too many starchy carbs in a day or berate myself for not being able to avoid cheese and dairy, especially when I’m scrolling through Insta and get confronted with a million #cleaneating tags. Fit is cool right now and it really gets inside our minds.
While it is important to nourish our bodies, it’s also incredibly important to have a healthy relationship with food. And nutritionists such as Rhiannon Lambert, who spoke to The Guardian have found that the ‘clean eating’ trend has had a big impact on developing some seriously unhealthy habits among her clients. She revealed, ‘they develop particular habits, or won’t eat food when walking, because they think that food can only be processed when they’re sitting down,’ she said. “All this interferes with general life and becomes an obsession.’ And she added that she’s even had clients that refuse to drink tap water out of fear that it won’t match their ‘clean eating’ lifestyle.
In the same way that it is impossible for us to look like supermodels on the front pages of magazines (because they don’t even look like themselves), it’s also impossible for us to look like the women, men and girls that post images of themselves on Instagram (because again, they don’t even look like themselves). With the birth of Instagram there has also come a way for every person to filter not only their lives but also their bodies and often to use a fabricated version of themselves to sell health products to insecure people scrolling mindlessly page after page.
And while it is fantastic that these people may have found a diet that works for them, that doesn’t mean that it will work for all those thousands of their disciples. In the age of the internet and ‘fake news’, it is easy to be misinformed. And even those at the top of the movement are guilty.
Eating Healthily and Happily
It really isn’t such a crime that fit and healthy is cool right now. If it encourages people to think a little more about what we’re putting into our bodies then that is great. But it’s about getting the balance right. It’s about learning what works for you and not following the advice of some cheery woman you don’t know just because she looks pretty, has 5 million followers and a big shiny cookbook. It’s so easy to get sucked into the wellness world, and it’s okay to turn there for recipe inspiration. Just maybe remember to take it all with a pinch of salt (Himalayan pink salt, of course).