What is this media obsession with classifying clean eating as a damaging fad diet followed by instagrammers and unhealthy vegans? We take a look at some of the stories behind the headlines.
Our gradual dietary shift
Over the last few years Laura and I have gradually taken more of an interest in the food we eat, how it’s prepared and where we source it from.
In practice this means we follow a more or less plant based diet, grow a few veggies in our back garden and bake many of the bread products we eat (we use a sourdough starter we’ve been keeping for the last 5 years). We rarely buy processed food, favouring cooking from scratch for pretty much every meal. Where we can, we buy fresh produce from our local farm shop and eat lots of pulses and fresh vegetables in what we think of as being a delicious and varied diet.
Our lifestyle has gradually evolved from a desire to limit the amount of processed, sugar and salt filled stuff
I would say that we try to follow a clean eating diet – and that’s diet in the ‘what we eat everyday’ sense of the word rather than the ‘I read a book that says I can only eat 5 eggs a day to lose weight’ sense.
Fad or obsession?
Our lifestyle has gradually evolved from a desire to limit the amount of processed, sugar and salt filled stuff that lines the supermarket shelves. It has helped us feel better, helped us eat tastier food and has provided us with the energy we need to work, raise two children and engage in regular exercise (in my case running).
However, over the last few weeks I’ve noticed an interesting and slightly worrying trend. A number of (relatively) reputable news and information sites have posted articles with headlines like:
If You’ve Ever Been On A Diet, You Need To Look At These Food Comparisons That Are Going Viral supported with images like this.
Earlier this year BBC News reported on the subject with the headline “Clean eating: How good is it for you?” – The piece was a response from the National Osteoporosis Society saying that clean eating may be affecting young people’s bone development. If you follow the link to the original story they did also mention that you can get all the calcium you need from nuts, and seeds – something they didn’t include in the more recent write up.
On their website, the National Osteoporosis Society also point out that people can get adequate calcium from many other sources – something the BBC fails to point out.
The BBC even suggested that clean eating, in extreme cases, meant cutting out dairy from your diet – something that could be a ticking health time bomb. I’m not sure the Vegan society would consider cutting out dairy to be extreme.
Quoting dietician Catherine Collins, they went on to say that Instagram is only a snapshot of the food some of the clean eating people are consuming, but “There might have been a load of chocolate biscuits and purging in between.“
There are a load of reports that Orthorexia is becoming more common. Orthorexia is an eating disorder where sufferers become obsessed with the ‘purity’ of the food they’re eating and consequently become malnourished because they restrict their diets to much.
Taken to extreme almost any activity can be bad for you
I’m positive that there are people suffering with this obsessive condition. Taken to extreme almost any activity can be bad for you – for example addiction to exercising – Anorexia athletica or addiction to nasal hair plucking – Trichotillomania. Any obsessive behaviour should be cause for concern and sufferers should seek out proper help and support.
However, there is a narrative at work here, and I’m not sure why it’s developed. The media have picked out a few individuals who have taken, what I consider to be a fairly common sense approach to food too far and used their stories as somehow emblematic of the entire idea of eating good food.
If I was feeling particularly paranoid, I might suggest that in response to the £240m decline in UK milk sales over the last two years the dairy industry PR machine has started paying for studies proving that cutting out dairy will make our bones turn to dust. That they are ensuring that various media channels cover it by finding individuals who have suffered the consequences of developing an unhealthy obsession with controlling the food they eat.
Dairy in the UK and the rest of the world is big business, and the growing tide of people turning to plant based diets is something that will affect their profits. There is a huge amount of evidence that bovine secretions (milk to you and I) are not only unnecessary for our wellbeing, but can actually be harmful. The dairy industry would almost certainly want to respond to this kind of news in kind.
The National Osteoporosis Society also admit that 1% of their funding comes from the dairy industry. Just saying.
Re-normalising junk food
Comparisons like the one pictured above are nonsensical. Is the article on IFLS really claiming that a Fruit Pastils are nutritionally equivalent to a similar quantity of nuts? Actually they are comparing them on one metric, calories.
Instagram is not real. It’s a curated version of reality that people choose to share.
These kind of articles make for good click bait, and play right into the hands of the big food manufacturers. At best it paints people who care about the food they eat as being fad dieters, and at worst depicts them as malnourished obsessives who just need to wake up and start eating Pringles again to be normal.
The media love nothing better than someone who’s holier than thou attitude has led them first to a fall and then a climb down back to the way they rest of us live. Nearly every one of these reports and articles has an Instagrammer who has embraced clean eating, gone too far, suffered ill health and is now extolling the virtues of eating biscuits.
In case you don’t know our views on Instagram, take a look at our vision page – Instagram is not real. It’s a curated version of reality that people choose to share. It creates an unrealistic and often unobtainable caricature of a lifestyle people buy into and then find they can’t attain.
The final word, from the NHS
NHS advice is to eat a varied diet comprised of fresh fruit and vegetable, low in refined sugar, low in saturated fat and salt and with little or no red meat. This was included at the end of the BBC story – presumably for balance.
It sounds a lot like clean eating to me.
Harvard study on bone health – spoiler: Dairy can cause more harm than good, we should be focusing on Vit D and Vit K