Today’s post is a bit of a ranty one but something that I have wanted to write for a long time. You may have seen a program on TV recently called Horizon: Clean Eating- The Dirty Truth . I knew before this programme even began that it would be in the same vein as all the other rubbish we’ve had lately about health bloggers, ‘clean’ eaters or anybody that is partial to a bit of avocado on toast.
What is Clean Eating Anyway?
Now, first of all-I’d liked to make clear that, yes I am aware that the word ‘clean’ eating, isn’t particularly accurate or reflective of what essentially just a diet of real foods- plants, meat, nuts, seeds- is all about (and what most of us health bloggers are often talking about). By labelling anything ‘clean’ it, of course, provides suggestions that when you don’t eat these foods; you might be ‘unclean’ or even ‘dirty’-leading to all kinds of guilt. I do get that and I am also aware of fellow health bloggers who have been impacted by this; leading to eating disorders or erratic eating patterns.
Yet, as an English teacher and indeed a writer- what I am also very poignantly aware of is that it’s simply a word (well, two, if you’re pedantic). A word of many that we’ve come up with because we would like to sit down and really teach what food is about but in reality, we need to resort to easy to remember words and phrases instead. These words can cause harm because they are unclear, undefined and interchangeable. As someone who is an established health blogger, each day I receive information about the following types of foods into my inbox: superfoods, antioxidant foods, rawfoods, detoxifying foods, organic foods, paleo friendly foods, gluten free foods, dairy free foods, anti-ageing foods, anti-inflammatory foods, slimming foods, green supplements, weight loss supplements, skin nourishing foods, syn free foods, 10 calorie foods, good gut foods. Do I need to go on?
Why Clean Eaters?
The kind of TV programmes we should be making are ones that educate about foods so we shouldn’t need these labels of all. But of course, that wouldn’t bring in the views would it; so instead the programme makers choose to zoom in on one group of people and demonise them and what a surprise: all of them just happened to be young women. Ian Marber wrote a fantastic post about the sexism that is at stake here- why is Deliciously Ella (who has always advocating giving choices- her deli Mae offering plant-based and meat options) being made to attempt to justify whether or not she did indeed she use the word ‘clean’ while Joe Wicks remains unscathed for lean in 15? What’s the difference? A single letter between being vilified or emerging victorious?
Furthermore, those that chose not to appear were assumed to be guilty- I have always been a massive fan of the Hemsley’s (I even blogged about meeting them here) and there is nothing at all faddy about their recipes- which often feature bone broth, meat, veg and other hearty meals: it’s plain and simple good, old fashioned healthy recipes. Why do they need to justify themselves to anyone?
The argument the TV program make is that these young women (and not men you understand- no mention of James Duigan either who invented the clean and lean diet; with a happy women in a bikini on the front cover) are making their fellow females feel like we’ve sinned. Can you imagine? A diet programme that makes you feel like eating food is literally a sin- the BBC left no stone unturned in investing this issues; despite ignoring a diet programme that ACTUALLY LABELS FOOD AS SYNS’- Slimming World.
Slimming World V Clean Eating
Now, I know Slimming World is very popular; it is not a diet I would personally recommend but I know it works for many. But Slimming World is a diet that not only labels food by its ‘sinful’ value (literally here rather than the suggested metaphorical attachment of clean eaters) but also has ‘unqualified’ people running sessions. Where’s the difference? Those leaders are only attempting to share what works for them as we bloggers are too. Yet their guidance is certainly no more helpful- a quick scan of the slimming world Instagram sees people boasting that a packet of skips or a drumstick lolly is only 1 syn and are therefore winning at life. At least ‘clean’ eating attempts to consider the nutritional value of foods (however, somewhat misguided); rather than attempt to nominate an arbitrary value to items of food; which can often be misleading.
Scaremongering and Scapegoating
Now, you might mention the despicable human beings who suggest that food can be a cure for cancer; like the man featured in the documentary. To that I say: where is the link? If you don’t know my blog already, I am very pro medication and a balanced lifestyle for crohn’s disease; so seeing people suggest food can cure cancer is just bloody madness. But it’s also bloody mad to suggest that he is anyway linked to the average health blogger who would never ever condone his actions? Why such a leap? Would you say that Slimming world is linked to dangerous dieting supplements because they both promote weightloss. Of course not. While we’re on the subject of illness a minute, can we talk about the fact that I get messages EVERY SINGLE DAY from people selling plexus/juice plus/forever living sellers telling me they have supplements to help my disease- investigate that while you’re there please! (I do know some lovely sellers but unfortunately these are a minority)
I am completely aware that there are people who may have developed a negative relationship with food after trying Slimming World, Paleo or indeed ‘clean eating’ Just as there may be many who swear by it and use these diets as a way of learning more about food and understanding it. The reason we’re really demonising these ‘clean’ eating women is because it is easier. They’re essentially young, healthy, full of energy and have made something of themselves– and it is far easier in this country to criticise people like that instead of rewarding them. Concepts that confuse us like diet can be scary- so again it feels better to scapegoat and demonise than to admit we have questions; a flurry of tweets after the show saw people eating and drinking junk food in defiance- missing the point completely.
Education Is What We Need
Every day I get asked; what is the best diet for IBD, IBS or weight loss? Would being vegan help? What about gluten free? And it all comes to the same thing: no one really understand how food works anymore. The kids I teach at school know nothing about oily fish for brain support or healthy fats. They just know that they want to look like a girl out of TOWIE or have Kylie Jenner’s lips. My experience with IBD and food has been a difficult journey- doctors will often say diet has nothing to do with IBD or vague comments like ‘keep a food diary’; which ,until we understand how food works , make no sense. So I tried to study and learn more. After all, any diet or food plan only works if we know what we’re looking for and how food works- whether it be the impact of fibre on the digestion system or how oily fats aid the skin. So I studied and then I studied some more and more and some days it feels like I still have a lot more work to do. Although it’s important food isn’t seen as a cure, lack of education is what turns many people to spending loads of supplements or trying faddy diets in the first place.
So, to bring this very long rant to an end: In filming a documentary about the nature of clean eating; there was only thing that the BBC truly exposed and only thing we really need to urgently address: the huge lack of education about food that currently exists in our country.