Why we fell for clean eating

The long read: The oh-so-Instagrammable food motion has been exhaustively debunked but it depicts no signs of going away. The real question is why we were so desperate to believe it

In the springtime of 2014, Jordan Younger noticed that her hair was falling out in clumps. Not cool was her reaction. At the time, Younger, 23, believed herself to be eating the healthiest of all possible diets. She was a gluten-free, sugar-free, oil-free, grain-free, legume-free, plant-based raw vegan. As The Blonde Vegan, Younger was a wellness blogger in New York City, one of thousands on Instagram( where she had 70,000 adherents) rallying under the hashtag #eatclean. Although she had no qualifications as a nutritionist, Younger had sold more than 40,000 copies of her own $25, five-day cleanse programme a formula for an all-raw, plant-based diet majoring on green juice.

But the clean diet that Younger was selling as the route to health was constructing its inventor sick. Far from being super-healthy, she was suffered by a serious eating disorder: orthorexia, an preoccupation with ingesting merely foods that are pure and perfect. Youngers raw vegan diet had caused her periods to stop and given her scalp an orange tinge from all the sweet potato and carrots she consumed( the only carbohydrates she permitted herself ). Eventually, she tried psychological assistance, and began to slowly widen the repertoire of foods she would allow herself to eat, starting with fish. She recognised that their own problems was not her veganism, per se, but the particularly rigid and restrictive diet regime she had imposed on herself.

As Younger slowly recovered from her eating disorder, she faced a new dilemma. What would people believe, she agonised, if they knew the Blonde Vegan was eating fish? She levelled with her followers in a blogpost entitled Why Im Transitioning Away from Veganism. Within hours of announcing her new diet, Younger was receiving irate messages from vegans demanding money back from the cleanse programmes and T-shirts they had bought from her site( featuring mottoes such as OH KALE YES ).

She lost adherents by the thousands and received a daily raft of angry messages, including death threats. Some responded to her confession that she was suffered by an eating disorder by accusing her of being a fat piece of lard who didnt have the discipline is really clean.

For as long as people have eaten food, there have been diets and quack remedies. But previously, these existed, like conspiracy hypothesis, on the periphery of food culture. Clean eating was different, because it established itself as a challenge to mainstream ways of eating, and its wild popularity over the past five years has enabled it to move far beyond the fringes. Powered by social media, it has been more absolutist in its claims and more popular in its reach than any previous school of modern nutrition advice.

At its simplest, clean eating is about ingesting nothing but whole or unprocessed foods( whatever is entailed by these deeply ambiguous terms ). Some versions of clean eating have been vegan, while others espouse various meats( preferably wild) and something mysteriously called bone broth( stock, to you and me ). At first, clean eating sounded modest and even homespun: rather than counting calories, you would eat as many nutritious home-cooked substances as possible.

But it quickly is very clear that clean feeing was more than a diet; it was a notion system, which propagated the idea that the route most people eat is not simply fattening, but impure. Apparently out of nowhere, a whole cosmo of coconut oil, dubious promises and spiralised courgettes has emerged. Back in the distant mists of 2009, James Duigan, owned of The Bodyism gym in London and sometime personal trainer to the model Elle MacPherson, published his first Clean and Lean book. As an early adopter of #eatclean, Duigan notes that he battled with his publisher to include ingredients like kale and quinoa, because no one had ever heard of them. Now quinoa is in every supermarket and kale has become as normal as lettuce. I long for the days when clean eating meant not getting too much down your front, the novelist Susie Boyt joked recently.

Jordan
Jordan Younger, AKA The Balanced Blonde, formerly The Blonde Vegan. Photograph: Whitford/ BFA/ Rex/ Shutterstock

Almost as soon as it became ubiquitous, clean eating sparked a backlash. By 2015, Nigella Lawson was speaking for many when she expressed abhorrence at clean eating as a judgmental sort of body fascism. Food is not dirty, Lawson wrote. Clean eating has been attacked by critics such as the baker and cookbook writer Ruby Tandoh( who wrote a much-shared article on the subject in Vice magazine in May 2016) for being an provocation to eating disorders.

Others have pointed out that, as a technique of healthy eating, its founded on bad science. In June, the American Heart Association suggested that the coconut oil beloved as a panacea by clean eaters actually had no known offsetting favourable effects, and that eating it could result in higher LDL cholesterol. A few weeks later, Anthony Warner a food consultant with a background in science who blogs as The Angry Chef published a book-length assault on the science of clean eating, calling it a world of quinoa bowl and nutribollocks fuelled by the modern information age.

When Dr Giles Yeo, a geneticist at the University of Cambridge, presented an episode of the BBCs Horizon this year that has reviewed and considered the scientific evidence for different schools of clean eating, he found everything from innocuous recipes to serious malpractice.

He reported on the alkaline diet of Dr Robert O Young, who peddled the idea that illnes is caused by feeing acidic foods. After being diagnosed with terminal cancer in her 20 s, Naima Houder-Mohammed, an officer in the British army, paid Young more than $77,000 for therapy( including dinners of avocado, which Young calls Gods butter) at his pH miracle ranch in the US in 2012. She died subsequently that year. Separately, Young was jailed in June this year after being convicted of charges including practising medicine without a licence. While he may represent an extreme case, it is clear that many wellness gurus, as Yeos programme concluded, tell a troubling narrative founded on falsehoods.

As the negative press for clean eating has intensified over the past year, many of the early goddesses of #eatclean have tried to rebrand proclaiming they no longer use the word clean to describe the recipes that have sold them millions of books. Ella Mills AKA Deliciously Ella, the food writer and entrepreneur whose coconut-and-oat energy balls sell for 1.79 apiece in British supermarkets said on Yeos Horizon program that she felt that the word clean as applied to eating originally entailed nothing but natural, real, unprocessed food. Now, it means diet, it entails fad, she complained.

But however much the concept of clean eating has been logically refuted and publicly reviled, the thing itself presents few signs of succumbing. Step into the cookbook segment of any book store and you will see how many recipe novelists continue to promise us inner purity and outer beauty. Even if you have never knowingly tried to eat clean, its impossible to avoid the trend wholly, because it changed the foods available to all of us, and the way they are spoken of.

Avocados now outsell oranges in the UK. Susi Richards, head of product development at Sainsburys supermarkets, told me earlier this year that she had been taken aback by the pace at which demand for products fitting with the clean eating lifestyle have grown in the UK. Households who would once have feed potato waffles are now experimenting with lower carb butternut squaffles( slice of butternut squash cut to resemble a waffle ). Nutribullets a brand of compact blenders designed for making supposedly radiance-bestowing juices and smoothies are now mentioned in some circles as casually as wooden spoons.

Why has clean feeing proved so difficult to kill off? Hadley Freeman, in this paper, identified clean eating as part of a post-truth culture, whose adherents are impervious, or even hostile, to facts and experts. But to understand how clean eating took hold with such tenacity, its necessary first to consider just what a terrifying thing food has become for millions of people in the modern world. The interesting question is not whether clean feeing is nonsense, but why so many intelligent people decided to put their faith in it.


We are not the only generation to have seemed in abhorrence at an unhealthy food environment and wished that we could replace it with nutrients that were perfectly safe to eat. In the 1850 s, a British chemist called Arthur Hill Hassall became remain convinced that the whole food supply of London was riddled with toxins and fakery. Whats more, he was right. Hassall had done a series of investigations for the medical publication the Lancet, and found that much of what was for sale as food and drink was not what it seemed: coffee made from burnt sugar and chicory; pickles dyed green with poison copper colourings.

Years of exposing the toxic deceptions all around him seems to have driven Hassall to a state of paranoia. He started to see poison everywhere, and decided that the answer was to create a set of totally uncontaminated food products. In 1881, he set up his own firm, The Pure Food Company, which would only use ingredients of unimpeachable quality. Hassall took water that was softened and purified and blended it with the finest Smithfield beef to attain the purest beef jelly and disgusting-sounding fibrinous meat lozenges the energy balls of Victorian England. The Pure Food Company of 1881 sounds just like a hundred wellness food businesses today except for the fact that it collapsed within a year due to lack of sales.

We are once again living in an environment where ordinary food, which should be something reliable and sustaining, has come to feel noxious. Unlike the Victorian, we do not fear that our coffee is fake so much as that our entire pattern of eating may be bad for us, in ways that we cant fully identify. One of the things that builds the new wave of wellness cookbooks so appealing is that they assure the reader that they offer a new style of eating that comes without any dread or guilt.

The founding principle of these modern wellness regimes is that our current style of feeing is slowly poisoning us. Much of the food on offer to us today is nutritionally substandard, write the Hemsley sisters, best-selling champions of nutrient-dense food. Its hard to disagree with the proposition that modern diets are generally substandard, even if you dont share the Hemsleys solution of running grain-free. All of these diets have a kernel of truth that is spun out into some bigger fantasy, Giles Yeo says hence their huge appeal.

Melissa
Melissa and Jasmine Hemsley. Photograph: Nick Hopper

Clean eating whether it is called that or not is perhaps best seen as a dysfunctional response to a still more dysfunctional food supply: a dream of purity in a toxic world. To walk into a modern western supermarket is to be assailed by aisle upon aisle of salty, oily snacks and sugary cereals, of bread that has been neither proved nor fermented, of inexpensive, sweetened drinks and meat from animals kept in inhumane conditions.

In the postwar decades, most countries in the world underwent what the prof of nutrition Barry Popkin calls a nutrition transition to a westernised diet high in sugar, meat, fat, salt, refined oils and ultra-processed concoctions, and low in vegetables. Affluence and multi-national food companies replaced the hunger of earlier generations with an unwholesome banquet of sweet drinks and convenience food that teach us from a young age to crave more of the same. Wherever this pattern of feeing travelled, it brought with it dramatic rises in ill health, from allergies to cancer.

In prosperous countries, large numbers of people whether they wanted to lose weight or not became understandably scared of the modern food supply and what it was doing to our bodies: kind 2 diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular disease , not to mention a host of other complaints that are influenced by diet, ranging from Alzheimers to gout. When mainstream diets start to sicken people, it is unsurprising that many of us should seek other ways of feeing to keep ourselves safe from damage. Our collective nervousnes around diet was exacerbated by a general impression that mainstream scientific advice on diet inflated by newspaper headlines could not be trusted. First these so-called experts tell us to avoid fat, then sugar, and all the while people get less and less healthy. What will these experts say next, and why should we believe them?

Into this atmosphere of anxiety and embarrassment stepped a series of gurus offering messages of wonderful simplicity and reassurance: feed this way and I will construct you fresh and healthy again. It is very hard to pinpoint the exact moment when clean eating started, because it is not so much as a single diet as a portmanteau term that has borrowed notions from numerous pre-existing diets: a bit of Paleo here, some Atkins there, with a few remnants of 1960 s macrobiotics hurled in for good measure.

But some time in the early 2000 s, two distinct but interrelated versions of clean eating became popular in the US one based on the credo of real food, and another on the idea of detox. Once the concept of cleanliness had entered the realm of eating, it was only a matter of time before the basic idea spread contagiously across Instagram, where fans of #eatclean could share their artfully photographed green juices and rainbow salad bowls.

The first and more moderate version of clean food started in 2007, when Tosca Reno, a Canadian fitness model, published a volume called The Eat-Clean Diet. In it, Reno described how “shes lost” 34 kg( 75 lb) and transformed her health by avoiding all over-refined and processed foods, particularly white flour and sugar. A typical Reno eat-clean meal might be stir-fried chicken and veggies over brown rice; or almond-date biscotti with a cup of tea. In many routes The Eat-Clean Diet was like any number of diet books that had come before, advising plenty of vegetables and modestly sectioned, home-cooked meals. The change, which Anthony Warner calls a piece of genius on Renos part, was that she presented it, above all, as a holistic way of living.

Meanwhile, a second version of clean eating was spearheaded by a former cardiologist from Uruguay called Alejandro Junger, the author of Clean: The Revolutionary Program to Restore the Bodys Natural Ability to Heal Itself, which was published in 2009 after Jungers clean detox system had been praised by Gwyneth Paltrow on her Goop website. Jungers system was far stricter than Renos, requiring, for a few weeks, a revolutionary elimination diet based on liquid dinners and a total exclusion of caffeine, alcohol, dairy and eggs, sugar, all veggies in the nightshade household( tomatoes, aubergines and so on ), red meat( which, according to Junger, generates an acidic inner surrounding ), among other foods. During this stage, Junger advised a largely liquid diet either composed of home-made juices and soups, or of his own special powdered shakes. After the detox period, Junger advised very cautiously reintroducing toxic triggers such as wheat( a classic trigger of allergic replies) and dairy( an acid-forming food ).

Woman
Photograph: Alexandra Iakovleva/ Getty

To read Jungers book is to feel that everything edible in our world is potentially toxic. Yet, as with Arthur Hassall, many of Jungers dreads may be justified. Junger writes as a doctor with first-hand knowledge of diet-related outbreaks of cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and autoimmune disease. The volume is full of example surveys of individuals who follow Jungers detox and emerge lighter, leaner and happier. Who is the candidate for using this program? Junger asks, responding: Everyone who lives a modern life, eats a modern diet and inhabits the modern world.

To my astound, I procured myself compelled by the messianic tone of Jungers Clean though not quite obliged enough to pay $475 for his 21 -day programme( which, in any case, doesnt ship outside of North America ), or to give up my daily breakfast of inflammatory coffee, gut-irritating sourdough toast and acid-forming butter, on which I feel surprisingly well. When I told Giles Yeo how seductive I found Jungers words, virtually despite myself, he said: This is their magic! They are all charismatic human beings. I do believe the clean-eating guru believes in it themselves. They drink the Koolaid.


Over the past 50 years, mainstream healthcare in the west has been inexplicably blind to the role that diet plays in preventing and alleviating ill health. When it started, #eatclean spoke to growing numbers of people who felt that their existing way of eating was causing them problems, from weight gain to headaches to stress, and that conventional medication could not help. In the absence of nutrition guidance from doctors, it was a natural step for individuals to start experimenting with cutting out this food or that.

From 2009 to 2014, the number of Americans who actively avoided gluten, despite not suffered by coeliac illnes, more than tripled. It also became fashionable to drink a whole pantheon of non-dairy milks, ranging from oat milk to almond milk. I have lactose-intolerant and vegan friends who say that #eatclean has stimulated it far easier for them to buy ingredients that they once had to go to specialist health-food stores to find. What isnt so easy now is to find dependable information on special diets in the sea of half-truths and bunkum.

Someone who find how quickly and radically #eatclean changed the market for health-food books is Anne Dolamore, a publisher at the independent food publishers Grub Street, are stationed in London. Dolamore has been publishing health-related food volumes since 1995, a time when free-from cooking was a tiny subculture. In the working day before Google, Dolamore who has long believed that food is medicine felt that volumes on special diets by writers with proper credentials could serve a useful intent. In 1995, Grub Street published The Everyday Diabetic Cookbook, which had now been sold over 100,000 transcripts in the UK. Other successful volumes followed, including The Everyday Wheat-Free and Gluten-Free Cookbook by Michelle Berriedale-Johnson, published in 1998.

In 2012, the market for wellness cookbooks in the UK abruptly changed, starting with the astound success of Honestly Healthy by Natasha Corrett and Vicki Edgson, which sold around 80,000 copies. Louise Haines, a publisher at 4th Estate, recalls that the previous big tendency in British food publishing had been cooking, but the baking boom died overnight, virtually, and a number of sugar-free volumes came through.

At Grub Street, Anne Dolamore watched aghast as bestselling cookbooks piled up from a never-ending stream of blonde, willowy authorities, many of whom seemed to be devising diets based on little but their own limited experience. If Junger and Reno laid the groundwork for feed clean to become a vast worldwide trend, it was social media and the internet that did the remainder. Almost all of the authors of the British clean eating bestsellers started off as bloggers or Instagrammers, many of them beautiful women in their early 20 s who were genuinely convinced that the diets they had invented had cured them of various chronic ailments.

Keep your chia seed smoothies off my Instagram feed

Every wellness guru worth her Himalayan pink salt has a story of how changing what you eat can change their own lives. Food has the power to stimulate or transgress you, wrote Amelia Freer in her 2014 bestseller Eat. Nourish. Glow.( which has sold more than 200,000 copies ). Freer was leading a busy life as a personal assistant to the Prince of Wales when she realised that her tummy seemed and felt as if it had a football in it from too many snatched dinners of cheese on toast or factory-made food. By giving up processed and convenience foods( margarine, yuck !) along with gluten and sugar, Freer claimed to have found the secrets to seeming younger and feeling healthier.

Perhaps the best-known diet-transformation narrative of all is that of Ella Mills possessor of more than a million Instagram followers. In 2011, Mills was diagnosed with postural tachycardia disorder, a condition characterised by dizziness and extreme tirednes. Mills began blogging about food after discovering that her symptoms radically improved when she swapped her sugar-laden diet for plant-based, natural foods. Mills who used to be a model made following a free-from diet seem not drab or deprived, but deep aspirational. By the time her first book appeared in January 2015, her vast following on social media helped her to sell 32,000 copies in the first week alone.

Amelia
Amelia Freer. Photo: S Meddle/ ITV/ Rex/ Shutterstock

There was something paradoxical about the way these books were marketed. What they were selling purported to be an alternative to a sordidly commercial food industry. If its got a barcode or a promise, dont buy it, wrote Freer. Yet clean eating is itself a wildly profitable commercial enterprise, promoted utilizing photogenic young bloggers on a multi-billion-dollar tech platform. Literary agent Zoe Ross tells me that around 2015 she began to notice that the market was scouring Instagram for copycat acts specifically very pretty, very young girls pushing curated food and lifestyle.

After years on the margins, health-based cooking was ultimately getting a mass audience. In 2016, 18 out the 20 top dealers in Amazon UKs food and drink volume category had a focus on healthy eating and dieting. The irony, however, was that the various kinds of well-researched volumes Dolamore and others once published no longer tended to sell so well, because health publishing was now dominated by social media celebrities. Bookshops were heaving with so many of these clean books that even the authors themselves started to feel that there were too many of them. Alice Liveing, a 23 -year-old personal trainer who writes as Clean Eating Alice, argued in her 2016 volume Eat Well Every Day that she was championing what I feel is a much-needed breath of fresh air in what I think is an incredibly saturated market. To my untrained eye, browsing through her volume, Alices fresh approach to diet appeared very similar to countless others: date and almond energy balls, kale chips, beetroot and feta burgers.

Then again, shouldnt we give clean feeing due credit for achieving the miracle of turning beetroot and kale into objects of passion? Data from analysts Kantar Worldpanel show that UK sales of fresh beetroot have risen dramatically from 42.8 m in 2013 to 50.5 m in 2015. Some would argue that, in developed nations where most people eat shockingly poor diets, low in greens and high in sugar, this new union of health and food has done a modicum of good. Giles Yeo who expended some time cooking a spicy sweet-potato dish with Ella Mills for his BBC programme agrees that many of the clean eating recipes he tried are actually a tasty and cool route to cook veggies. But why, Yeo asks, do these authors not simply say I am publishing a very good vegetarian cookbook and be brought to an end, instead of attaining larger claims about the power of veggies to beautify or avoid illnes? The poison comes from the fact because this is wrapping the whole thing up in pseudoscience, Yeo says. If you base something on misrepresentations, it empowers people to take extreme actions, and this is where the damage begins.


You cant determined a new faith system with the words I am publishing a very good vegetarian cookbook. For this, you need something stronger. You require the assurance of make-believe, whispered sweetly. Grind this cauliflower into tiny pieces and you can make a special kind of no-carb rice! Avoid all sugar and your skin will shimmer! Among other things, clean feeing confirms how vulnerable and lost millions of us feel about diet which really means how lost we feel about our own bodies. We are so unmoored that we will put our faith in any master who promises us that we, too, is able to pure and good.

I can pinpoint the exact moment that my own feelings about clean eating changed from ambivalence to outright detest. I was on stage at the Cheltenham literary festival with dietician Renee McGregor( who works both with Olympic athletes and eating disorder sufferers) when a mob of around 300 clean-eating fans started jeering and hollering at us. We were supposedly taking part in a clean-eating debate with nutritionist Madeleine Shaw, author of Get the Glow and Ready Steady Glow.

Before that week, I had never read any of Shaws work. As I flicked through Ready Steady Glow, I was reasonably endeared by the upbeat tone( stop depriving yourself and start living) and bright photos of a beaming Shaw. I often astonish myself by receiving new things to spiralise she writes, introducing a sweet potato noodle salad. Cauliflower pizza, in her opinion, is quite simply: the best invention ever.

But underneath the brightness there were notes of restriction that I procured both worrying and confused. As ever, all my recipes are sugar-and-wheat free, Shaw announces, only to devote a recipe for gluten-free brownies that contains 200 g of coconut sugar, a substance that costs a lot more than your average white granulated sugar, but is metabolised by the body in the same route. I was still more alarmed by step four in Shaws nine-point food philosophy, which says that all bread and pasta should be avoided: they are beige foods, which are full of chemicals, preservatives and genetically modified wheat, and not whole foods. Shaws book makes no distinction between a loaf of, say, bleached sliced white, and a homemade wholemeal sourdough.

When we fulfilled on stage in Cheltenham, I asked Shaw why she told people to cut out all bread, and was startled when she denied she had said any such thing( rye bread was her favourite, she added ). McGregor asked Shaw what she meant when she wrote that people should try to eat only clean proteins; meat that was not deep-fried was her instead amazing respond. McGregors main concern about clean eating, she added, was that as a professional treating young person with eating disorders, she had ensure first-hand how the rules and restrictions of clean eating often segued into debilitating anorexia or orthorexia.

Madeleine
Madeleine Shaw promoting her volume Get the Glow. Photo: Joe Pepler/ REX/ Shutterstock

But I only insure the positive, said Shaw , now wiping away tears. It was at this point that the audience, who were already restless whenever McGregor or I spoke, descended into outright hostility, screaming and hissing for us to get off stage. In a volume shop after the event, as fans came up to Shaw to thank her for giving them the light, I too burst into tears when person or persons jabbed her thumbs at me and said I should be ashamed, as an older females( I am 43 ), to have criticised a younger one. On Twitter that night, some Shaw fans made derogatory comments about how McGregor and I seemed, under the hashtag #youarewhatyoueat. The implication was that, if we were less photogenic than Shaw, we clearly had nothing of any value to say about food( never mind the fact that McGregor has degrees in biochemistry and nutrition ).

Thinking about the event on the train home, I realised that the crowd were angry with us not because they disagreed with the details( its pretty clear that you cant have sugar in sugar-free recipes ), but because they detested the fact that we were arguing at all. To insist on the facts built us come across as cruelly negative. We had punctured the happy belief-bubble of glowiness that they had come to imbibe from Shaw. Its striking that in many of the wellness cookbooks, mainstream scientific proof on diet is seen as more or less irrelevant , not least because the gurus ensure the complacency of science as part of what induced our diets so bad in the first place.

Amelia Freer, in Eat. Nourish. Glow, admits that we cant prove that dairy is the cause of ailments ranging from IBS to joint pain, but concludes that its surely worth cutting dairy out anyway, just as a precaution. In another context, Freer writes that Im told it takes 17 years for scientific knowledge to filter down to become general knowledge, while advising that gluten should be avoided. Once we enter the territory where all authority and expertise are automatically suspect, you can start to claim almost anything and many #eatclean authorities do.

That night in Cheltenham, I insured that clean eating or whatever name it now runs under had elements of a post-truth cult. As with any cult, it could be something darknes and divisive if you got on the wrong side of it. After Giles Yeos BBC programme was aired, he told me he was startled to find himself are submitted to relentless online trolling. They said I was funded by big pharma, and therefore obviously wouldnt watch the benefits of a healthy diet over medication. These were outright lies.( Yeo is employed by the University of Cambridge, and funded by the Medical Research Council .)

Its increasingly clear that clean eating, for all its good aims, can cause real harm, both to truth and to human being. Over the past 18 months, McGregor says, every single client with an eating disorder who walks into my clinic doors is either following or wants to follow a clean style of eating.

In her new book, Orthorexia, McGregor observes that while eating disorder long predate the #eatclean tendency, food regulations( such as feeing no dairy or avoiding all grains) easily become a guise for curtailing food intake. Furthermore, they are not even good regulations, based as they are on unsubstantiated, unscientific claims. Take almond milk, which is widely touted as a superior alternative to kine milk. McGregor insures it as little better than expensive water, containing only 0.1 g protein per 100 ml, compared with 3.2 g per 100 ml in cows milk. But she often determines it very difficult to convince her clients that restricting themselves to these clean foods is in the long run worse for their health than what she calls unrestrained eating both balanced and varied meals, but no panic about the odd ice cream or chocolate bar.

Clearly , not everyone who bought a clean-eating book has developed an eating disorder. But a motion whose premise is that normal food is unhealthy has now muddied the waters of healthy eating for everyone else, by planting the idea that a good diet is one founded on absolutes.


The true calamity of clean eating is not that it is entirely false. It is that it contains a kernel of truth, as Giles Yeo sets it. When you strip down all the pseudo babble, they are absolutely right to say that we should eat more veggies, less refined sugar and less meat, Yeo said, sipping a black coffee in his office at the Institute of Metabolic Science in Cambridge, where he spends his days researching the causes of obesity. Yeo agreed to the clean eaters that our environment of inexpensive, plentiful, sugary, fatty food is a recipe for widespread obesity and ill health. The problem is its near impossible to pick out the sensible bits of clean eating and dismiss the remainder. #Eatclean stimulated healthy feeing seem like something expensive, exclusive and difficult to achieve, as Anthony Warner writes. Whether the word clean is use or not, there is a new puritanism about food that has taken root very widely.

A few weeks ago, I overheard a fit, middle-aged human at the gym castigating a friend for not eating a better diet a conversation that would once have been unimaginable among humen. The first human was telling the second that the skinny burgers he opted were nothing but shitty mince and marketing and arguing that he could get almost everything he needed from a diet of veggies, cooked with no petroleum. Fat is fat, at the end of the day, he concluded, before bemoaning the imbeciles who tried to eat something wholesome like a salad, then ruined it by adding salt. If you have one bad diet day a week, you undo all your good work.

The real question is how to fight this kind of diet absolutism without ricochetting back to a mindless festivity of the modern food environment that is demonstrably constructing so many people sick. In 2016, more than 600 children in the UK were registered as living with kind 2 diabetes; before 2002, there were no reported cases of children suffering from the condition, whose causes are diet-related.

Our food system is in desperate need of reform. Theres a threat that, in fighting the nonsense of clean eating, we end up looking like apologists for a commercial food supply that is failing in its basic chore of nourishing us. Former orthorexia sufferer Edward L Yuen has argued in his 2014 volume, Beating Orthorexia that the old advice of everything in moderation no longer works in a food surrounding where feeing in the middle ground may still leave you with chronic illness. When portions are supersized and Snickers bars are sold by the metre( something I ensure in my local Tesco lately ), feeing usually is not inevitably a balanced option. The answer isnt yet another perfect diet, but a shift in our idea of what constitutes normal food.

Sales of courgettes in the UK rose 20% from 2014 to 2015, fuelled by the rise of the spiraliser. But overall consumption of vegetables, both in the UK and worldwide, is still vanishingly small( with 74% of the adult UK population not managing to eat five a day ). That is much lower than it was in the 1950 s, when freshly cooked daily snacks were still something that most people took for granted.

Among the affluent class who already eat a healthier-than-average diet, the Instagram goddesses created a new model of dietary perfection to aim for. For the rest of the population, however, it simply placed the ideal of healthy food ever further out of reach. Behind the shiny coverings of the clean-eating books, there is a harsh sort of economic exclusion that says that someone who cant afford wheatgrass or spirulina can never be truly well.

As the conversation I overheard in the gym exemplifies, this way of thinking is especially dangerous because it obliterates the message that, in fact, small changes in diet can have a large beneficial impact. If you think you cant be healthy unless you feed nothing but vegetables, you might miss the fact that( as a recent overview of the evidence by epidemiologists proved) there are substantial benefits from creating your fruit-and-veg intake from zero sections a day to just two.

Among its many other offences, clean eating was a series of claims about food that were all or nothing which only serves to underline the fact that most people, as usual, are stuck with nothing.

Main photo: Alamy

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