I was nicely surprised this weekend when the Times (magazine) ran a frankly refreshing piece focusing on the dangers of clean eating. Credit to Katie Glass for ‘nailing’ an article which could well have made her unpopular amongst the millions of ‘clean eaters’ out there. Either that or hopefully it will make people think – there is another way to life ……
It may come as a surprise that I am not a fan of the clean eating label. I am secretly proud to have never used this term as means of promotion and this is despite the amount of new followers, a clean eating hashtag could have brought upon me.
So what have I got against the term?
Ok – so without sounding like I’m sitting on any fences…I can understand why clean eating does have ‘some’ benefits when trying to describe ‘unprocessed foods’. But even the term unprocessed can have its problems.
Take a recent explanation to a fat loss client the reason why I don’t think smashing a diet of cocoa and coconut nutty ‘clean eaters balls’ mixed with pineapple and coconut milk smoothies would help them lose weight (even if they were sprinkled with fat burning cinnamon yes). The very fact she had put on weight since eating (supposedly) ‘clean’ gives a clue as to just some of the problems of this ‘diet approach’. (I use this term loosely’)
So lets look at the very basics what does clean mean? (thank you google)
‘free from dirt, marks, or stains’
ok so that rules out any soiled root vegetables then (yes I’m being facetious sorry) .
Then we have …..
morally uncontaminated; pure; innocent.
This is the PERFECT synopsis
Morally uncontaminated, pure or innocent? WOW. Now that is ALOT to live up to.
And therein lies the problem. Katie Glass touches on this well within her article, featuring Besma Whayeb’s turmoil and stress she felt of having to ‘live up to’ the fans that she has accrued since starting her wellbeing blog.
This is not an uncommon factor associated with extreme diets (and yes I do feel that many clean eaters are extreme). From those who cut out protein, meat, diary, gluten, carbohydrates, sugar, wheat, caffeine …..I could go on…..huge portions of our population are pinning their diets onto, ‘health guru’s advice, book or blog, somehow seemingly then legitimising what is clearly eating extremity. Guilt and stress are the inevitable outcome when dare I say it a grain of sugar accidentally may pass a clean eaters lips.
Demonising foods which contain simple and beneficially macro and micro nutrients can be damaging and pose health risks (check the response of Carrie Armstrong who lost her hair energy and mental wellbeing supposedly eating clean). In my opinion food should be seen as beneficial in almost all circumstances DEPENDANT on a) its use, and b) the individual. Take a client who eats a highly nutritious diet 99% of the time, who then dives into a bar of very low cocoa solid caramel chocolate ‘every now and then’- will it give them an attack of deathly inflammation?- I very much doubt it- so you see balance and context is pivotal for any healthy nutrition approach.
Cutting out food groups due to a fear or guilt, success or failure, is also psychologically unhealthy. As someone who works in this industry I have to admit I feel both pressured but also ethically responsible to provide only advice I feel qualified to give, and this is always provided with a clause of my experience. I struggle to call myself a nutritionist (despite a number of qualifications in this area) simply as I feel this undermines those who have scientifically studied food and nutrition (which I have not). Many popular clean eating proponents sell food eliminations as scientific fact, the holy grail of which (Katie Glasses article helpfully points out), are now becoming increasingly obvious are simply untrue.
I do like to think I can speak with some knowledge of this topic however, having lived as a fairly strict Paleo diet obsessor for a couple of years, many moons ago. I’m lucky to have escaped this unscathed with a now balanced, and steady head on my shoulders, but I do cringe when I think of what I ‘nearly became’ with no carbs, sugar, grains, wheat or diary in my life….! And guess what happened when I introduced all of these foods back in……I became healthier – (not dirtier) and I like to think I’m still morally quite pure 😉
Being a clean eater not only makes it ok to cut out huge food groups (of which most people are not allergic to, contrary to popular belief), but also allows an acceptability in doing so. More often than not I have found this leading to sanctimonious (unscientific) advice being thrown around gym locker rooms, work places and social media, in an attempt to paint an image of ‘moral innocence and purity’ as per the very helpful definition. Falsehoods are then perpetuated. If a work colleague, quotes a famous clean eating health guru- and links some weight loss with their preachings surely then it must be factually true? Rem well I’m afraid not, no.
Those associated with the clean eaters movement are often found in very expensive health stores, and cafes spending in huge amounts to buy the latest green shake and powders in an attempt to buy eternal health and youth. These products come at a price. I’m willing to bet you wont find those who would identify with the working class sector, eating coconut chippings instead of a packet of crisps. Again I find this division uncomfortable. I believe that quality food should be part of everyones diet, there are ways to eat ‘healthily’ without having to buy into an extreme and expensive divisive approach, and I strongly believe everyone has the right to be educated as to the most balanced and realistic ways of doing this.
Developing an obsession with what is seen as ‘clean’ and having to avoid what is presumably ‘dirty’ (food) is where I have found repeated problems with my client base, leading to confusion and turmoil over what they should and shouldn’t eat- guilt and feelings of failure associated with eating can turn even the most mentally stable of people into an emotional wreck during a social event featuring food, is the bread gluten free, grain free, brown, wholegrain or made of banana and tofu?…..
Making food choice a stressful or moralistic event (when supposedly socialising and relaxing), is the exact opposite of how in my opinion, nutrition advice should look or feel.
So what is the answer for all the clean eaters out there- ?
The TWO factors I truly believe are the golden nuggets of faultless nutrition advice :-
Today my Coach came up with the perfect solution as to why the clean eaters movement has been such a success
‘Balance isn’t sexy’
Well it may not be sexy but trust me …….
Stay tuned (and lookout for part 2) of how I keep the principles of BALANCE and SIMPLICITY.
Credit to the Sunday Times and Katie Glass for a fantastic and responsible article. http://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/teens-at-risk-from-clean-eating-l0gtd9vc8)
Credit for Coach Rimmer ( for quote inspo 😉
Are you a Clean Eater who has found success falling off the clean eaters wagon?! Tweet me – Face book me- I’d love to hear your comments –