In Defence of ‘Clean Eating’

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I want to preclude this post by saying that I am a lifelong fan of gluten in all its forms. I adore cheese, I can polish off a Five Guys burger like there’s no tomorrow, and chocolate is my BFF.

I am a fan of all food generally (except mushrooms, but let’s not get into that) – which is why I don’t understand why there has been such a backlash against healthy eating recently.

Yes, I agree that clean eating can become dangerous for those who take it too far. But for those of us who can’t stand diets, finding healthy meals that don’t taste of cardboard are a godsend.

While eating stodgy puddings and epic portions of pasta does make me happy, eating them every day wouldn’t make me feel that great after about a week. Similarly, binging on Reese’s peanut butter cups will give me a sugary high in the moment, but swiftly follows with an energy crash and nasty headache.

Which is why I’m all for making “clean” versions of my favourite foods – to eat in the week at least, because they genuinely give me more energy and make me feel a lot better in my body. It’s not just because they’re “guilt free”, they can actually taste good too – maybe not like the real thing, but still nice to eat. (Oh and believe me, a beautifully made mac n  cheese makes me anything but guilty).

I love food too much to diet or focus on getting “lean”, and my BMI would probs agree with me there. But saying that, I also want to be a healthy, active person and take care of myself. Which, shock horror, isn’t going to come from eating cheeseburgers every day. I’m as bored of the word “balance” as you probably are reading this, but I think people are forgetting that the clean-eating gurus getting all this flack at the moment are not exactly checking up on you to make sure you didn’t eat that bag of Maltesers. They all promote the philosophy of finding what works for you, and making small changes to improve how you feel. That doesn’t mean you have to quit all sugars or your weekly meal out.

The only person passing judgement on your food choices is you. Friends and family shouldn’t really care about what you’re eating – as long as it’s enough and makes you happy. I don’t know if I’m sounding too harsh, but blaming the culture of clean-eating Instagrammers for eating disorders seems a bit like blaming gossip magazines for addiction to celebrity gossip. It’s all meant to be taken with a pinch of Himalayan salt.

Smoothie bowls

I’ve met lots of clean-living “wellness” people over the past few years. We’ve eaten kale salads but we’ve also plied our way through cakes and drunk wine as well as green smoothies. Their Instagram feeds may be carefully curated, but the bigger influencers generally know the responsibility that comes with having a following and don’t impose strict rules.

I agree that the ones giving nutritional advice should be adequately qualified, or at least citing someone who is adequately qualified. It would be nice if their books involved less meal plans which could lead impressionable readers to unnecessarily cut out entire food groups.

I just think that the fear-mongering in the media around “clean eating creating eating disorders” gives people an excuse to take down and belittle people (mainly women) who have made successful careers out of making healthy living more accessible. By focusing on orthorexia we’re forgetting about the many more people whose lives have been improved by eating healthier – and I’m not talking about curing chronic conditions necessarily, but small things such as better digestion, clearer skin, fewer headaches and more energy to get through the day.

Sure, a lot of the time their advice may come across as preachy, virtuous or smug. Their Instagrams can be irritatingly perfect, and you might be left galling at the price of their recommended spirulina powder. At the end of the day, though, it all boils down to how much you trust your own intuition around food. Eat the pizza when you crave it and drink the green juice when your body needs it. Don’t categorise food into “clean” and “dirty”. At the end of the day it’s all just food.

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