Have you downed your green juice this morning, chugged back your turmeric soy latte, artfully smashed your avocado on gluten free toast, massaged your kale (it’s a thing apparently), channelled your chi with your chia seeds and executed your sun salutations clad in excruciatingly expensive ‘activewear’ on Insta?
As part of the fitnat community you are more likely to have eaten a wholesome, delicious and sustaining breakfast and be getting on with your day. Hurrah! However, you would have had to have been a cave dwelling hermit not to be aware of the ‘clean eating’ phenomenon so prevalent on social media and amongst the top selling books.
What’s the fuss? I hear you cry. Surely promoting healthy eating is a good thing right. Eggs rule! Indeed they do, but along with many other things too. As with so many things, it’s a question of balance, something which the whole clean eating fad is failing to achieve.
The concept of ‘clean eating’ is not bad in itself. It advocates eating food in its natural form or as close to its natural form as possible, minimally processed without artificial additives, sweetners etc. What is not so good is the effective demonisation of foods that don’t fall into (what can be) quite rigidly defined parameters.
Why has the clean eating fad become such a phenomenon? In the main, it is because it is the darling of social media. Type in #cleaneating and Instagram is positively flooded with carefully filtered photographs of goji berry smoothies, porridge with a scattering of cacao nibs and, of course, the worshipped avocado!
Social media reaches out to everyone, but is part of the DNA of the younger generation and some of the advocates of clean eating have, through this use of social media, become celebrities themselves; Deliciously Ella and the Hemsley Sisters to name a few. They are young, glossy and invariably from affluent backgrounds. This is ably demonstrated in their ability to spend inordinate amounts of time in the careful placement of the aforementioned cacao nibs on their porridge, garnished with a nasturtium plucked from the garden that morning. This is then often photographed by a professional and, boom, there it is for you to sigh wistfully at whilst you glance at your own hurriedly thrown together breakfast angrily wiping the dribble of milk from your chin.
What is more, the proponents of clean eating who instruct us to remove wheat, gluten, dairy, sugar, caffeine from our diets more often than not, hold no nutritional qualifications and yet their word is treated as gospel by the more impressionable. Clean eating is the new religion. Certain ingredients are revered above others. They are having their own fashion moment and the best way to achieve this is to bung it in a coffee. Cue the turmeric latte, coconut milk macchiato et al.
Cutting out entire food groups without a medically supported reason is positively unhealthy as you risk missing out on the nutritional benefits that they offer. What is more concerning are the clean eating afficionados who instil this in their own children. Birthday parties are now full of Hugos and Aramintas who must keep a distance of at least 10 feet away from the gluten-laden birthday cake which they are desperate to sink their teeth into. No problem because Mummy (let’s call her Gwyneth) has given them their own quinoa and courgette cupcake with a carob frosting blessed by the local ayurvedic practitioner. Of course, children need to eat a healthy diet, but it is essential for them to eat a range of nutrients at a time when their bodies are growing so rapidly and, importantly, not develop food hang-ups themselves or grow up wanting to eat *all the food* in rebellion.
The American comedian Chris Rock did a stand up piece about food fads in the Western world. He remarked pointedly that during the famine, you would never hear an Ethiopian say they were food intolerant. It certainly hits a nerve.
There is a strong argument to suggest that, rather than teaching people to embrace healthy food, it is fostering a positive fear of food. All foods not deemed ‘clean’ must, therefore, be dirty. It is a narrow prescriptive approach to eating. As a result, there has been a dramatic rise in orthorexia, a condition which literally means “fixation on righteous eating.” The term was only introduced in 1997 by an American physician, Steven Bratman. In the young and vulnerable, it can easily tip over into anorexia. The huge irony of this is that the rigid, restrictive approach to eating marketed as clean eating causes people to become ill because they are missing out on the essential nutrients provided by a varied and inclusive diet.
Food is not a fashion accessory. Slavishly following the commandments of the clean eating celebs will not give you their lifestyle. In many cultures food is about the ritual of sharing, celebrating and communing with family and friends. Surely then, the clean eating Insta crew must suffer from the other phenomenon of FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) regarding all the wonderful food they could be enjoying.
The great thing about fitnaturally is the range of foods to be enjoyed infusing you with vitamins, nourishment and new food discoveries rather than food rejections. Joy replaces fear. Living replaces obsession.
Now, where is that nasturtium……