I’ve been a bit ranty about the ‘clean eating’ thing recently because it bothers me a LOT. Dieting isn’t good for anyone. Especially not someone with a history of an eating disorder. It is generally accepted that any form of dietary restriction increases the risk of developing an eating disorder in vulnerable individuals, and once recovered, strict dieting of any kind increases the risk of relapse. And given that many people with ED’s are partially rather than fully recovered, adding anything else into the mix of what is sometimes a fairly precarious state of stability isn’t a good idea. Why do I see ‘eat clean’ as a diet in disguise? Let’s take some examples of common diets, and think about why they are just not good for you:
5:2 diet (intermittent fasting). My friend did this a while ago. She lost weight, certainly. She also experienced reduced concentration, irritability, and lost all ability to tolerate alcohol. Makes sense when you consider how your blood sugar will be affected. This diet, as far as I can see, is an eating disorder in disguise. Eat normally for five days and compensate for the other two. Not clever, not effective and not fun. Intermittent fasting is not a sustainable way to long term health. Just don’t do it.
Atkins: (high protein, low carb). Well, Dr Atkins had a history of heart attack and hypertension. There have been reports of young people dying suddenly when following this diet (Daily Mail, but still). Carbs are the body’s preferred form of energy, there is no reason to deprive yourself of them. And unless you actually have coeliac disease, there is no reason to cut out wheat, whatever the Hemsley sisters tell you. Have some common sense from the NHS instead.
Some of us accept that the above diets are restrictive or fads, but seem to have become drawn to clean eating as a reasonable alternative. I don’t get it. Here’s why it’s no different.
‘Clean eating’: (basically, do what the Hemsley sisters or Deliciously Ella tell you, without independent thought). I call it a diet because that’s EXACTLY what it is. A diet under the guise of ‘healthy eating’. It irritates me because it is restriction cleverly masquerading as ‘health’. It is more dangerous than other diets because it carries with it an attitude of moral supremacy and purity. It generally has no good science behind it. Read @OneAngryChef for more info about the science bit, it’s not my strong point, I’m more bothered about the psychological impact. But this is how the British Dietetic Association (the actual food science people) define poor dietary advice. Basically anything that ‘promotes the avoidance or severe limitation of a whole food group such as dairy products, or a staple food such as wheat’ or ‘are selling you products’. The ‘eat clean’ brigade do both. Getting your cash out for a spiraliser and a shiny cookbook is more likely to cleanse your wallet than your liver.
The ‘clean eating’ trend in particular taps straight into the restrictive eating disorder mindset because it advertises a false sense of ‘purity’ alongside the dietary restriction common to most diets. If you’re prone to the ‘more and better’ style of thinking it won’t be long before you end up cutting out more ‘just to make sure’, and before you know it you’ve lost the ground you fought so hard to gain, if not in weight, certainly in psychological flexibility. If you want factual, sensible information on health and nutrition, look at the BDA website, aim for balance, and listen to your body.