Is clean eating slowly becoming a dirty ‘word’ and have people gone overboard with their bid to become fitter, purer versions of themselves? A recent article titled ‘Why We Fell For Clean Eating’ in The Guardian by esteemed food writer Bee Wilson has raised questions (and eyebrows) as to whether clean eating movements have become a bit militant.
As with anything health and wellness-related, there is always a chance people can become a bit obsessive. But, when an article written by someone whose opinions are very much respected and whose media reach is wide, there’s a chance those sitting on the fence take the easy way out. In this case, if you were in the contemplation stage of changing your lifestyle and diet, The Guardian article may encourage you not to make the change. Then there are those who eat badly and come to the conclusion that their diet is actually acceptable.
The article talks about orthorexia, which has been defined as a ‘pathological obsession with proper nutrition’, and sounds quite daunting. It must be noted that this condition existed way before the #eatclean movement became so widespread. In 1996 Dr. Steven Bratman came up with the term to describe patients who were health-obsessed, and was by no means a diagnosis. He used this term to help patients understand that their interpretation of healthy eating was detrimental to their health. Orthorexia isn’t about losing weight and counting calories – it’s strictly about the healthy food that must be consumed.
As PurelyB’s resident nutrition expert, Marissa Parry, notes, “What’s important to note is that it’s not really the clean eating issue that needs to be addressed. Eating disorders are far more complicated - where food has become both an escape and an addiction. This article highlights a handful of people that have taken healthy eating a step too far. What we should also be looking at are the many people who are eating healthy in the correct way and are living active, wholesome lives.” Before going further, let’s admit that we always have the propensity to go too far – it’s human nature to be extreme. Everything in moderation is the only way forward.
We also live in an era where social media is an incredibly powerful tool. It entertains, informs, has a vast reach and therefore influence; but can be equally damaging. All those slick images of perfect bodies and smoothie bowls portray an unrealistic view of the clean eating lifestyle. And, what we must take into consideration is that many of these accounts belong to people with no credentials to back them up.
As Amanda Teh, an experienced naturopath shared, “Having been in health education for years, I’ve come across several people who have been into healthy living and clean eating, and unfortunately ended up suffering from some eating disorder. Clean eating is about all the wholesome food you can add to your diet. Focus on what’s good for you and introducing new food rather than what you think is bad for you. Emotional health is equally important so don’t be too harsh on yourself and seek help whenever you ever feel overwhelmed with the expectation of being on the best diet or getting healthy. And, remember balance is the key.”
Defining Clean Eating
There are countless definitions of clean eating from blogs, fitness magazines and nutritionists. It can be easy to get caught up in the hype and misinterpret what it actually entails. An article from the Mayo Clinic describes clean eating as a way of living, i.e. consume real food (less processed and refined), eat regular, balanced meals at home, buy local produce and eat more plant-based foods. It also advises to adopt a healthier lifestyle by exercising regularly, managing stress in a holistic way and getting enough hours of sleep. What the Guardian article fails to address is that there are so many people who have benefited greatly from clean eating habits – managing allergies and healthy weight loss to reducing bloating and having better skin.
“I follow what I consider clean eating 70 to 80% of the time. This means eating food in its most natural form, rather than anything processed and packaged. The rest of the time I enjoy food like fries, ice cream and croissants. I eat what makes my body and mind feel good, which is a nice balance of clean eating with eating almost anything. When you a follow a way of eating that makes you feel good inside and out, you will develop a good relationship with food, and with this comes enjoyment (rather than guilt). After all, food is meant to be enjoyed but we must remember that we eat to live, and not live to eat,” professed Marissa.
Whether you’re about to start your clean eating adventure or have been doing it for while, don’t take advice from just one person or article. Talk to other clean eaters, nutritionists and naturopaths and get the correct information. If at any time you feel like you’re on a strict diet and you’re not happy with it, step back and assess the situation. People have changed their lives for the better by clean eating, and it’s all down to having a good relationship with food. It’s perfectly fine to have the occasional greasy burger or char koay teow; and yes, have that glass of wine – you deserve it!