Tuesday 27 September 2016

The clean eating conundrum: Food-focused quackery masks age-old obsession

Rachel Lavin

Published 05/06/2016 | 02:30

'The problem is, though, no amount of quinoa, macca powder or detoxing cleanses will rid women of the age-old problems of low self-esteem, a superficially-based self-worth and a society that values narrow scopes of women’s beauty above all else' Photo: Getty Images
'The problem is, though, no amount of quinoa, macca powder or detoxing cleanses will rid women of the age-old problems of low self-esteem, a superficially-based self-worth and a society that values narrow scopes of women’s beauty above all else' Photo: Getty Images

I love food. Give me a roast chicken smothered in butter and paprika, a summer salad toppled with blueberries and blue cheese, or my mother's chocolate sprinkled pavlova and I am in a state of bliss.

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When my favourite writer Nora Ephron was dying of leukaemia, she wrote of the things she would miss. After family? "Waffles, the concept of waffles, twinkle lights, butter, Paris, and pie."

Yet, in recent years I noticed amongst my girlfriends that food has become something that was increasingly feared and could only be enjoyed as part of a strict and increasingly obscure regimen, all under the alias of 'clean eating'.

If I thought this whole 'clean-eating movement' was primarily about health, I wouldn't object. But it's the definition of healthy eating and the obsessional strains young women in particular are putting themselves under to achieve it that is increasingly unnerving.

Championed by celebrity models and bloggers with instagrammable meals and elaborate talk of 'detoxing', 'cleansing' and everything 'gluten/dairy/carb/sugar/fat free', elements of the 'movement' are taking health-conscious eating to a level of sanctimonious pseudo-science that is literally hard to stomach.

Coupled with extensive exercise regimes, under the hashtag #strongnotskinny, the increasingly extreme trends promise women everywhere that they too can achieve physical perfection. All it takes is this cookbook, this 'juice cleanse', or how about a weekend in my 'bootcamp'?

But behind this 'health' promotion (and profitable new market) is an underlying concept that you too can 'look like me'. Their beauty, it would seem, is merely the result of hard work.

Ultimately, we're still chasing beauty and perfection, except this time it has merely been rebranded as 'wellness'. Genius right? Because, of course, who can question the pursuit of #healthyliving?

However, dieticians are increasingly critical of a number of the fads linked to the trend. They say 'superfoods' don't really exist and 'detoxing'' has no scientific basis. 'Juice cleanses', they warn, are effectively starvation supplemented with sugary drinks, which may, incidentally, contribute to the risk of diabetes. Substituting food in an effort to go 'gluten-free', when you're not part of the 1pc of the population who are coeliac, puts you at unnecessary risk of nutritional deficiency.

This also applies to the avoidance of whole food groups such as carbohydrates, meat and dairy, where, as well as the risk of nutritional deficiency, unsurprisingly, you see significant weight loss.

One dietician even termed these 'clean eating' attributed diets as 'socially sanctioned eating disorders'.

But aside from the physical health issues, it is, like most eating disorders, the underlying obsession that is most troubling.

Because at the end of the day, whether strong or skinny, (although these are usually the same thing) the trend is primarily about body and beauty obsession.

The problem is, though, no amount of quinoa, macca powder or detoxing cleanses will rid women of the age-old problems of low self-esteem, a superficially-based self-worth and a society that values narrow scopes of women's beauty above all else - factors that this trend only propels.

For me, I'll be sticking to my own brand of 'wellness' - eating gluten, carbs and dairy along with everything else in moderation, certainly not looking to Instagram for approval of it and above all else, enjoying my food.

For as Nora Ephron advised, we shouldn't leave the enjoyment of food until the proverbial last meal.

"Have it tonight, have it all the time, so that when you're lying on your deathbed, you're not thinking, 'Oh, I should have had more hot dogs.'"

After all, you could die at any moment, do you really want to have wasted it on a gluten/dairy/carb/happiness free meal?

Sunday Independent

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