Saturday, 4 February 2017

Clean Eating or Brain Washing?

by Zita Edwards

“Clean eating” is the latest trend amongst millennials. Although clean eating claims to give you a greater sense of wellbeing and health benefits, are all these claims true, and are all the people telling us this qualified to do so? After watching the BBC Documentary “Clean Eating’s Dirty Secrets” I became aware that the clean eating community spans much wider and to much more complexity than I first thought. This latest fad seems to stem from our obsession with social media and the rise of fitness bloggers and appealing colourful bowls of exotic foods. Bloggers can create entire communities following their updates on their latest nutritional advice, recipes and lifestyle coaching, almost brainwashing their followers. It is more than just the food we eat; this regime is a way of life.

With the rise in popularity of substitute foods and a more exotic palette, organic food chains such as Planet Organic, create a thriving micro economy. With this lifestyle not being cheap, it seems to only be accessible to the middle class, possibly making the trend all the more appealing. Whilst this way of life is meant to increase vitality and wellness, there is a much darker side to the trend. The power of social media is becoming dangerous and people believe social media personalities over celebrities and politicians. It is often the case that the social media bloggers do not have the relevant qualifications to advise people on nutrition and general lifestyle. The message sent out by these people is often completely false and is borderline fraud.

Recently, dieting authors Robert O Young and Belle Gibson have been arrested and charged with practising medicine without a license and fraud. Young made claims and wrote books about how the body is naturally alkaline and how we can maintain that natural pH through the foods we eat. However, acidity levels vary dramatically throughout our bodies from our stomach to our gut, and it is scientifically incorrect to claim that the food we eat affects our body’s pH. This “alkaline diet” was also backed by Belle Gibson who claimed she had cured herself of cancer by following the regime. Both Gibson and Young claimed that cancer is caused by acidic foods and that an alkaline diet has medicinal benefits. It was later revealed that Gibson was never diagnosed with the disease, hence why both have been charged with fraud.

This strive for wellness usually consists of restricting ourselves of specific food groups such as gluten, sugar, grains or meat. Over the history of mankind we have always eaten protein and gluten and there has been no change in our DNA to make us intolerant to these, however, there has been a dramatic rise in the sale of gluten-free products, although only about 1% of the population is medically intolerant.
One blogger has even claimed that “protein is poison for your body”. Claims like this are completely insane and dangerous. This negative approach to our major food groups are causing people to be increasingly self-critical and praising people for self-deprivation is leading to eating disorders. The National Eating Disorders Association quotes “Those who have an “unhealthy obsession” with otherwise healthy eating may be suffering from “orthorexia nervosa,” a term which literally means “fixation on righteous eating.” Orthorexia starts out as an innocent attempt to eat more healthfully, but orthorexics become fixated on food quality and purity. They become consumed with what and how much to eat, and how to deal with “slip-ups.”  An iron-clad will is needed to maintain this rigid eating style. Every day is a chance to eat right, be “good,” rise above others in dietary prowess, and self-punish if temptation wins (usually through stricter eating, fasts and exercise). Self-esteem becomes wrapped up in the purity of orthorexics’ diet and they sometimes feel superior to others, especially in regard to food intake.”

By measuring success and value through the ability to stay with this regime people are potentially at risk of doing more harm than good. In moderation some aspects from this way of life could be beneficial, with the aim of becoming healthier. With the rise of fast food chains and a decrease in physical activity at work and in our lifestyles, I believe that we should be increasingly aware of what we eat and when we exercise, just not to a point of obsession. 

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