Why We Fell For Clean Eating
The long read: The oh-so-Instagrammable food movement has been thoroughly debunked but it shows no signs of going away. The real question is why we were so desperate to believe it
In the spring of 2014, Jordan Younger “ve noticed that” her hair was falling out in clumps.” Not cool” was her reaction. At the time, Younger, 23, believed herself to be eating the healthiest of all possible diets. She was a” gluten-free, sugar-free, oil-free, grain-free, legume-free, plant-based raw vegan “. As The Blonde Vegan, Younger was a “wellness” blogger in New York City, one of thousands on Instagram( where she had 70,000 followers) rallying under the hashtag #eatclean. Although she had no qualifications as a nutritionist, Younger had sold more than 40,000 copies of her own $25, five-day “cleanse” programme– a formula for an all-raw, plant-based diet majoring on green juice.
But the “clean” diet that Younger was selling as the route to health was making its inventor sick. Far from being super-healthy, she was suffering from a serious eating disorder: orthorexia, an preoccupation with ingesting merely foods the hell is pure and perfect. Younger’s raw vegan diet had caused her periods to stop and devoted her skin an orange tinge from all the sweet potato and carrots she ingested( the only carbohydrates she permitted herself ). Eventually, she tried psychological assistance, and began to slowly widen the repertoire of foods she would allow herself to feed, beginning with the fish. She recognised that their own problems was not her veganism, per se, but the particularly rigid and restrictive diet regime she had imposed under herself.
As Younger slowly recovered from her eating disorder, she faced a new dilemma.” What would people believe”, she agonised,” if they knew the Blonde Vegan was feeing fish ?” She levelled with her adherents in a blogpost entitled Why I’m Transitioning Away from Veganism. Within hours of announcing her new diet, Younger was receiving irate messages from vegans demanding fund back from the cleanse programmes and T-shirts they had bought from her site( featuring slogans such as” OH KALE YES “).
She lost followers “by the thousands” and received a daily raft of angry messages, including death threats. Some responded to her confession that she was suffering from an eating disorder by accusing her of being a” fat piece of lard” who didn’t have the discipline to be truly “clean”.
For as long as people have feed food, there have been diets and quack remedies. But previously, these existed, like conspiracy hypothesis, on the fringes of food culture.” Clean feeing” was different, because it established based as significant challenges to mainstream ways of eating, and its wild popularity over the past five years has enabled it to move far beyond the fringes. Powered by social media, it has been more absolutist in its claims and more popular in its reaching than any previous school of modern nutrition advice.
At its simplest, clean feeing is about ingesting nothing but “whole” or “unprocessed” foods( whatever is meant by these deep equivocal terms ). Some versions of clean eating have been vegan, while others espouse various meats( preferably wild) and something mysteriously called ” bone broth“( stock, to you and me ). At first, clean eating sounded modest and even homespuns: rather than counting calories, you would eat as many nutritious home-cooked substances as possible.
But it quickly became clear that” clean eating” was more than a diet; it was a belief system, which propagated the idea that the way most people feed is not simply fattening, but impure. Seemingly out of nowhere, a whole cosmo of coconut oil, dubious promises and spiralised courgettes has emerged. Back in the remote mists of 2009, James Duigan, owned of The Bodyism gym in London and sometime personal trainer to the model Elle MacPherson, published his first Clean and Lean book. As an early adopter of #eatclean, Duigan notes that he “battled” with his publisher” to include ingredients like kale and quinoa, because no one had ever heard of them “. Now quinoa is in every supermarket and kale has become as normal as lettuce.” I long for the working day when clean eating entailed not getting too much down your front ,” the novelist Susie Boyt joked recently.