In defence of clean eating: a response to Horizon Clean Eating - The Dirty Truth

So last night I was really depressed. I was ready to pull the plug on this blog, delete my Instagram account and jump into a hidey-hole somewhere and never speak to anyone ever again about food. 

Amelia Freer, Hemsley + Hemsley and Deliciously Ella. Composite: REX/Getty Images from the Guardian. 

Amelia Freer, Hemsley + Hemsley and Deliciously Ella. Composite: REX/Getty Images from the Guardian

What caused this feeling of doom? Two things. Firstly I read Ruby Tandoh’s vicious slamming of clean eating in her article Bad fad - how clean eating turned toxic on the Guardian. In it she singled out clean eating proponents such as Amelia Freer, Jasmine and Melissa Hemsley, Ella Mills and Natasha Corrett for cashing in on “a world of beauty, happiness and self-love, all bundled lucratively together under the vague banner of wellness.” Ouch. 

So what did I do to compound the misery? I logged on to watch Dr Giles Yeo on Horizon: Clean Eating – The Dirty Truth

The full programme is available on the BBC iPlayer here to UK residents,  I think until about Friday 17 February 2017. Otherwise you can watch a couple of clips here.

In the documentary Dr Giles goes to visit Dr William Davis of the Wheat Belly Lifestyle InstituteDr Robert Young of alkaline diet fame and Dr T Colin Campbell, author of The China Study.  Dr Giles picks apart the ‘expert’ theories, pointing out their select use of research and the lack of evidence in their arguments. He also cooked with Ella Mills of Deliciously Ella, the only celebrity face seemingly brave enough to appear in person on the show and put her case for her vegan lifestyle to the camera. 

At the end of both of these I felt totally despondent. The Flourishing Pantry is based on many of the #cleaneating principles. I use the hashtag regularly on Instagram. Whether you call it clean eating or something else, as Ruby puts it it’s “roughly the idea that we should eat less processed food and more fruit and veg.” 

Deliciously Ella with Dr Giles. Image from BBC.

Deliciously Ella with Dr Giles. Image from BBC.

I will admit I’ve come to this way of eating via an unorthodox route: I took a much criticised food intolerance blood test, which I wrote about here. Regardless of the journey though, last night I felt utter despair that an emphasis on home-cooked dishes, more wholefoods and less refined meat and sugar was suddenly the devil’s work. How can this diet / lifestyle (I don’t even know what word to use anymore) be a bad message to spread?! 

Both the article and the documentary are highly critical of clean eating advocating eliminating particular items from your diet. Labelling sugar as 'lacking in nutrition' or meat and dairy as 'evil' means clean eating runs the risk of sounding preachy and like a strict diet. Worse, some say that this sort of message to cut out food groups could result in extremely restrictive dieting leaving people nutrient deficient or potentially lead to eating disorders in those that are vulnerable. 

So I guess I'm a culprit here. As part of championing a low yeast or yeast free diet I do cut out or limit some things from my diet; you can see more on my About Yeast Free page. I am offering tips, advice and recipes to help you do the same if you think it might be something you want to try.

This is because I have eliminated these ingredients from my diet for a period of three months and felt enormous benefits in terms of my energy, focus and most importantly IBS symptoms. And yes I lost some weight too! 

So this is a diet / lifestyle / type of eating that works for me. I’m sharing it because I feel passionate and excited by what I’ve found and I want to enable others to experience the same. 

Hemsley + Hemsley flaxseed bread. No yeast! No grains! No gluten! Should I stop eating it? 

Hemsley + Hemsley flaxseed bread. No yeast! No grains! No gluten! Should I stop eating it? 

But as I have said repeatedly elsewhere on this blog I am not demonising any food group or type. The lists and ingredients you’ll find on the blog are things that work for me. 

I would never, never, tell you to cut something out of your diet completely unless you have had medical advice to do so. Or if you honestly feel through careful elimination you have identified an item of food or food group that triggers symptoms or negative reactions in your own body. But even that should ideally be done under the supervision of a dietician. I am not a medical professional and everyone’s body and gut is completely individual. Do what works for you. It’s a message I will be reiterating more on the blog from now on. 

 Also please remember, I don’t always eat like this! I fully subscribe to an 80/20 approach: sticking to fruit, veg, nuts and wholegrains 80% of the time and then enjoying a dinner date with my boyfriend, a slice of my sister’s amazing cake or a take-away from Abrakebabra once in a while. 

Another incredible creation from my sister at Ella Rose Cakes. How can you resist a little slice?!

Another incredible creation from my sister at Ella Rose Cakes. How can you resist a little slice?!

No this isn’t a ‘treat’ or a ‘cheat’ – it’s just being normal. It’s called real life. If there is anything good to come from this backlash it will be to encourage those championing clean eating to be as honest as possible about the range of food and drink they consume. I will try to do the same too. 

For once, the comments section on these articles (there’s another one here from the Spectator if you really are a glutton for punishment, excuse the pun) came to be my saviour. Reading through them started to knock some sense back into me, along with my boyfriend who told me to “cop the f*** on”, as all the best Irishmen do. 

Here are a few that buoyed me: 


Oh and a lovely one from Sahar of Earth and Spoon on her Instagram account which I will quote here:

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to see that the health/fitness industry can be extremely obsessive at times and can capitalise on people's fears and insecurities, and it's sad that 'clean eating' has become another fad diet now, which is so annoying.

People it's just common sense! If you eat food that is in its natural state without chemicals added to it then you will be HEALTHIER. And although this documentary wants to cast shade on 'clean eating' you can't silence the thousands of us who have actually seen an improvement in our health by eating fresh foods. I don't need a scientist or a lab rat to prove to me how I feel. 

There is no one size fits all diet because we all have different genetic predispositions and our bodies are designed differently. So take your own personal journey and figure out what works for you. 

Sahar also wrote a blog entry about clean eating too, read it here

So I won't be closing down the blog. Or stopping my Instagram posts. I'll keep cooking with whole, natural foods that are low in yeast and sugar and continue sharing these as well as reading, learning more and being inspired by what others are doing and proving cana be achieved with food. 

However I will be making one change: I am going to redefine my ‘Eat Me’ and ‘Don’t Eat Me’ lists as ‘Eat More’ and ‘Eat Less.’

This is because I would never want anyone to cut something out of their diet supposedly on my advice. Eating disorders are real and life-threatening. I am horrified to hear that words and phrases from the clean eating movement have become mantras of eating disorder groups and individual sufferers and wouldn't want to be accused of encouraging this. If you think you have a food allergy or intolerance seek professional medical advice.   

Did you read these articles? Or see the documentary? What did you make of them? What is ‘clean eating’ to you? Should we ditch the term? 

Vx