THOUGHTS ON: Clean Eating's Dirty Secrets
Full disclaimer: this is absolutely one of those "pick-up-a-pen-and-scribble-out-some-deeply-felt-thoughts" posts. No planning, no research, just me and my need to work some things out, while taking you along for the ride of course.
Today I sat down and finally watched Clean Eating's Dirty Secrets, a BBC documentary recommended to me by a friend. In case you missed it, this is an investigation into clean/plant-based eating, presented by YouTube star and body positivity activist Grace Victory.
The documentary doesn't pull any punches, naming and shaming a number of the biggest names in the healthy eating world. Grace looks at a number of food fads,meeting clean eating stars, trying a horrific sounding "potato cleanse" and confronting experts with the misinformation she has found online.
It is by no means a perfect film; at times it feels a little heavy-handed, and also uses the terms "vegan diet" and "plant-based diet" interchangeably, failing to acknowledge that veganism aims to end animal cruelty, not promote clean eating. That said, I did think the program raised a number of valid questions, and certainly had me question my own beliefs on this subject.
I've written about my reservations on the healthy eating craze before. I spoke last October about how worried I was that the healthy eating trend that was just taking off might be doing more harm than good, and going back to that post only makes my concerns grow.
I wrote that post nearly a year ago, in that time the mania for fitness and healthy food seems to have grown even more extreme.
Have you heard the analogy about the boiling frog? Allegedly, scientists have run tests and found that a frog placed in a pan of boiling water will jump out immediately . If exposed to the water's heat without warning, it will recognise the danger and find safety at once.
However, if you were to take that same frog and put it into a pan of cold water, it will stay just where it is... and it will remain there if you very, very slowly turn the heat up, bit by bit, even when the temperature reaches a fatal high.
I mention this story because it sprang straight into my mind as I watched Clean Eating's Dirty Secrets. If, a few years ago, someone had told me some people routinely cut carbs from their diets to lose weight, I would no doubt have questioned their physical and mental wellbeing. Fast-forward to the present and I've heard so much about it that I feel no shock whatsoever, nor am I shocked by the diets, cleanses and detoxes that have become mainstream today.
Teenage Anna would have found it downright weird that her older self is now someone who has a smoothie most mornings, yet present me finds herself in a culture that lauds this behaviour to an unhealthy degree.
I'll be honest: I'm not yet ready to kick my smoothie habit, and despite having failed the same orthorexia test that Grace takes in the documentary, I in my heart of hearts don't believe that I have a problem.
I cite the fact that I went vegan for purely ethical reasons, and my belief that I only eat things that I enjoy, as proof that my relationship to "healthy food" is, well, healthy.
I say this not to suggest that I have this all down; quite the opposite, in fact. I am scared that I have spent too much time in the water to feel the danger I might be in. I'm even more scared at the number of younger women out there who idolise these bloggers and YouTubers without the benefit of knowing how darn easy it is to feign expertise when creating content online.
I do, however, think it is good to at least question these things. To recognise that the health food industry is just that, an industry; to think long and hard before following dietary advice from anyone that doesn't have a PhD. These things might sound obvious, but with health and fitness dominating many of the forms of media that primarily target women, that's a lot of noise to ignore.
I end this without my typical call for action, or cosy conclusion. Instead I find myself wanting to hear from you. Have you seen this documentary - and if so, what did you make of it? Do you see a sinister side to healthy eating? I'd love the discussion to continue in the comments...