Clean eating has become a way of life for many people around the world. This way of eating focuses on consuming whole foods that are not processed or refined; this can be anything that is as close to its natural form as possible, like fresh produce and raw nuts. This is an undeniably healthy way of eating – and there are plenty of studies that back this – so why are some doctors calling it a dangerous fad?
In a recent piece for the Daily Mail, Dr. Max Pemberton rakes clean eating over the coals. He talks about patients who are emaciated, describing them using frightening terms and explaining in great detail about how their bones are sticking out, their necks can’t support their heads, and their bodies are eating their own muscles. He talks about young girls whose reproductive systems have stopped working and who have developed osteoporosis, bleeding throats and lost teeth.
This is certainly an outcome that no one wants, but what he is describing here are people who have eating disorders, not people who focus on eating clean foods. The desire to eat healthy is not disordered eating, and lumping the two together is dangerous as it may give those who prefer to eat junk food an excuse to continue on their path to diabetes, obesity, and early death.
It’s particularly concerning when he writes: “The central tenet, the very nugget at the core of its belief system, is flawed. The very notion of ‘clean’ eating suggests that some food is dirty or bad — and this simply isn’t the case.”
Countless researchers would beg to differ. Some food really is bad, and it’s very irresponsible for a doctor to say that’s not the case. A trans fat-filled Burger King Triple Whopper, a sugar-laden venti Starbucks Frappuccino, and a can of corrosive Coca-Cola are just a few of the “bad” foods that come to mind.
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He closed his piece with another gem: “But be under no illusion: ‘clean eating’ is ugly, malevolent and damaging. The whole irony of the clean eating fad is that, despite what it purports to be, it’s fundamentally toxic.”
No, Dr. Pemberton, what’s toxic is high fructose corn syrup, artificial sweeteners, boxed macaroni and cheese, and GM soy.
Eating disorders and clean eating are not one and the same
He’s right that social media is causing all sorts of eating problems for people, from constant images of bodies most normal people can never hope to attain to round-the-clock posts of the latest meals, healthy or otherwise, that everyone on your friends list is eating. But blogs about clean eating are not telling young women to head to the bathroom and vomit up their lunch if they slip up.
Of course, some people take it too far. People who are prone to eating disorders can – and often do – start out by eating healthy in an attempt to lose weight. If a person has underlying issues, there is no doubt that this could well lead to obsessions over healthy food and body weight and end up becoming a full-fledged eating disorder.
But there are also countless people who have committed to giving up processed foods in the interest of being healthy, and most of them can enjoy a piece of cake on their birthday without feeling compelled to stick their fingers down their throat afterward. Most clean eaters do not have any sort of eating disorder or mental illness and will never develop one. They are simply eating a healthy diet, which is something that more responsible doctors encourage their patients to do.
It’s true that some people who have eating disorders might hide behind an interest in only consuming healthy foods so family and friends won’t interfere with their habits. Having an eating disorder is a very serious problem that absolutely needs to be addressed, but suggesting that clean eating and bulimia are one and the same and that there is no such thing as “bad” food is incredibly irresponsible.