‘Clean eating’ gave me an eating disorder

Trendy fad diets are a cover-up for eating disorders.

I know because I’ve spent the last two years recovering from an eating disorder that nearly killed me — and it all began when I started “clean-eating.”

TV chef Nigella Lawson recently told a group of students at a lecture in Toronto that “we live in an age of fads” and admitted being disgusted by the idea of clean eating — as it suggests other foods are “dirty.”

And I am so glad to see someone finally speaking sense about this.

Like Lawson, I agree that people are using clean eating — a range of diets which focus on cutting out certain fats, sugars and animal products — as a way to hide their eating disorders, because it’s exactly what happened to me.

The “clean-eating” bloggers that started it all
I was 23 when I became obsessed with eating “healthy” foods and calorie counting, which eventually led to a diagnosis of anorexia.

I’d never been worried about my body before, but when I got my first job at a fashion magazine I became increasingly aware of how slim all the women around me were – and how little they ate.

Chatter in the office was all centered around food, with my peers constantly discussing their weight, diets and “clean eating” recipes.


They’d always be trying out recipes and bringing in impressive lunches from health blogger Melissa Hemsley or Madeleine Shaw, covered in kale, quinoa and linseed.

As a young and impressionable journalist, I looked up to these women — so I’d go home and make the exact same thing for the next day. I wanted to be part of the “clean-eating club,” just like them.

Soon I was looking up recipes and following bloggers on Instagram myself. The more I read about “healthy” eating habits the more obsessed I got.

I started making what Instagram told me were “healthier choices,” swapping dairy milk for almond milk and trying to eat less starchy carbs.

I was so obsessed with these health bloggers I did exactly what they all said — and suddenly it was like a domino effect.

I stopped eating breakfast because fasting was good for the metabolism.

Then I stopped eating bread because gluten was the spawn of the devil.

A month later I decided to go vegan and gave up all dairy – Milk, butter, cheese, yogurt and eggs.

I was obsessed with talking about it and I’d preach to anyone who would listen about the amount of added sugar in standard lunches.

To everyone else, I could pretend my fad diets were for health reasons — which was true to begin with.

But it quickly became more important to me that I was eating as few calories as possible and losing weight — and these diets became a great cover up so people didn’t see how little I was eating.

I’d find sweet potato brownie recipes on Madeline Shaw’s Instagram page and then make them for my friends to try and prove to them I was eating bad stuff like brownies — but really they had about three calories in them.

The perfect cover-up for anorexia

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Being vegan made it easy to turn down cake at a family party or refuse to eat mom’s cheesy pasta bake and pretending to be gluten intolerant to my friends meant I didn’t have the pressure of eating pizza with them at social occasions.

I was surviving on a diet of kale and cauliflower rice, I was malnourished and my weight began to plummet.

Within just six months, I’d gone from a healthy size 8-10 to a tiny size four — and I was the same weight as the average 11-year-old. I wasn’t getting any of the vitamins or minerals that I needed.

My mom took me to the doctors and I was admitted to hospital and diagnosed with anorexia.

I was treated by doctors who re-fueled my body and I saw psychiatrists and nutritionist who helped me understand my eating disorder.

After six weeks I was discharged and headed home to try and rebuild a healthy relationship with food.

Clean-eating bloggers need to take responsibility

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Now, two years on I am happy and healthy and eat what the hell I want – but I will be forever furious with the unqualified Instagram stars who told me what to eat – despite being unqualified.

The clean-eating accounts I followed had zero authority to be telling me and other young women what to eat – yet because they had loads of followers and posted pretty pictures of healthy-looking meals, I believed they were right.

I cannot stress enough how wrong this is.

Following a clean-eating diet doesn’t mean you get all the nutrients you need.

We are literally going to end up with a generation of women with osteoporosis because they didn’t get enough calcium to keep their bones strong while following a diet which deprives them of dairy and essential amino acids by cutting out vital food groups.

It just makes me so livid.

I will say it until I’m blue in the face – I believe clean-eating bloggers like Madeleine Shaw and Natasha Corrett, who both say they believe in moderation and balance – need to stand up and take responsibility before it’s too late.

They are ruining peoples lives – and these accounts need to be banned and we need to stop scaremongering people into being too scared to eat normal food.

People need to stop going to Instagram for advice and look to nutritionists instead.

But government campaigns telling us we need to eat 10 portions of fruit and veg a day are just as bad – we need more manageable goals.

There’s too much anxiety and worry around food – eating bread, meat and dairy never gave anyone cancer.

Eve Simmons runs Not Plant Based – a website helping troubled eaters.

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