Carrie Armstrong was recovering from an illness that had left her bed-bound.
With doctors warning her recovery would be slow, she turned to online health blogs and found what she thought was the healthy food holy grail: clean eating.
A new fad in food, clean eating promotes unprocessed and natural meals. It covers everything from gluten-free to raw food diets, and is praised by a legion of fans.
But Ms Armstrong became so obsessed with eating healthily, she became unhealthy.
“I went from eating everything to not just eating raw food, not just eating fruit, but eating just organic melon,” she said.
A diet of melon alone, unsurprisingly, took its toll. Ms Armstrong’s hair started to fall out and her weight plummeted to 6st (38kg).
“I was worse off than when I started,” she said.
“I was mentally shattered and terrified by food. My life had become consumed by the food I consume.”
Experts are calling her experience “orthorexia”, an unclassified eating disorder identified by an extreme fixation on avoiding “unhealthy” foods.
They’re warning that the popularity of clean eating could lead to more cases, as extreme dieters become obsessed with controlling their food intake.
Even TV cook Nigella Lawson has spoken out about the trend – saying that clean eating could mask serious disorders.
But it is difficult to get away from the promotion of clean eating on health sites, blogs and social media.
On Instagram alone, there are more than 17 million posts when you search using the hashtag #cleaneating.
Fitness blogger Zanna Van Dijk has over 70,000 followers on the app.
She makes a living out of her healthy lifestyle, but worries about the example she could set for those who want to “eat clean”.
“Some people could use it to fuel negative behaviour, but I like to think that what I’m doing is going to support more positive behaviour,” she said.
“I do post my non-clean eating meals … and that’s a conscious effort to show people it’s OK not to be perfect.”
But many people following bloggers and fitness enthusiasts look at their recipes as if they’re nutritional advice.
Nutritionist Ian Marber warns that clean eating can often “cherry-pick science” and that people can end up “following fads and trends that have no background or basis to them whatsoever”.
Clean eaters are undeterred, and a community has grown around their “healthy” outlook.
For the majority, clean eating promotes a happy, healthy relationship with food, but there is a minority which take it too far.
The advice, as ever, is about balance – as much in people’s minds as on their plates.
Leave a Reply
You must be logged in to post a comment.