Experts: “clean eating fuels anorexia”

clean-eatingI’ve long felt suspicious about the “clean eating” kick. I’ve blogged before about how it’s a crock. And every time I say that, I get some push-back from devotees of that diet strategy.

What’s wrong with eating healthy foods? People ask. Don’t you agree that whole foods are good for you? The clean eaters will say.

But I’ve always noticed a moralizing approach to clean eating, where I’ve literally seen clean eating friends publicly shame themselves on social media for eating something “unclean,” like a slice of pizza.

And that smacks of disordered eating. And now there’s a report that the experts agree. It makes sense, because clean eaters like to cut stuff out. Sugar — not clean. Other white stuff, like white flour, white bread, white pasta, and white rice — not clean.

According to the report:

Many experts who work with eating disorder patients claim the clean-eating trend fuels conditions such as anorexia.


Renee McGregor, a dietitian who works with the charity Anorexia and Bulimia Care, says she has patients who feel that “the world will collapse” if they eat foods that are not “clean”, because they have seen a celebrity blogger saying that these foods are bad.

The rhetoric of clean eating is pretty much always associated with weight loss. Lately, I’ve started “unfollowing” some friends on Facebook (that’s where you stay friends but you no longer see their posts) because they consistently post about clean eating and weight loss. Frankly, I just don’t need to see that stuff.

As someone who has in the past lived with an eating disorder, I always find it triggering. And the research on the association between eating disorders and clean eating helps to explain why that type of talk can trigger people.

Why does this matter? Well, it matters because when people cavalierly toss around the rhetoric of clean eating, there’s a good chance they’re displaying, or at the every least promoting in others, disordered eating as a virtue. Clean and pure instead of dirty and toxic.

If the nonsensical nature of the concept “clean” as applied to eating isn’t enough to convince people to ditch that kind of talk, maybe knowing that it’s fueling an increase in eating disorders will.


5 thoughts on “Experts: “clean eating fuels anorexia”

  1. Thanks for addressing an important topic. I don’t like the term “clean” for healthy food, but there certainly are foods that are better for human consumption and foods that are worse because they contain few or no nutrients or contain high levels of ingredients we already get too much of. The issue with eating disorders is not the specific food chosen or rejected, the issue is the rigidity with which choices are made, the obsession with appearance and food choices, the delusional quality of self image in the face of contradictory evidence, and the loss of control over eating choices. There is no doubt that our food choices have changed drastically in the last century or two with the growth of the food manufacturing industry. That industry is too often driven by profit motive rather than health and uses sophisticated psychological techniques to manipulate addiction potential in people. If ads and comments about “clean” food is an addiction trigger for some people, those ads and comments should be opposed.

  2. A good grapple with food labels. Devils vs Angel food cake stir up similar thoughts. Our self worth cannot be measured by the food we have access to. Good post.

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