by Vanessa Taaffe

The healthy eating trend that has spiralised out of control

Remember when baobab, acai, cacao and quinoa were things we’d mispronounce at a hipster café?

Society has become fluent in clean eating: avocados have rapidly taken the place of jam, on toast which is now, of course, buckwheat bread. Since the clean eating revolution peaked in 2016 and olive oil was cast aside in favour of its popular and sexier cousin, coconut oil, clean eating has been one of the biggest health trends to hit the market. Over 65% of Amazon’s bestselling cookbooks of 2016 included the words clean, lean, healthy and every day. Whilst a clean eating diet encourages a healthy body and lifestyle, its popularity has seen a rise in eating disorders. These diets deem fatty, processed foods as off limits, with masses of vegetables, nuts, whole grains and seeds considered a staple.

As #eatclean took the internet by storm, plant based diets have also increased tenfold. However, this diet is not as ‘clean’ as many have been led to believe. Australian wellness blogger and author Belle Gibson falsely claimed to have cured her terminal cancer through eating whole, natural foods, like those on a clean eating diet. The main champions of these diets are attractive, articulate, young, and most importantly, skinny women in their 20s. None of whom are nutritionists, but all of whom are on a ‘wellness journey’.

With pretty poster girls comes their even prettier Instagram accounts. Instagram has heralded a new era of unqualified dietitians. Food bloggers like Deliciously Ella, Clean Eating Alice and Madeline Shaw reach thousands of followers daily with their appetising and perfectly lit food pictures.

Their online popularity has transformed them from bloggers to fully fledged celebrity brands, and their large following has turned their Instagram posts into a lucrative career. Meanwhile the ordinary person is left with a shopping list of obscure ingredients and a hefty price tag. As the darker side of clean eating on social media rears its dirty head, there is a new wave of bloggers ready to tackle the recent backlash head on.

By uploading side-by-side before and after pictures of themselves, they show that whilst they post the perfect pictures of their food and bodies on Instagram, they do not eat or look that way all the time. On one side of the screen these bloggers are tensed and skinny, while on the other they are bloated and not sucking in their stomachs. Their captions often admit that the pictures were taken just minutes apart or after a meal, reminding followers that it’s not possible to be flexed and skinny 24/7.

We are a generation of comparers. As followers recreate and compare their favourite blogger’s lunchtime meal with their own, they are also comparing their bodies. It’s in this emulation and comparison that the emotionally vulnerable begin to develop eating disorders. This unhealthy obsession with eating healthy is known as Orthorexia.

An orhtorexic becomes fixated on the quality and purity of the food they consume, classing foods as either ‘good’ or ‘bad’. Throw the term clean eating in the mix and the word ‘clean’ takes on a life of its own, denoting other foods as ‘dirty’ by comparison.

Orthorexia sits uncomfortably balanced between eating healthily and being healthy eating obsessed. The notion of only eating pure clean foods in an attempt to cultivate a healthy lifestyle has meant that food groups such as carbohydrates are being eliminated from diets. This can lead to significant health and social problems, which can further impact the sufferer’s relationship with food.

As timelines fill up with #raw and #clean photos, the battle between the blogger and the nutritionist commences. A recent survey on affli.net revealed that “bloggers [are] trusted more than celebrities, journalists, brands and politicians”. Whilst bloggers posts focus increasingly on their perfect plates, and less on their rigorous daily workouts, more and more followers are beginning to develop unrealistic expectations about the food they are consuming. By glamorising the food they eat and their inherently glamourous status as celebrity, these bloggers carry immense responsibility on their sculpted shoulders.

Although both Instagram and food bloggers cannot be blamed singlehandedly for the rise of eating disorders, every like and comment on a #healthy post contributes to an #unhealthy thought.