Clean Eating – The Dirty Truth review

Did you know I have a physics degree?

Probably, I have an awful tendency to mention it to everyone I meet. I can see Emma watching me write this, etched into her face an exasperated “here we go again”. Oh how a lifetime of torture awaits her.

But hear me out, there’s a point to this intro. I have a physics degree. I slaved for three years doing a science-based subject. It was tough, but I didn’t do it because I like to put myself through stress. I did it because I have an interest in science.

And so I was excited to watch the horizon programme on clean eating, aired in January. Emma was approaching it having roughly followed the rules of clean eating; I was approaching it from a science perspective. If they really had a dirty truth about clean eating, I wanted to know what it was. I wanted to see why it could be really dangerous etc., essentially everything Dr Giles Yeo kept banging on about.

It was quite funny to watch actually. Yeo kept criticising followers of the diet for believing pseudo-science, blindly pursuing a diet when there’s no tangible evidence of success. Frankly, he has a point there. As a society, we have a tendency to read one article, believe it to be enough research and succumb to the ideas put forward.

My issue with the show wasn’t with that. Like I’ve said, I believe him to be correct there. My issue is that he didn’t produce any evidence that clean eating could hurt. If there really was a dirty secret behind it, then surely there’s scientific evidence that says eating that way can damage our long-term health? No?

His dirty secret was that it can put too much pressure on people, and needs to be taken in moderation. But isn’t that true of anything? I certainly haven’t blown a massive BBC budget to tell you that. Most people know it to be true. The pressure is dangerous, I understand that. Clean eating as a phrase implies that everything else is dirty. So it was quite amusing to see him accuse followers of believing in pseudo-science, without producing any himself.

The show featured Deliciously Ella. Before I talk more about her, I have to offer a disclaimer. I don’t really like Ella’s diet. I think her food is weird, and definitely not to my taste. Emma has a load of “clean eating” cook books. Ella’s are the only ones I really struggle to find stuff I want to try in.

Nevertheless, I was impressed by her performance on horizon. She never said her diet would work for everyone, she merely stated it worked for her. If there’s one thing her books are good for, it’s reading about her story. It’s the definition of inspirational. Suffering from POTS, she struggled to walk down the street. The changing of her diet allowed her to overcome that. I do it absolutely no justice at all – go and read it for yourself. It is incredible what diets can do, right? Except it’s not a diet – it’s a lifestyle.

Anyway, regardless. Clean eating, it’s an odd phrase. Especially to lump Ella with it. Ella herself said on the programme:

“My problem with the word ‘clean’ is that it’s become too complicated, too loaded. Clean now implies dirty and that’s negative. I haven’t used it, but as far as I understood it when I first read the term, it meant natural, kind of unprocessed, and now it doesn’t mean that at all. It means diet. It means fad.”

Hmm. So herein we reach the problem I had with the programme. Why did it pick on Ella, and lump her with clean eating if she herself has never used the term? At best, it seemed like an unnecessary attack on the people who like her cookbook, at worst it looked like a shallow way to get more people to watch the show. After all, Ella has over a million followers on Instagram. Dr Giles Yeo hasn’t.

So, what did I take from horizon? Clean eating is a bad phrase. I knew that already. The negative connotations are obvious. Following one fad too far is bad for you. Again, I knew that. There’s someone crazy out there who believes alkaline food can cure cancer. Admittedly, I didn’t know that. That’s interesting, but hardly has anything to do with clean eating – very few people who “eat clean” follow a strictly alkaline diet, and the ones who do don’t, to the best of my knowledge, claim it can cure cancer.

Clean eating, or whatever phrase you want to give it, has helped Emma lose weight, change her life and become confident. Dr Giles Yeo and his reckless documentary could have put someone off in her situation that needed the lifestyle change more than he needed one hour of fickle fame.

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