Reflecting on the Clean Eating Backlash: Where are we Now?


Sometime around summer 2016 the tide began to turn on the UK wellness scene, with popular bloggers dropping the term “clean eating” from their websites as quickly as possible. As registered nutritionists and dieticians publicly called out any nutritional professionals without proper degrees or accreditations, I noticed a few bios dropping “nutritionist” in favour of “health coach” or simply, “recipe developer”. At the time, I wrote a piece for the Huffington Post about the confusion surrounding the term nutritionist, and looking back, I think I could have been harder. There are still “nutritionists” without degrees leading the health sections of magazines and websites, potentially offering insufficient nutritional advice or promoting another form of clean eating. Recently, an article attempted to bring a debate around the validity of the Alkaline Diet, using anecdotal evidence and celebrities as their argument for the benefit of so-called alkaline foods. I couldn’t believe my eyes that such a large wellness website was using such poorly balanced debate. I feel that the UK wellness scene has cracked down upon pseudoscience and clean eating much harder than in the US and other locations.  

*A quick search told me that Kris Carr is a bestselling author, chronic cancer patient, but has no qualifications that would have me describe her as an expert.

Whilst a few brands are still attempting to use clean eating as marketing, the overall opinion seems to be that of moderation, of physical health and mental health in balance. As awareness of orthorexia and just general disordered eating habits has increased, the importance of viewing eating beyond just a means to get thin. It’s a sad fact is that few girls or women have a completely healthy relationship with food and their bodies and the placing of ethics upon food  

Of course, the problem isn’t the term clean eating. It is the whole concept behind it: moralising food, taking advice on “good” or “bad” foods from ill-qualified professionals. Replacement terms such as #realfood are springing up and being shot down in quick succession. So I’m not yet convinced that the situation has fully resolved itself, although the wellness industry certainly seems to be moving in the right direction. 

The movement towards a more balanced approach to health definitely seems to be a grassroots approach -it is the consumers who are driving the brands to change their marketing to promote a more responsible message. Voting with our feet by buying from brands not promoting diet culture, asking for qualifications and calling out magazines and websites for publishing questionable content will likely be the best way to continue turning the tables on clean eating and bad science.

  • Roslyn Rachel

    Interesting post thank you for sharing! These things always seem to come in fads and it’s important not to get over-obsessed…balance is key! People did seem to jump off the “clean eating” bandwagon very quickly! But you’re right – it’s the concept, not the buzz word itself, that’s the issue. (Fab blog by the way!)

    • Its all about what’s hot and what’s not sometimes when it comes to people jumping onto trends. Thanks so much!

  • Great post! I wrote in response to the clean eating backlash on my own blog in January and think you’re absolutely right about the emphasis on balance. Ensuring there aren’t “good” or “bad” connotations with certain foods is definitely something I feel strongly about; “cheat meals” just sends such a terrible message!

    I think we have moved on in the last few months but it’s certainly not over. It is hard for the lay person with no qualifications (I include myself in this group!) to know where to turn when seemingly reputable publications and even universities and doctors support things like the Alkaline Diet. Asking questions and calling people out is a good way forward if it’s done in a positive and curious way.

    • Ooh, I will check that out! Food shouldn’t be so black and white. I’ve gone to so many wrong places for information over the years and still find it hard to sift through papers with contrasting results and potential bias. It was great to hear everyone at the Health Bloggers Summit being so positive and supportive of asking for health.