Eating healthily has got really, really complicated. Is gluten really the root of all evil? Is there something wrong with me if I don't leap out of bed for green juices or avocado on toast? Can I still eat carbs, or are we only allowed protein now? Frankly we're all pretty confused. Does anyone even know what 'healthy eating' is anymore?
Long forgotten are the days when we thought the Atkins fad of the early noughties was peak weird. The last few years have seen an increasingly baffling and bizarre array of 'WTF?' diet trends – from the unnervingly moralistic 'clean eating', to the eye-wateringly expensive Juice Plus capsules. There's been the charcoal cleanse; the baby food diet (yes, really); the ice cream cleanse; the raw food diet; the super macho paleo diet; the completely depressing cabbage soup diet; the kale and chewing gum diet; and the Bulletproof diet, where you drink coffee with butter in for god only knows what reason. To be honest the potato cleanse, where you live on nothing but potatoes, sounds like the least terrible option of the lot.
It sounds funny when you list them all like that, but it's actually quite scary. Supposedly 'healthy' food trends like clean eating – where processed food is off the menu and you eat only foods that are 'whole' and 'real' – are being increasingly linked with an eating disorder known as orthorexia, which is characterised by an unhealthy obsession with only eating food that the sufferer believes is healthy. Of course, this kind of disordered relationship with food is far from healthy – but many of us feel so bewildered by the trendy pursuit of 'wellbeing' that we've disconnected from what used to be accepted knowledge: a little bit of everything in moderation.
Now, the fightback is starting.
is an Australian group, founded in November 2014 and now beginning to enter the British consciousness. Dietician Kirsten Crothers is a keen advocate: 'It's a backlash against all of that crazy stuff. The emphasis really is everything in moderation, getting back to actually enjoying food and cooking food – rather than this focus on weight and image, which is just not healthy at all. It's more about the way you feel, your relationship with food, being able to sit down and enjoy it rather than it being a punishment,' she says.
Like the people behind the Moderation Movement, Kirsten is 'really fed up with all this stuff on Instagram and Facebook pretending that to have six-pack abs is normal. It's actually quite extreme when you look at what an average woman looks like, and the kind of training and diets involved to get to that stage. Women are supposed to have a higher body fat percentage!' Her concern is that these extreme diets, which we've been led to believe are healthy, are actually putting a lot of people off from eating normal, genuinely healthy foods.
'Specific foods like kale or wheatgrass are considered the best things ever, and people are just being scared off by that,' she says. 'Everyone's got different tastes and yes, kale is healthy, but if you don't like it what about other green veg – spinach, broccoli – you don't have to have these [trendy] foods on pedestals. They're no more healthy than just getting back to your normal diet of carrots, broccoli and potatoes – what's wrong with that?'
Well, quite. But do we really need another new trend to tell us that? Zoe Nicholson, one of the founders of The Moderation Movement says: 'Yes! We need this because the focus around food and the "right" way to eat has become insane. Extreme forms of healthy eating are leading to very distorted relationships with food and body.'
The Moderation Movement aims to be inclusive, focusing on body image and 'intuitive eating', and offering advice, inspiration and articles through social media, an email newsletter, and events in Melbourne and Gold Coast, Australia. '
So how can you join the movement? 'Reject diet culture, throw out all your diet tools, stop labelling food as either 'good' or 'bad', and learn about intuitive or attuned eating,' Zoe says. 'Start to focus less on weight and appearance, and more on how you feel in your body and healthy behaviours.'
Over here in the UK, Kirsten uses her blog and her consultations to raise awareness and spread the movement 'It is a bit sad in a way [that it needs to be done]', says Kirsten. 'But it's about re-teaching people to get back to the basics, because everyone's so disconnected with food. The craziest [diets] I see quite commonly are the juice and shake-style cleanses. I mean yes, you're going to lose weight, but it's just fluid because you're reducing your carbohydrate intake, and carbohydrates absorb water. You're not actually losing real weight, and it's not socially normal so I've never met anybody who's kept the weight off when they went back to normal eating.'
When it comes to the big question of the day, her response sounds almost boringly sensible, compared to the miracle quick fixes promised by every fad diet going. 'A good diet is incorporating the different food groups, so wholegrain carbohydrates at every meal; keeping to a good portion size; plenty of veg – you can't have too much, but eat whole fruit and veg rather than juicing; healthy proteins like beans, pulses, lean meats like chicken breasts, fish is very good –particularly oily fish for the omega 3; and then a good amount of dairy,' Kirsten says.
When it comes to treats, she adds: 'Set a realistic limit on your drinking, have a slice of cake at the weekend, and then stick to lighter snacks during the week, like small packets of Maltesers or popcorn. And there's nothing wrong with wheat – breads and pastas are good, filling foods, so it's really unnecessary to cut them out altogether.' So while it's depressing as hell that we need yet another diet trend to remind us how we're supposed to eat in the first place, the Moderation Movement is one healthy eating trend we can all get behind. Seriously guys, for the love of (wholemeal) bagels and all that is joyful!
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This article originally appeared on The Debrief.