I have always liked Nigella Lawson. Last week I liked her even more when she made some insightful remarks about faddish eating, in particular the fad of "clean eating", one that mystifies and annoys me in equal measure.

Driven by social media, this idea of eating "clean" can be benign, possibly even healthful. At the other extreme, it can be quite unhealthy and psychologically damaging.

This is what Nigella was getting at. "People are using certain diets as a way to hide an eating disorder or a great sense of unhappiness with their own body," she said.

"There is a way in which food is used to either self- congratulate - you're a better person because you're eating like that - or to self-persecute, because you'll not allow yourself to eat what you want."


Eating "clean" is a terrible name for something that's not necessarily a terrible idea. The basic principles of clean eating are simply about eating wholefoods, more foods in their natural state or close to it. Sounds great, right?

At its extreme though, clean eating can be highly restrictive. No gluten, no dairy, no sugar, no coffee, no meat - the rules are many and varied.

Search #cleaneating on Instagram and you'll find 18 million posts, shots of everything from normal-looking dinners to chia-seed puddings.

There are also many, many shots of extreme physiques: women with tiny waists and bubble butts, chiselled men with impossibly buff torsos.

The people appear perfect in their gorgeous activewear and photogenic yoga poses.

They convey a message that you too can be this attractive and happy if you're prepared to "do the work" and have the necessary dietary control. And it's this message that can prove seductive and ultimately harmful to vulnerable people.

Orthorexia describes an obsession with healthy eating. It's not an official eating disorder but health professionals often recognise it as a type of disordered eating behaviour.

It's when a desire to eat healthily tips over into a desire to control the diet to the extent that it interferes with living a normal life. It is most common in young women - who are also heavy users of social media.


It's a sneaky one because it can be masked, as Nigella pointed out, by the appearance of simply "being healthy".

Think about that term "clean eating", though.

The implication is that any other way of eating is unclean, and therefore wrong, that anything we eat that doesn't fit the clean criteria is "dirty" and will need to be atoned for. This is not a healthy way to live.

At this time of year, it is worth remembering that food isn't clean or dirty. It's just food.

It's about nourishment but it's also about pleasure. What we eat (or don't) should never affect how we feel about ourselves, that's giving food too much power.

So smile and enjoy those Christmas foods and let them make you feel nothing but joyful.