Dishonestly Healthy: ‘Clean’ Eating and the rise of Orthorexia

I had never encountered anything like it, until I started modelling.

Until I was ensconced in this world, food had been pretty straightforward. If you ate too much pudding, enjoyed big servings, had cheese on top of everything and didn’t do much exercise, you’d probably get fat. If I felt like I was expanding a bit, I’d just stop eating extra biscuits and kablam! Problem solved.

Then I started heading to shoots, where the make up artist would talk about how terrible it was to cook your broccoli rather than eat it raw, as nature intended. All the goodness would seep out, apparently, and it was no better than eating a McDonalds. The photographer would have discovered juicing and was raving about how high he felt after a 23 day juice cleanse. The stylist needed to get back on the gluten-free diet (what was gluten? I wondered) because gluten was ‘evil.’

As a 16 year old, I remember hearing all of these facts about food on shoots. Bread did what to you?! Sugar had what effect?! Dairy, The Devil Incarnate? What should I actually be eating? Having never particularly considered food as anything other than an enjoyable activity to stop my stomach rumbling, I suddenly started feeling a little uneasy about it. Seeing as Mum was still making my food I’d eat it all down, but I now assessed each morsel for what benefits or harm it might be doing me.

‘Clean eating’ is a trend that has become increasingly prominent over the last few years. Most of my friends have some raw cacao or almond milk in their kitchens, and there’s a general public awareness of what spirulina is (manky tasting green stuff that’s apparently good for you).

I think it’s fantastic that eating healthily has become more prominent and aspirational recently, and that the proliferation of new ingredients means that we can be more creative and even artistic with our smoothie bowls. But having been surrounded by this kind of approach to eating since I started modelling at 16, I also know that there are pitfalls. Talking about food with authority based on a Facebook viral video we recently saw might be interesting/amusing to some, but a start of a dangerous obsession for others. Have you heard of Orthorexia? It’s an increasingly common diagnosis in patients who have restricted their eating to such a degree, generally based on the wide-ranging psuedo science out there, to the point of unhealthiness. Ironic, considering that it’s all with the aim of being healthy and nourished. I can think of many people, both in the fashion industry and out of it, who probably have this.

I can definitely see that this is what is happening all around me now. Food isn’t just food anymore, it’s a status symbol and it’s one of the most popular chats on shoots and castings and even just when I meet up with friends. I actually have to sometimes sit back in silence and stifle giggles. Not eating certain foods based on the ‘energy’ your body absorbs from it, gluten being ‘a squiggly thing that your body doesn’t like, a glue for your gut,’ the fact that we should be eating like cavemen and women (but with centrally heated flats, Nutribullets and foraging for berries in the 2 for 1 section of Sainsbury’s).

Don’t get my wrong folks, I’ve been there. It probably hit it’s height around 5 years ago when my body rounded up and I put on weight and I felt absolutely awful. Instead of just eating fewer Magnums and ramping up my exercise from doing the Jordan (Katie Price) workout in my bedroom 2-3 times a week (surprisingly good)….

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I simply HAD to go on weeks at a time of cutting out major food groups and introducing fancy powders from Peru. Supplementing my diet on ground-down powders exported from Rainforests that the Aztecs used as an energy fuel (they also cut out alive people’s hearts but whatever) gave me a racing heart and an empty bank balance. It would take so long to put all the ingredients in my smoothie that I was frequently running late, and I can’t imagine the calorie content in there.

I’ve already spoken about my struggle to cut through all the rubbish advice about food and learn to intuit what my body was actually wanting, so I won’t bore you with that again. I just think it’s time to calm down on clean eating. If you’re not allergic to gluten, you’re fine to eat bread sometimes. If you turn up to a shoot, enjoy two croissants, a baguette for lunch and nibble on crisps all day – yeah, you’re gonna have a belly – cos you ate too much crap, not due to the gluten content. I mean, look at Mary Berry – she’s alright! Everyone raving about how much more energy they have, how much weight they lost, because they cut out gluten/sugar is probably just eating less cake and imbibing less beer.

Firstly, it starts with us. When it comes to the latest studies into food read the articles, watch the videos, but with a critical, questioning eye and always bringing it back to what feels good for YOU. The healthiest looking and living people I know are the least faddy, too. There might be a list of health benefits as long as your arm to your weekly shop, but if most of the contents of your shopping basket hail from rainforests on the other side of the globe and aren’t seasonal/local, it probably has an enormous carbon footprint. Yes, this £14 green powder might transport mercury from your kidneys and magic them out your bum, but if you’re about to get sh*tcanned on Apple Sourz tonight it’s probably not worth the price tag.

As a model, I know that a bowl of courgetti with raw veg will probably get loads of likes on Instagram, but I think it’s important to  be honest about the burgers/cocktails/cheeseboards/jacket potatoes/chocolates I also eat. I try to have a balanced array of recipes on here but I guess there are a few too many smoothies, so I’ll be focusing on getting some proper wholesome dinner ideas up on MTF. Young girls are influenced by us, and in cutting out food groups to the point that they are nutritionally deficient,they are at risk of health complaints from weaker immune systems to osteoperosis to their periods stopping. It’s serious, and in showing a more balanced approach and attitude to food we really can help prevent this.

I hate seeing this fear and mistrust of food seeping out of my industry and into wider society, creeping into the lives and insecurities of my friends. Food isn’t an obstacle course, it’s a joy and our own bodies are capable of telling us if they are good or bad for us, not baseless claims on Facebook groups.

Rebecca x



6 Comments

  1. OMG I cannot tell you how much I loved reading this 🙂
    Lyn x
    @thelavenderbarn

  2. This is the best one yet! Xx

  3. Vicky Sands wrote:

    We love food! And our lives are richer for it 🙂 I have *always* been so proud to say that my best friend who is a model EATS LIKE ME, ENJOYS it and we share recipes!
    I still make your mango yoghurt salmon btw!
    x x x

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