CAN REALLY EAT OUR WAY TO THE PERFECT LIFESTYLE?
‘Don’t eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn’t class as food.’ Ella Woodward, 23, can forever hold that statement against her name. It’s ninth on the list of ‘Mae Deli Philosophies’, the Ten Commandments for all those who aspire to look and live like Ella. She’s gorgeous, stick-thin, has a spaniel, a fiancé and 400,000 followers on Instagram. After developing Postural Tachycardia Syndrome in 2011, she made it her mission to self-heal by changing her diet. Two years later, she started up her blog (deliciouslyella.com) where she publishes her recipes, her ‘story’, and advocates her plant-based way of life. Since then, she’s written two cookbooks, the first of which was the fastest-selling recipe book ever to hit Amazon. Not a bad life.
But there’s a catch. Ella eats a plant-based diet, which was part of the whole self-healing thing. On top of that, refined sugar is strictly forbidden. It’s a pretentious description of being vegan, except it’s worse. Choosing to follow this regime means succumbing to meals classed as raw, clean and almost everything-free.
The closest you’ll come to a brownie is sweet potatoes acting as a sugar substitute mixed with Nutri-bulleted dates in a poor attempt to recreate that irresistibly mouth-watering, chocolate goo. You can guess how they taste. Ella doesn’t just cope with living this life of extreme self-control; she seems to thrive on it. She’s even managed to convince thousands that they too can live a life of Dairy Milk deprivation, as long as there’s a batch of glazed chilli and beetroot energy bars in the oven. With a combination of smiley snapchat selfies (‘Have a beautiful Monday, everyone!’), Instagram posts of sweaty mid-yoga-session-headstands (‘Feeling so empowered right now!’) and unlimited recipes for simple, wholesome salads (‘Flax seeds make anything heavenly!’), Ella has, to quote The Times, ‘changed the way a generation eats’. For a generation for which obesity is a serious issue, at first glance this woman seems like a gift from God.
Her slogan of ‘Love your life, love your food, love yourself…’ could, indeed, be the solution to all our problems.
The trouble is that something about cutting major food groups from a diet makes me, along with the British Dietetic Association, slightly uneasy. It’s not entirely clear why avoiding gluten and dairy, and ‘eating clean’, keeps people healthy. Is this new ‘pursuit of wellness’ obsession actually worth taking seriously? Could it just be a phase, a fashionable fad that will sooner or later become outdated and boring? Could it even be creating more problems than it is solving? Orthorexia is a medical condition in which the sufferer systematically avoids specific foods that they believe to be harmful. Orthorexia can kill, via malnutrition.
And we are being brainwashed more and more into thinking that if we severely restrict what we put on our plates we can ‘cleanse’ ourselves and be ‘pure’. As with any obsession, being fixated with healthy eating isn’t actually very healthy. Our society is far vainer than we may want to admit, and that’s what forces me to suggest that the real incentive could be the ‘eat like me, look like me’ aspect. After all, every successful food blogger has two main characteristics: she is both young and photogenic. Ella and several healthy chefs who have quickly jumped on her bandwagon to promote ‘clean eating’ are exploiting a nation’s insecurity. And the very term ‘clean eating’ is offensive since what we eat has little to do with our cleanliness, or our moral fibre. A diet that is ‘clean’ just seems smug and elitist, and is just another way to make us feel bad about ourselves.
Nowadays, though, Ella’s reminders to have a healthy breakfast, lunch and dinner seem unstoppable. Apps like Snapchat ensure that the vulnerable teenage girls who use it most are continually subject to images of what they should look like, and how they should eat.
Very few of these twenty-something wellness gurus have any nutritional qualifications.
As scathing as it sounds, quite a lot of the advice they give is just not worth hearing. ‘These people are injecting an unwelcome degree of paranoia into society, without any scientific backing,’ says Ian Marber, a nutrition expert and author of The Food Doctor.
Here are just a few examples of the cringe-worthy claims made by Ella and her fellow fanatics:
1) Milk actually causes calcium loss in our bones. When we drink milk, calcium is drawn from our bones in order to rebalance the acidity it generates, causing a severe calcium deficit. (Ella Woodward)
2) Gluten breaks down the microvilli in your small intestine, eventually letting particles of your food leach into your bloodstream. (The Hemsley Sisters)
3) Wheat is like sandpaper for the gut. (Madeline Shaw)
These points are probably new and reasonably surprising, but don’t worry; you’re not alone – they’re also new to nutritionists. Just so we can get things straight:
1) There is such a condition as calcium-alkali syndrome, but it’s brought on more probably by excessive intake of calcium supplements than by too many milkshakes.
2) You’ll only need to worry about your snacks leaching if you have been diagnosed with coeliac disease, something that affects only 1 in 100 people in the UK.
3) Fibre is like oil for the gut and can be found in bran cereals, whole grain pastas and brown rice, all of which also contain gluten.
The health industry is worth billions of dollars a year and naturally attracts, just like religion, its fair share of charlatans. Sadly their marketing skills are infinitely more acute than their nutritional knowledge, and they prey rapaciously on the ignorant and the vulnerable, of whom there are millions.
The funny thing about Ella, apart from the silly diet she recommends but surely does not really follow, is that her great-grandmother was probably right most of the time, so the best thing to do with the Ellas of this world is to take their culinary advice with a very large pinch of salt.