Diet trends, like the hopes and expectations of those who follow them, tend to operate in violent peaks and troughs. For the fad known as ‘clean eating’, 2016 was something of a bumper year. The trend – with its back to basics righteousness and Instagram-filtered purity – was the most Googled diet term last year, but by the start of this year it had been thoroughly discredited.
In 2016, clean eating propped up an ailing publishing industry and made celebrities out of a number of its proponents, including the Hemsley sisters who were granted a prime time series on Channel 4. The BBC Good Food website gave clean eating its own section amid bandwagon-jumping from more high street brands than you could shake a carrot and stick at. The gravy train (or, as clean eaters would have it, bone broth train) was off and away.
All this despite the fact that the backlash against clean eating had already begun in the dying days of 2015, when Nigella Lawson wondered aloud whether all this talk of ‘clean’ might not paint the rest of us as somehow ‘impure’. Then, in July last year, the Guardian pointed out the distinctly moral streak in the rhetoric and The Spectator argued clean eating was worse than just a silly fad. As greasy, lovely, meaty American-style food began to brand itself as ‘dirty’, eating became, between all the blood and greenery, surprisingly black and white. It’s a western thing, the Guardian noted, this sharp division between pleasure and virtue: a hangover from our English Protestant past.
The religious implications weren’t deeply buried. Look at the language – the Hemsley sisters’ website promises a ‘simple, mindful and intuitive’ enlightenment that, despite its simplicity and intuitiveness, needs a Buddhist-cum-Alcoholics-Anonymous ‘15 pillars’ to work itself out. ‘Deliciously’ Ella Mills, meanwhile, (the movement is nothing if not nifty with an adverb) asks her acolytes, with the air of a born again Christian, to ‘Love Your Food’ and ‘Love Your Self’.
With opposition to clean eating now in full flow, the movement’s household names are trying to distance themselves from this tricky term. The Hemsley sisters went on record recently to say they ‘have never, ever used the phrase “clean eating”’, while Mills fronted a BBC Panorama documentary called Clean Eating: The Dirty Truth last week to publicly execute it.
So which lifestyle ethos will take its place? A quick Google Trend search reveals ‘wellness’ is this year’s front runner.
Wellness is a vaguer philosophy than clean eating that takes in exercise, alternative medicine and mindfulness, as well as nutrition. Yoga features prominently. A quick check of the National Wellness Institute website reveals a terrifying looking chart featuring ‘the Six Dimensions of Wellness’ and empty sentences such as ‘Wellness is a conscious, self-directed and evolving process of achieving full potential’.
If clean eating reeked of a mainstream religion, wellness has strong echoes of a cult: hopefully, it will be similarly discredited in the coming year.