I read an article on The Spectator website recently and have been mulling it over ever since. It’s on the dangers of following clean eating as it can lead to orthorexia. I cringed to know that I could be bracketed as an aspiring member of that clan of young women (I doubt I would be described as attractive, not in the same breath as the Hemsley sisters anyway!) who “amass hundreds of thousands of followers online as more and more people turn to them for guidance. Essentially recipe bloggers, they are becoming revered for telling us what to eat and what not to eat. In an age of confusion, they seem to offer a path.” However, apart from cringing there, I actually agree with a lot of what the article is saying.
Rather than dictate what I think others should eat and do, I try and create a realistic picture of MY version of paleo. Yeah, I drink flat whites. Why? Because they’re damned delicious! And dairy doesn’t tend to cause me too much of an issue, not first thing in the morning anyway. I know cheese makes me overheat at night and gives me bad dreams so I avoid eating it too late at night. Bread often gives me a tummy ache, but not always, so I will generally avoid it. But if my grandma takes a freshly baked loaf of homemade bread out of the oven and my nose tells me it’s delicious and my tummy wants a piece then yeah, I’ll have some. With LOTS of butter. MY version of paleo is entirely self-experimental — I know how certain foods make me feel and I decide as I go whether or not it’s worth it. Where I am is four years in the making, and I fully expect to continually evolve — I’m changing in other ways all the time so of course my version of paleo changes too. At the moment I’m doing a Whole30 for the fifth time and it’s so easy compared to the first one — in fact I worked out that a whole week has gone by with me barely even noticing!
And I have always hated the phrase ‘clean eating’. I don’t believe that how I ate before, or when I eat a piece of cake now, I’m eating ‘dirty’. I’m just…eating. (Admittedly I have used the hashtag clean eating and jerf on Instagram and Twitter, and I’ve cringed every time. Hashtags are just such an easy way to get new followers!) If I want it, I have it. The biggest difference between now and pre-Paleo is I think things through a bit more. I DON’T eat biscuits with my tea every day (I did before!). I DON’T eat the same thing for breakfast every damn day (in reality I rarely ate breakfast before anyway, but if I did it was a pastry or a piece of toast). I DO eat a far greater variety of vegetables than before – and yes, maybe it is because I swap spaghetti for courgetti or rice for cauliflower rice. No, I don’t know whether by replacing ‘carbs’ (and by that they mean ‘grains’ — I eat plenty of carbs in other forms!) with vegetables I have cut out an entire food group, but my body will tell me if I’m not feeling good on it. My body certainly does tell me that I don’t do so well on wheat! And like I said, I DO eat plenty of carbs, just not in the form of wholegrains.
The thing that I find most frustration about the article, though, is its conclusion: “The sentiment underlying this new cult isn’t a bad one. Most of us would like to be healthier. But we can’t expect the supermarkets to let us know what healthy is — their job is to flog us food, and they do it very well. The overwhelming advice from the people who know a lot about nutrition and dietary health doesn’t seem to have changed much over the years: everything in moderation.”
Yes! I agree…for most of it. DON’T trust the supermarkets — they are there to make a bucketload of money! DO trust your butchers and farmer market sellers — ask them how their animals are fed or whether they use fertilisers and they will know the answer. Will the person restocking the shelves at your supermarket know whether their meat is hormone free? I doubt it!
But then the journalist falls back on that lazy mantra of ‘everything in moderation’. Really? Would you call toast spread with jam and a bowlful of cereal with semi-skimmed milk EVERY DAY for all your life moderate? Why is it that breakfast is the only meal of the day where, according to conventional wisdom, we’re ‘allowed’ to not eat any vegetables? How does cereal every day compare to a full week of completely different breakfasts on a plate filled with colour? Actually, maybe I’m wrong; my breakfasts are a RIOT of colour — it’s COMPLETELY immoderate. But hey, I’ve had my so-called ‘five-a-day’ before you’ve finished your first sip of coffee. Come on, tell me the way I eat is unhealthy.
Look, I know orthorexia is a problem, and I know it’s easy to get obsessive about things — I’ve gone in and out of being militant about the way I eat. But even at my worst I would look at my plate of big ass green salad with a juicy steak, perfectly cooked and compare it to the next person’s monochrome dinner plate of macaroni cheese and can’t help but think I’m doing better.
I take inspiration from my grandparents who, at 90 years old, look about 20 years younger. What’s their secret? I don’t really know but my hunch is:
Granny — cycling literally everywhere, learning new things (my grandmother started learning Latin two years ago, still has recorder lessons once a month and goes to a Friday morning breakfast class), singing in a choir, visiting disabled ‘elderly’ people YOUNGER than her.
Grandpa — tending to his allotment every day for 60 years, cycling to work and back every day, sailing every week until his hip stopped him, writing articles on his specialist field up until he was 91.
Together — eating their own vegetables in season, spending money on high quality produce, doing the crossword puzzle together every day, having friends of all ages from all walks of life in a variety of social groups, listening to music, never having a television in the house but both learning how to use a computer and later an iPad in their 80s.
Sound familiar? OK, so they do eat with flour and Granny cooks with vegetable oil (although they were brought up on lard and dripping of course), so the exact components of their meals may not be paleo. But their overall approach to living, eating and loving is as paleo as paleo can be, and THAT’S my inspiration. I would lay bets that if I told my grandmother I felt #nourished and had a sense of #wellness after eating one of her dinners, she’d be dead pleased. Admittedly, she would be confused if I said #eatclean to her, but then she doesn’t know any other way of eating!
I’m writing a series of articles for HEALTH Unplugged covering all aspects of the paleo lifestyle, and the more I research, the more I realise that the way my grandparents lived was pretty paleo already, and as good an inspiration as I can ever hope for.