Without a doubt, 2017 is the year of 'clean living'. A quick scroll down your Instagram feed and you'll be bombarded with avocado brunches, super food salads and hundreds of beautiful people showing off their rock hard abs that they've achieved with game-changing diets and exercise regimes.
Likewise, it's impossible to get through the day without reading how some person has transformed themselves from an overweight, average Joe to a Victoria's Secret model using some sort of innovative new diet like cutting out all carbs, only eat lean meats, or restricting food consumption until the evening (you get the picture).
Even celebrities are cottoning onto the wellness trend. Actress turned health guru, Gwyneth Paltrow, has gained a cult following for her lifestyle website, Goop, which promotes radical health trends such as fasting, extreme cleanses and vaginal steaming (don't even ask).
The health craze has also bought with it a new breed of celebrity chef, such as Joe Wicks, who has coined the phrase 'lean in 15', which encompasses low fat, low carb recipes with fat burning exercises.
While on the surface, clean living promotes a healthier lifestyle, some health professionals have criticised the trend, suggesting that it could potentially be as damaging as pro-anorexia sites, with some fitness enthusiasts taking 'clean' to the absolute extreme.
The trend drives home a subtle, but damaging message. How you are now is not good enough. You can always be stricter in your diet, put more hours in at the gym and be a stronger, leaner, sexier you and that's where body image issues can arise.
For the past year, I would admit that I've got carried away with living clean. While I've always lived a healthy lifestyle, in the past year I've pushed myself even further with the goal of achieving an Instagram worthy body.
Previously, my diet consisted of relatively healthy, wholesome meals, with a few treats here and there.
However, after being arguably brainwashed by the many fitness gurus out there, I came to the conclusion that my previous diet was actually terrible, and so I began cutting out certain food items.
Firstly, I cut out the 'devil' in carb form: bread. In the past few years, the delicious lunch time staple has been demonised by the health and fitness industry. A quick Google search and you'll find several articles warning you how bread will turn you into a bloated, lethargic slob, while a life sans bread will help you beat the bloat and turn you into a toned goddess. I was sold. Au revoir, bread!
After saying goodbye to bread - potatoes, pasta, and other white carbs also received the boot. Likewise, I began scaling back on items that included a fraction of fat in them, such as burgers, bacon and my once a week takeaway treat. Creamy sauces and condiments also went into the bin. Safe to say, my diet was boring as hell.
My fitness regime also went into the overdrive. I would go the gym religiously, come rain or shine, even when I was hungover. I was determined to become the epitome of male beauty: muscular, lean and masculine.
After a few months, I did start to notice results, but I was never satisfied with how I looked, so I pushed myself more and more, to the point that I began to feel ill and exhausted.
On non-training days I would completely cut out carbs and limit my calorie intake. I almost felt guilty for eating when I wasn't exercising, imagining all the calories being stored as fat, rather than fuelling my muscle growth. During these days of restriction, I would spend the whole day feeling dizzy and downright exhausted. I also became obsessed with checking labels, scrutinising how much sugar, fat and protein was in everything I ate.
I would also feel ill when I was working out, as frankly, I was pushing myself too hard. I would again feel dizzy and sick, feelings which I ignored as I pushed on with my workout.
Of course, it's impossible for a person to be 100% strict all the time. We are all human after all. To make up for my repressive diet and exercise regime I forced myself to follow, I would get hammered all weekend, then gorge on fatty foods when I was drunk.
The days following my weekend binge, I would feel disgusted at myself, obsessively examining my bloated stomach until I'd worked off the excess calories from all the booze and food I'd consumed.
Despite my growing addiction to 'living clean', my body confidence was at rock bottom. One day I was on a dating app, when a blank profile popped up to tell me that I'm scrawny, as well as other critiques on my appearance. It sounds silly that a stranger who didn't even have the courage to show his own face could have such an impact on my self-esteem, but it did.
I continued pushing myself more and more in the gym until my body literally gave up. I'd put on too much weight on the squat machine and suddenly felt a sharp pain in my 'downstairs area'.
When I got home, I noticed a small lump on my bum that grew bigger every day. After a week had passed I was in unbearable pain and the lump had swelled to the size of a golf ball (I'm not even exaggerating). The pain was that bad, I couldn't even pee without being in so much pain I felt like I was going to pass out.
I ended up in A&E and was diagnosed with a thrombosed hemorrhoid (Google it at your peril) that had become infected. The doctor told me that it's usually people who are overweight and have poor diets that get them. The irony. However, he theorised that I'd put so much pressure on my body, it had caused the veins in my bum to literally collapse.
Unfortunately, I was meant to be going on holiday that evening. There was no way I would be able to fly and so I had to cancel my flight. Safe to say, I was devastated and felt incredibly stupid. In my mission to achieve the perfect body, I ended up severely injuring myself.
Thankfully, I was able to get another flight a few days later, and a few months after my embarrassing injury, my bum has returned to its former glory (praise the lord).
However, the dramatic event was a serious wake up call for me. In the months that have followed, I've relaxed my diet. While I still eat healthy, I allow myself some treats and don't allow myself to feel guilty for enjoying them. I've even started eating bread again, as I obviously like to live life on the wild side.
I've also got a more healthier approach to exercise. I only go when I actually want to go and listen to my body when it's time to finish!
In my opinion, the clean living trend is harmful as you are set up to fail. It's not healthy or attainable to cut out an entire food group such as carbs, neither is being 100% strict with your diet. The clean leaving trendsetters are usually personal trainers, or otherwise work in the health profession and so fitness and looking good is their entire life. For an average person, it's impossible to compete.
Dr Max Pemberton agrees.
She wrote an open letter to the Daily Mail a few months ago, describing the growing number of underweight, emaciated young women and men who are visiting her clinic after becoming obsessed with clean eating. Many of these patients have cut out processed foods and live on a diet of mostly vegetables. Commonly, the women who Dr Max sees exhibit thinning hair, flaky skin and irregular periods due to serious malnutrition.
Describing one patient, Dr Max details how: "Her collarbones jut out at angles, her legs are so painfully thin that, sometimes, she is unable to even squat down, or walk up a flight of stairs because her body is so desperate for an energy source, it has started effectively eating its own muscles."
Worryingly, she explains how the majority of these fitness gurus don't have any formal health qualifications, such as The Hemsley sisters, Jasmine and Melissa, who wrote The Art of Eating Well, yet are giving potentially life-threatening advice to impressionable young people.
Dr Max strongly agrees that: "'clean eating' is ugly, malevolent and damaging. The whole irony of the clean eating fad is that, despite what it purports to be, it's fundamentally toxic."
With 1.6 million people in the UK suffering with an eating disorder; is the clean eating trend partly to blame?
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