BBC 3’s ‘Clean Eating’s Dirty Secrets’ Documentary: Was it unfair?

You might have read my article from about a week ago (right here:  ) on why I don’t personally eat clean. In this article I list my reasons as:

  • Depending who you’re listening to, it’s expensive
  • Again, depending who you’re listening to, it can feel exclusive
  • It’s not sustainable in the long term
  • It can become obsessive
  • Cheat days didn’t agree with me…
  • Or my mental health
  • People are cutting out food groups they don’t need to
  • People recommending this often aren’t qualified
Having written this just before watching the documentary, publishing it just after a friend recommended the TV show to me and I accordingly watched it, I wanted to address the documentary itself here. So, this is kind of a short review.
The documentary touched on a lot of the same points I did, but I also don’t think that the documentary was fair either. I know there’s been some YouTube backlash. I felt I had to go back to my own article and make myself more clear on the fact that clean eating wasn’t personally for me, and that clean eating and all it entails (though I don’t like the phrase, whoever uses it) depends on exactly who you’re watching/reading. The documentary did touch on this, but it could have used a few tweaks…

This is my first critique comes in: the documentary criticised clean eating, but it didn’t show that you can eat healthily for an affordable price. If anything, at points I felt like it was just trying to put people off eating healthily, or give them an excuse not to. More screen time could have been given to those who advocate balance (post on my favourite YouTubers and IG-ers for food and other subjects coming soon), and show that to be healthy you don’t necessarily need to eat “clean”. Or, it could even have shown some clean eaters who do have a balance going on- I would really have appreciated hearing what clean eating is from someone who doesn’t add on the organic/gluten free/expensive food aspect. Someone like Clean Eating Alice for example.

Okay next point: plant based diets were 100% NOT represented fairly. I don’t label my diet as anything in particular, but the majority of my food is what is widely acknowledged as either vegetarian or pescatarian, and some meals I eat are vegan. As a result, 9 times out of 10, I am eating something plant based. The rules Grace pulled up for a plant based diet were ridiculous. No meat/fish/dairy are all fine, although vegetarians do eat dairy and eggs but their diet is based predominantly in plants- making them “plant based”. Grace appeared to go straight for the vegan option. The next few rules are, as with all the add-ons clean eating seems to have gained, a bit odd…

  • No wheat
  • No white flour
  • No white rice
  • No white pasta
  • No refined foods
  • No chemicals
  • No additives
  • No flavourings
The last time I checked, many of the “What I Ate In a Day” videos made by vegans on YouTube included white rice. So are they not plant based? Of course they still are! The documentary made plant based meals seem even more difficult than clean eating, and I feel will have put a lot of people off. Also, I’m not sure when plant based became automatically “clean eating”. You don’t have to eat clean to eat plant based. The documentary didn’t get across the idea that it all depends who you are listening to. You do get douchebags who advertise plant based eating as a way to get thin fast, but I feel as if a lot of people who follow a plant based diet have been tarnished with the same brush- angering those who choose to eat this way for ethical reasons, and labelling what is essentially an ethical choice for many as one that promotes unhealthy eating habits. I don’t think Grace went into trying plant based meals with enough information overall: she could easily have gone vegetarian, and enjoyed that avocado and poached eggs on toast.

Health bloggers were all portrayed as promoting eating disorders and “glorifying restricting calories”. Again, it depends who you are listening to. The documentary touched on people who recommend cutting out foods and restricting, but didn’t show the flipside. There are many balanced bloggers and IG-ers as well. There are a lot of bloggers who have dealt with restrictive eating and are now trying to inspire people to find balance, or simply enjoy sharing recipes. Quite rightly, it highlighted the dark side of blogging and social media, it exploded ridiculous diets, but it didn’t show anyone who is located outside of that. At the wellness fair Grace attended everyone was made out to be judgemental and “holier than thou”. Whilst I accept there are problems in the industry and social media community, there are a lot of people who don’t class themselves as “wellness warriors” (myself included) and just show a healthy balanced diet, and are very honest about their own struggles and what goes on behind the scenes.

I do have to acknowledge that there were a lot of positives to the documentary:

  • The dieticians highlighted how ridiculous some of the diets the documentary touched on are, as well as spin off’s from plant-based eating (see below)
  • Grace’s trying the potato cleanse highlighted the danger of following diets that are complete and utter rubbish
  • Grace asking if a raw mushroom will kill her. This highlighted how most people going into diets and healthy eating have little information, making a diet with “rules” a supposedly easier option
  • Love Dr Sarah’s reaction to Freelee and her videos on amino acids. Teaching us to take videos with a pinch of salt.
  • It highlighted that whatever way of eating you want to follow, if you want to lose weight or transition to vegan/vegetarian- you should speak to a doctor and do some research. This is something I really wish I had done when I decided to lose excess weight a few years ago now. It would have saved me a lot of trouble in the long run.
  • It highlighted that nutrition diplomas are way too easy to get hold of
  • It highlighted that a lot of the wellness stuff is about marketing. Having worked both at a magazine and with a PR company for short work experience placements this wasn’t something new to me.
Overall, I enjoyed watching this documentary- parts of it were brilliant. But it needed a little more thought put into it, and a bit more information and balance about it. I feel as if a lot of the issues surrounding clean eating are complicated, especially when you bring eating disorders such as orthorexia into the mix, and though the documentary pulled up some good points it wasn’t quite as informative or non-bias as it could have been.


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