On Munchies: Ruby Tandoh Won't Judge You for Ordering a Cappuccino with Extra Chocolate
I spoke about this purity fetish to Nigella Lawson, whose guilt-free approach to eating helped to reconfigure my attitude to food when I was at my most vulnerable. "I despair of the term 'clean eating'," she said, "though I actually like the food that comes under that banner. ['Clean eating'] necessarily implies that any other form of eating – and consequently the eater of it – is dirty or impure and thus bad, and it's not simply a way of shaming and persecuting others, but leads to that self-shaming and self-persecution that is forcibly detrimental to true healthy eating."
"I despair of the term 'clean eating'…it necessarily implies that any other form of eating – and consequently the eater of it – is dirty or impure and thus bad." – Nigella Lawson
It seems clear-cut: eating disorders are messy and unhappy, and wellness is a way out of that anxiety and disorder. But between the lines of the wellness cookbooks, I read a different story, and it's not just gluten in the firing line. In Madeleine Shaw's first cookbook alone, the vocabulary used to describe countless foods, and the way they make us feel, suggests a less accepting view of health: "junk", "sluggish", "bad", "foe", "cheat" and "fat" are all words she uses. She also reminds us that our friends might try to sabotage our diets, but that we must learn to ignore them. Ella Mills begs us to treat ourselves when the craving takes us, but that given enough time, those treat foods will begin to seem "kind of gross, actually."It gives rise to a kind of all-or-nothing approach to nutrition where all the delicious nuance of cooking, eating and pleasure is brusquely swept aside. When I asked dietitian and advocate of the Health At Every Size campaign, Michelle Allison, about this dichotomy, she explained: "There is no third option presented by diet culture – there is only black or white, good or bad, dieting or off-the-wagon… And many people flip between the two states like a light switch, on or off, for more or less their entire lives." Nobody sums up the totalitarianism of wellness better than Deliciously Ella herself, though. "It's not a diet, it's a lifestyle." And that's just the catch.
Wellness doesn't cause eating disorders. But when we advocate, and even insist upon, a diet so restrictive, moralising and inflexible, and market that diet to young women, and then dress it up as self-care: just how responsible is that?
The diet industry may just have orchestrated the most successful, and valuable, food rebranding in recent history – as of 2014, the UK gluten-free market was worth €222 million.
If the only "good" food within wellness is the kind that won't make you fat, wellness doesn't look so different to dieting. And with dieting having been proven not only ineffective (an astonishing 97 percent of dieters regain at least as much weight as they lost, within three years, belying the ruthless optimism of the industry); but often also groundless (Health At Every Size is an organisation working to fight the claim that all fat people are ill); and even dangerous, maybe the wellness industry isn't quite so magical after all. The diet industry may just have orchestrated the most successful, and valuable, food rebranding in recent history – as of 2014, the UK gluten-free market was worth €222 million, and its popularity continues to boom. The biggest wellness myth might be that it was ever really about wellness at all.
In the very same books that tell us to locate our self-worth not in how we look but in who we are and how we feel – there is a consistent, entrenched fear of fatness.
Ruby's next cookbook, Flavour, will be released in July. Special preorder book packages will be available from late June, with profits from these sales going to UK eating disorder charity beat.