London Student

Clean eating: the dirty truth about male doctors in women’s health

I’ve already seen countless articles and comments all over social media jumping on the bandwagon that there is indeed a ‘dirty truth’ to clean eating after last week’s Horizon documentary.

People have got absurdly riled by a diet no one is imposing on them, and by a social media trend that increasingly supports healthy eating and lifestyle instead of an unattainable body image. It is this anger and outrage at these lifestyle choices for food that has reminded me of a history of condemning and belittling health and food choices that suit the individual.

People in the media, doctors and other positions of authority have been condemning the vegetarian diet over the last century – only for it to turn out that really in fact it is healthier and actually increases life expectancy, not to mention the entire issue of sustainability.

As a child who had made the active choice to not consume meat I was constantly met by debate – from teachers, doctors, my peers who had been told it was unhealthy and most worryingly from family members. What was actually more unhealthy would be eating meat which made me vomit, come up in spots and feel generally ill. I think what people are failing to realise is that a lot of people choose to follow recipes and lead a lifestyle that incorporates these diets because right now a ‘normal’ diet really isn’t working for them.

Deliciously Ella came up with all of her recipes to aid herself in managing her illness POTS (Postural Tachycardia Syndrome), not out of some ‘clean eating craze’ or desire for a restrictive means of dieting. Her illness had become debilitating and diet was something that could help and made a notable difference to how she felt. POTS is something difficult to both treat and diagnose, and is one of those long term diseases that is generally under-researched.

What people fail to realise is that many choose to follow recipes and lead a lifestyle that incorporates these diets because right now a ‘normal’ diet really isn’t working for them

A close friend has recently been tested for having POTS and the Doctor actually explained that very little research had been done until recently as up until the wars in the early twentieth century only women seemed to experience many of the symptoms – and, of course, many male doctors put it down to being ‘just in their heads’. That was until of course men after the war began to suffer from POTS and the medical profession had to consider it more carefully. I think there is something notable here not just for POTS but for the history of patriarchy within medicine generally, that often the way a woman knows she feels is undermined or dismissed.

In 2013 I ended up in a Greek hospital myself with a combination of sun stroke, gastroenteritis and dehydration and the male doctor proceeded to blame a vegetarian diet. He told me that no daughter of his would be allowed to make such a choice, that it was dangerous, and no wonder I had become ill. I know that that is an extreme example but often our choices for our own health are criticised.

No wonder girls like the Hemsley sisters might have refused to be interviewed for Horizon. Given the title it was pretty obvious they’d be in for a patronising grilling by no less than another male doctor. The diets are condemned for not being fact-driven – for promoting a way of eating that is restrictive and not based on any scientific reasoning. Perhaps there isn’t yet a thorough empirical study into the health of people eating a vegetarian, vegan or gluten-free diet but I wonder if that’s the fault of those who come up with the recipes, or the medical profession?

Offering recipes and ways of living that can help those with illnesses, dietary restrictions and those seeking more veg is in no way something to be condemned

I don’t think that clean eating as a term is particularly helpful and I don’t think we should use it, as like with many diets it can lead to harmful categorising of either ‘good’ or ‘bad’ foods or indeed ‘clean’ or ‘unclean’. However, I do think that offering recipes and ways of living that can help those with illnesses, dietary restrictions and those seeking more veg is in no way something to be condemned.

Having been a vegetarian my entire life and discovering the unwanted truth that I’m also lactose intolerant was a struggle as a teenager. A lot of meals just involved taking out the dairy element and not actually replacing it (pretty sad cheeseless pizzas), or having to avoid entire meals. But recipes from people like Deliciously Ella help – offering well-balanced, nutritious and tasty meals in spite of the restrictions. I found new recipes for things like carbonara, curries and even cheesecake that I could eat and enjoy.

Eating this way also places no restrictions on calories or portions but encourages you to listen to your body when you need to eat. We need to stop condemning the diets and the crafters of recipes and look to the source of why so many people are moving to new ways of living. And if there’s not enough research into whether these diets ‘work’ or are healthy we need to invest our time and money into that instead of attempting to ‘expose’ the way of eating as the almost laughable ‘dirty truth’.

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Jennifer Plowman


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