Should we be defined by what we eat?


Renee McGregor, a performance and eating disorder dietitian, is here to take on the clean eating movement.

Demonising foods, food groups, or how we eat is not a new phenomenon. At some point, we’ve all had an opinion on nutrition.

Just the other evening I had some close friends over for dinner and the conversation turned to diet. “Does sugar really cause diabetes?” (it doesn’t — over-consumption of sugar contributes to it but there’s no causative link). And “Is veganism the solution to all our environmental problems?”. This was followed by a passionate discussion which came to no real conclusion because a lot of what we choose to eat or how we eat is dependant on what we believe, how we’ve been brought up, and research.

Daily we’re exposed to scaremongering stories — even experts are actively debating which food is really responsible for our obesity epidemic. But is it really as simple as saying which foods are “good” for us and which are “bad”?

With the growth of social media over the last five years, we’ve become even more confused about what we should eat and do for optimal health and performance. It’s loaded with evangelical posts about the “right” and “wrong” ways to eat. In fact, type in #cleaneating into Instagram and there are over 40 million posts — it’s like a “badge of honour”. I have spoken openly on several occasions about my views on this concept of “clean eating”. It suggests that if you do not abide by these “food rules” that what and how you eat is “dirty”. Resulting in shame and guilt for many.

For someone who is already low in self-confidence and self-worth, the need to please and be “good enough” is a relentless battle. They’ll go to any lengths in order to achieve what they perceive is “perfection”. They might preach about how healthy they feel on this particular path, without fully appreciating the negative impact that removing food groups could be having on their health. The problem is that whatever they do, it’s never enough. While these problems may be internal, they’ll use “clean eating” to deflect and project this dissatisfaction with themselves.

Many truly believe that their “quest to eat clean” will result in a pure body and generally improve how they feel about themselves. Of course, the real answer lies within self-acceptance, learning to manage expectations, perceptions of others, and uncertainty.

Food is more than just fuel for our everyday needs. It’s about flavours, colours, personal preference, experiencing new cultures, building connections with others, and evenings around a table putting the world to right. But for so many, the joy of eating has disappeared. With endless rules about what we should and shouldn’t eat, many people are in a permanent state of anxiety about getting it “right’ — as if what and how they eat defines them.

I always say that no foods are off limits. However, we should treat food like friends — some you want to spend more time with than others but fundamentally they’re all important for your wellbeing.

Read more from Renee by checking out her site and Instagram account @r_mcgregor.