Q. My 15-year-old daughter says she is clean eating, but I fear she is losing weight and this is the start of an eating disorder. Can you advise? Camilla, West London
Eating disorders are on the rise. The number of under 19s in England who needed hospital treatment for anorexia rose by 172 per cent between 2004 and 2014. Many were teenage girls. But is this diet really unhealthy? Catherine Collins, principal dietitian at St George’s Hospital NHS Trust, in London, explains, ‘Clean eating or “raw food” diets are aspirational and faddish. They are promoted on social media sites by young women who are as photogenic as their food styling pictures and appeal to teenagers who are insecure about their own bodies.
‘But raw food or clean eating plans are not healthy. They are extremely low calorie (hence the weight loss) and lack important nutrients. Some of these nutrients lacking are iron (to prevent anaemia and chronic tiredness), calcium (crucial at this age for lifelong bone health) and dietary protein (for muscle tone, strength, and healthy skin and hair). Their low carb content (eschewing cooked starches like potato, breads, or pasta) can foster at best, ambivalence, at worst, food phobias and are entirely unjustified.’
Catherine suggests nipping this type of eating in the bud by encouraging discussion about food choices. ‘Encourage “mindful eating”. Look for labels identifying nutritional superiority. Discuss what is being viewed – where is the protein, the healthful fats, the carbs for staying power, or the calcium in plant milk?’
Engaging a child’s critical faculty by suggesting they question the motives of the clean-eating advocates on social media is also helpful. Focus your discussion on eating for a strong healthy body. And if you continue to have concerns about weight loss, do discuss the situation with your GP, or you can gain further support via eating disorders charity Beat.