Our food hysteria's reached new heights when Great British Bake Off contestants call cake 'sinful'

'Clean' eating and 'wellness' bloggers with no nutritional qualifications are pushing teenage girls into disordered eating habits

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The Independent Online

It’s official: we should all be very, very worried about cake. Stop fretting about rent and bills and the housing crisis and start having nightmares about Victoria sponge – because according to one of the new Great British Bake Off contestants Ugne Bubnaityte, cake is a sin. Writing on her blog, Bubnative described the much-loved treat as ‘nutritional sin’ and – just to hammer the point home - ‘sinful’ goodness.

This is how we talk about food now, in case you hadn’t noticed. Food is split into arbitrary categories, depending on how emotional and/or pseudo-scientific your nearest women’s magazine is trying to be. There’s ‘clean’ (eggs, almonds, spinach, those acia bowls that only exist on Instagram.) Then there’s ‘cheat’ (pizza, ice cream, cake, poor old demonised bread – white bread if you’re feeling particularly wicked.) Apparently, now there’s ‘sinful’.

Chef Gizzi Erskine recently announced she was taking on the warped concept of ‘clean’ eating, after realising that none of us seem to know how to feed ourselves adequately anymore. Erskine said: “I get it - we all want to be healthy. But spiralised courgette with pesto made up from whizzed-up avocado isn’t dinner. It’s salad. Nourishing your body is about understanding balance and why we break up our plate into proteins, carbs, vegetables, fats and the right volumes of these things.”

She also pointed out that many ‘wellness bloggers’ lack any formal training. Grown-ups (well, most of them) can take these bloggers’ posts and wheat-, sugar-, gluten- and carb-free recipes with a pinch of low-sodium salt alternative. But what about young girls (and yes, it usually is girls)? I feel sad when I see them turn down free smoothie samples because they’re worried about extra sugar after 24-hour online pressure about ‘naughty’ foods, ‘sinful’ desserts, ‘wicked’ carbs and ‘guilty’ pleasures. I feel sadder than I felt pre-Jamie Oliver revolution, on a sugar high comedown after school dinners of luminous cherry Tizer and turkey dinosaurs. One day we were all queuing up to singlehandedly polish off the packet of four-for-a-£1 doughnuts, and the next, my peers were swapping ‘wellness’ bloggers’ tips and disappearing off to the toilets after one too many biscuits.

There is clearly a balance to be struck here, and the ones who suffer when we don’t make an effort to do that are inevitably the most vulnerable. Drowning in a vat of empty words about ‘clean living’ or unscientific ‘juice cleanses’ (seriously, what do you think your kidneys are for?) may be seductive when you’re clicking through Instagram, but uncontrolled access to this sort of content can have terrifying effects. Apparently,we do need Gizzi Erksine to point out that proper, balanced healthy eating includes the occasional slice of cake. Otherwise, after months of pushing away the dessert menu, whilst dads and brothers and boyfriends munch happily away, we get young women bingeing alone on whatever sweet things they can find in the cupboard, riddled with unnecessary guilt. It’s a lonely place, bingeing and worrying and turning food into a constant game of good and bad, clean and cheat. There’s so much more girls could be doing with all that brainpower and effort.

Healthy eating should include something sweet now again. Not as a ‘cheat meal’, not as something to be agonised over and regretted. Just as a treat, to be eaten, enjoyed and forgotten. It’s cake - just cake. But when even Bake Off contestants are worrying about it (and not because a fellow contestant might accidentally sabotage it - RIP Iain’s Baked Alaska), then something’s gone seriously wrong.

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