Dr Christian Jessen: Clean eating websites like Gwyneth Paltrow's Goop 'indistinguishable from pro anorexia sites'

Doctors are too often failing to recognise symptoms of body dysmorphia spurred on by 'fitspirational' bloggers, television health guru warns

Rachael Pells
Education Correspondent
Wednesday 07 June 2017 09:31
Dr Christian Jessen spoke at an education conference on the developing teenager in London
Dr Christian Jessen spoke at an education conference on the developing teenager in London

“Clean eating” and “wellness” websites advocated by the likes of Gwyneth Paltrow and Deliciously Ella are contributing towards eating disorders and other mental health problems in teenagers and young children, Dr Christian Jessen has warned.

Appearing at an education conference in London, the Embarrassing Bodies television host said bloggers and celebrities were sending out dangerous messages to boys as well as girls, putting them increasingly at risk of developing conditions such as body dysmorphia, orthorexia, anxiety and depression.

Referencing so-called “fitspirational” bloggers like Joe Wicks along with Paltrow's controversial lifestyle website, Goop, he said: “When you look at the actual medical side, the health side, they so rarely are promoting anything that is even vaguely healthy.

“Look at Gwyneth: You know, the crap that she writes, it's just overwhelmingly mind boggling for a doctor to see that - the number of people following it and going along (with it) is just terrifying.”

The “extreme diets” hailed by celebrities, which often exclude entire food groups such as wheat and gluten, are are being falsely presented as healthy, he added, and can become a guise for teenage addiction and eating disorders.

Such extreme dieting, he said, could be more dangerous to children than the sweets, chocolate and fizzy drinks so often condemned by the clean eating regimes.

Dr Jessen, who works in private practice, said: “I’ve had many, many patients, so many of them teenagers, convinced that their healthy lifestyle and their clean-eating regime was really helping them when actually all it was doing was helping them hide their increasingly disordered eating and to cover up an underlying eating disorder.”

The healthcare guru's comments come amid growing concern from schools and parents about the perceived link between social media and the rise in mental health problems among young people.

A recent study by the Credos think tank found young boys in particular are becoming increasingly concerned with how they look - with more than 40 per cent of eight to 18-year-olds of the belief there is a “perfect body” type to strive for.

Yet doctors are often failing to recognise body dysmorphic disorder in boys as something to be concerned about, according to Jessen, who cited reports that up to a third of boys aged 8-12 have been involved with “extreme dieting” to lose weight.

Earlier this year, the television host admitted to having “unresolved” mental health issues, including body dysmorphia, which he said had been exacerbated by social media.

Speaking to teachers and educators at Highgate Junior school, Dr Jessen said: “The booming wellness industry, which really gets my goat and makes my buttocks clench in a non-pleasurable way... has launched an entire industry of fitness celebrities onto social media, encouraging millions of followers to embrace their regimes for clean eating and for exercise.

“But I argue that it has little, if anything to do with health, and it is all about looks.”

The so-called “fitspiration websites”, he said, which are followed by “so many young people”, convey messages that are “often indistinguishable from pro-anorexia websites”.

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“The language very much in use is guilt about weight and body shape and shame and stigma about being fat and about being overweight.”

Paltrow's health advice - which includes the advocacy of "vaginal steaming" and "raw food" diets, has previously been ridiculed by health professionals.

This week, the lifestyle guru became the centre of further controversy after Dr Jen Gunter criticised the actress for “lowering the medical IQ” with “pseudoscience and chicanery”.

Naming instagram star Joe Wicks and diet blogger Deliciously Ella (Ella Mills), Jessen called out all restrictive dieters who publish cookbook recipes cutting out major food groups such as gluten and dairy.

While he was “not against Gwyneth” herself, he said he was “against misinformation that leads to health problems which I see so often... anyone who is promoting strangely restrictive diets.”

Even in cases where children were not directly looking at the websites themselves, parents were often inadvertently modelling the negative messages spread by the clean-eating industry, Jessen warned.

“Mums are probably looking at Gwyneth and going 'I'm going to cut wheat for a bit', which is naturally going to have an affect on our kids”.

Warning against the dangers of gender stereotyping, he added: “Society is still telling boys they've got to be big and macho. It's our responsibility to teach them what's popular isn't always right”.

Responding to the criticisms against Paltrow, a Goop spokesperson said: "Goop’s approach to wellness is about female positivity and having autonomy over how we feel: mentally, spiritually and physically.

"As anyone who has read our site would know, we take women's health issues very seriously, and it's sad that someone would use a topic like eating disorders for their own self-promotion.

"All of our recipe content, including our annual detox, is to help readers find energy-inducing, nutrient-dense ways to make them feel great, cut out ingredients that commonly inflame our systems, and promote better digestion.

"These unsubstantiated claims that we would promote deprivation are as ridiculous as they are outrageous and anyone who reads Goop would know they are false."

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