WHAT’S the best thing you’ve ever eaten? If I were to try and pick, I might lean towards Aizle’s scallop tartare or duck carnitas at El Cartel. Then again, there’s the singular pleasure of a smeared seaweed butter on a fresh cob’s cracked crust. But most likely I’ll tell you about chips.

I know I’m doing the nation a disservice by deepening the stereotypes of the Scots with trash diets, but if you’ve ever eaten the frites in Bruges, you’ll know what I’m talking about. Specifically, those from the hut underneath the Belfort. Gloriously golden, a twice-cooked crunch, fluffy inside, well salted with the sharp tang of looksaus (nothing exotic: just garlic mayo). To eat those standing up, on a biting November evening, watching our breath spume upwards to the moon was a beautiful moment. One of absolute sybaritic high. They weren’t just chips. They were frites as religious experience.

The idea of simply eating chips, let alone enjoying them, has been a long journey. I’ll preface the rest of this food-centric column with an admission of having spent most of my life with a messed-up relationship to it. For the best part of 17 years I’ve had some form of disordered eating, with all manner of intervention from weekly weigh-ins and hospitalisation. I can still tell you to how far I have to run to burn off a Kit Kat finger, how many grams of fat are in a peanut butter serving, how many portions in a block of cheese. All unpleasant hangovers from an eating life of self-imposed privations that took root and ended up controlling me. Eating without guilt is a relatively new experience.

One plus of surviving eating disorders is a finely-tuned BS detector when it comes to food fads and messages about health. Which brings me neatly to my current bête noire. Clean eating: a food philosophy centered on woolly concepts like “wellness” that no-one feels they have to define. A concept of wellness that seems to centre entirely on the body, rather than the mind and the emotions. All of these are central to eating well and most importantly: having a healthy relationship to food. We are pleasure-seeking beings and can’t deny ourselves the epicurean dimensions of eating and expect to feel entirely sated. Dividing food up into dichotomies of good/bad, clean and by extension dirty, we lay the foundations for food neuroses that can quickly get out of hand.

Clean eating seems to be rather prescriptive. Most recipes follow a predictable formula. Take something enjoyable, identify the yucky, anxiety-inducing ingredient, substitute with a tragically unsuitable vegetable and self-congratulate for out-maneuvering toxic cultural narratives about food and guilt. Why are we trying to liberate eating from shame with ingredients, instead of examining the food politics that perpetuate them?

It feels like Emperor’s Clothes Syndrome. Where devotees are participating in a Pinterest-friendly cult of pluralistic ignorance. One where everyone politely accepts courgette strings as Puttanesca substrate, though with every disappointing mouthful are enacting mental infidelity with buttery linguine. Top tip from a former anorexic: when you’ve convinced yourself the main ingredient in a delicious cake is kale, something has gone terribly awry. We don’t eat cake because it’s healthy, we eat cake because it’s cake. And sometimes that’s okay.

SEEING the nice ladies with their big smiles, their book deals, and their unwavering apostles is unbelievable to me. Like I’ve suddenly woken up in Bizarro world, where I’m watching celebrities pretty up the same obsessive and controlling behaviours I’ve spent years countering as “wellness”. Rules and restrictions are being rebranded as health and freedom and present the perfect cover for a disorder.

Clean eating is no different from what’s come before. It’s just dieting 2.0. The Fletcher Chew-Chew. Cabbage Soup. Atkins. It’s just another craze, hiding behind the language of health and pseudoscience. Diets centering on restriction mean serving a side of anxiety with every meal. It’s fertile ground to grow an illness. I’ve seen otherwise well-adjusted friends make themselves miserable on saline flushes and sugar cleanses, drinking nothing but lemonade and maple syrup for weeks on end. All because we teach people – especially women – to get their self-worth from their dress size and make food the locus of their control. Adherents to clean eating set themselves up to fail because you cannot do it forever, and when you give up you feel ashamed and guilty, perpetuating the cycle. When you become Catholic about an eating fad, everything feels like a sin. Being hostage to food is no way to live.

What’s doubly dangerous is how the effects of this fad can be intensified with social media. Pictures, hashtags, access to a global peer network with a single tap, it’s the perfect vehicle for food-shaming and competitive restriction. It was exhausting enough growing up with women’s magazines and TV, the constant toxic messages about food, fat, and self-worth. It must be a hundred times tougher for young people today, where even the implication of eating outside the trend marks you lazy and “dirty”.

Grilled grapefruit is not a filling breakfast. Pizza with an avocado base is not pizza. And if someone tells you it is, keep an eye on them. A health kick can be a good thing – but it can also be the seed of something more sinister. Especially when thinness continues to be shorthand for healthy and the barometric measure of self-worth.

One eating philosophy sums it up for me. Writer Michael Pollan says: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” In that is everything you need to eat well: sensible portions, lots of veg and enough latitude for pizza. I’m all for healthy eating – as long as most of what you consume is good food that makes you happy, not rhetoric and junk science.