Donna Hay: Paleo diets and quitting sugar are 'just a new eating disorder'

One look at your social media feeds or local cafe menus will tell you elimination diets are increasingly popular – and yet there’s a growing number of high-profile food identities speaking out against the trend.

The latest voice to join the chorus is Donna Hay, whose bestselling cookbooks can be found in just about every Aussie kitchen. In an interview with The Daily Mail, Hay has condemned elimination eating programs – particularly the paleo and sugar-free diets – as a new form of disordered eating.

Paleo, shmaleo – Why the diet wars are doing more harm than good

“Dairy-free, sugar-free; I think some of them are just a new eating disorder,” the Donna Hay Magazine editor says. “There’s the ‘I Quit Sugar’ program. And so many people quitting carbs, quitting drinking… It’s ‘I quit’, ‘I quit.’ For me it’s about a lifestyle choice.” Likening them to the Atkin’s diet and lemon detoxes of years gone by, Hay is especially bothered by the regimented nature of these eating plans. Following the paleo program, for instance, involves moving away from grains and dairy and focusing the diet on meat, vegetables and natural oils. One of the most high-profile Australian advocates of this regimen is chef and My Kitchen Rules judge Pete Evans, who has started a program called The Paleo Way. Meanwhile, the I Quit Sugar phenomenon – championed locally by journalist, blogger and former Cosmopolitan editor Sarah Wilson – is focused on eliminating sugar, as its name suggests. “There are rules around everything in life and to put strict, extreme rules on food too makes me sad. They are so extreme which is odd for me,” Hay tells the Daily Mail. “We’re all so serious everywhere else in life, so why put rules on food too? It’s about balance.”

Left: Pete Evans runs a program called The Paleo Way; Right: Sarah Wilson is the author of I Quit Sugar



Hay's comments come just months after nutritionist Susie Burrell expressed concern that these diets are espoused and/or put together by "wellness coaches" rather than accredited dieticians. “If any qualified professional made such claims [as Sarah Wilson and Pete Evans], they would be held accountable. But the beauty of not being qualified to write on nutrition or nutritional science is that you are only accountable to yourself – and with the power of social media, can convince yourself and your online followers that what you are doing works," she told Mamamia. “I see clients who have tried all of these plans – cutting sugar, eating Paleo – but in general they are not sustainable. It is not normal to have severe limitations on what you can and cannot eat or to change your entire lifestyle for your diet.”

An example of a paleo meal. Image via Instagram @lexiscleankitchen.


Similarly, Dr Joanna McMillan has expressed her own concerns about the modern approach to the 'paleo diet'. "Many paleo followers have a very real desire to eat well. I wholeheartedly agree with cutting out much of the modern, highly processed rubbish that fills many supermarket trolleys today," she wrote in an op-ed on The Glow. "However I fear that many nutritious foods, that make a healthy diet affordable, appealing, varied and environmentally friendly are being demonised by the paleo approach." Donna Hay, who has recently lost three dress sizes through eating smaller portions and exercising regularly, says that if people want to overhaul their eating habits there are more problematic foods than dairy or grains. "I think extreme shift in eating should be about processed foods and trans fats. It’s not about cutting out whole food groups like dairy," she says. What do you think of elimination diets? Have you ever tried one?