'I'd a raw vegan birthday cake and was miserable, now I'm taking on the clean-eating brigade
Pixie Turner tells Katie Strick why she's rebelling against the massive wellness movement
Pixie Turner looks like a wellness blogger. She's young, slim, blonde and photographs her food before she eats it. Her Instagram page has more than 125,000 followers and features avocados, plates of rainbow vegetables and motivational captions.
However, alongside the sweet potato, blueberries and chia seeds, there's also pizza, ice cream and photos of the 25-year-old in baggy jumpers eating cavernous bowls of spaghetti. Importantly, there's not a #cleaneating tag in evidence.
Instead, captions read "I LOVE BREAD" and "Don't be scared of sugar". This is her rebellion against the wellness movement: Turner's goal is to collapse the myths created by the wellness industry.
Last week the qualified nutritionist published her first book, The Wellness Rebel, which she hopes will provide evidence-based information to empower people to make decisions about their health.
Each chapter focuses on a nutrition theme - superfoods, eating raw, the alkaline diet, for example. Turner unpacks each one - juice diets make you tired, cutting out gluten is bad for the gut, coconut oil is mainly saturated fat - and offers alternative recipes.
The book looks like a clean-eating tome, and she hopes the disguise will coax a few followers of the wellness brigade to open it. Three years ago, she was one of them. When she was 19, she became obsessed with eating foods she believed to be healthy, a condition known as orthorexia. Gradually she cut out meat, fish, dairy, eggs, gluten, soy and refined sugar, and was eating 10 to 15 vegetables a day.
Turner's obsession wasn't just passive. She was targeted by brands pushing her to promote their products, and in two years gained more than 50,000 followers on Instagram. It affected her social life. "I'd go into lectures late and leave early, so my friends wouldn't ask me to go to the Chinese buffet. I had a raw vegan birthday cake. I was miserable," she says.
Her epiphany came while living in Melbourne, where she was friends with other wellness bloggers. "One said, 'I would never dream of vaccinating my children'. That was the point when my brain just went, 'Wait, I don't belong with these people. I have a science degree'."
She returned to the UK and started researching the science behind wellness buzzwords: "Over time, every single one of these myths fell by the wayside." She started eating gluten again and gave up juices she hated. "I cut out all the superfoods and realised I felt exactly the same as before. Emotionally I felt free," she says.
Instead of deleting her Instagram, Turner decided to take her followers on her journey. "I started putting eggs, cheese, pizza and burgers on my Instagram." She also began studying for a nutrition degree.
Her method was simple, and her number of followers soared. She would "draw people in with pretty pictures, throw some science at them and hope that some of it sticks".
The book is well-timed. Restrictive diets remain in vogue: veganism is on the rise, and many non-coeliacs are choosing to go gluten-free. "If people go vegan for ethical reasons, it's not my place to argue," Turner says. "I just don't think you should make decisions based on misinformation."
Language is important. "The words used in the clean-eating movement are so insidious." Turner hates the phrases 'guilt-free' and 'real food' - "They imply there's this dichotomy of food that's either clean or dirty." Instead, she tries to use factual, positive terms such as "nutritious", "delicious" or "high in calcium, iron or Vitamin x".
"Every time I post a picture on my Instagram of pizza, I get messages from people saying they're glad I did because it shows them it's okay to eat these things too. I'm a nutritionist and I eat pizza. I hope I can be a role model in that sense."
The Wellness Rebel by Pixie Turner, £10, amazon.co.uk