I’m sure you’ve seen or heard this before: The key to staying fit is clean eating. Mostly in the form of clean eating during the week and allowing cheat day(s) on the weekend.
What does clean eating even mean?
Nothing. Ok maybe not nothing, but not much. Everyone has a different version of clean eating. For some, it includes whole foods, for others it’s gluten-free foods, GMO-free, soy-free, or foods with ingredients they can pronounce. For some, it means eating PERFECTLY. This means no junk foods, but mostly lean proteins, lots of fruits and veggies, and some whole grain carbs. Think smoothie bowls for breakfast with berries, chia and flax seeds, free-range chicken for lunch with kale and spinach from Gwyneth Paltrow’s farm, and organic quinoa for supper with fish that comes from the cleanest lake! You know what those things are? Food. And you know what else is food? Those conventionally-grown carrots, farmed salmon, and pizza!
Why is it similar to disordered eating?
- You are creating food rules. Rules = restriction. This could mean no junk foods, no white carbs, no alcohol, no desserts, etc. You know what restriction often leads to? Binging. This may be because that all you think of are the foods that are not allowed. Think of it like taking away a toy from a child. Once you do that, all that child wants to do is play with that and will cry, scream, and whine until they get it. Adults will feel a similar frustration if they don’t get what they want. Now, you are either feeling frustrated for not getting what you want, and or feeling guilty if you binge on a certain food (or sometimes feel both). Why not allow yourself to eat these foods during the week. Food feeds your body and your soul.
- We feel like crap if we eat foods that aren’t clean (“dirty” foods?). We think that if we are able to stick to a clean eating diet we are more disciplined, worthy accomplished, and just plain better that those who can’t stick with it. But what if something happens and you eat a food labelled as “dirty”? Chances are, not that great. Again, you feel guilty or even feel like a failure.
- Clean eating may be another form of orthorexia? Orthorexia is the obsessive behavior in pursuit of a healthy diet. On the surface, these people may seem healthy, but eventually food choices become so restrictive in both variety and calories (only eat foods they perceive as healthy) that health suffers. Mental health also suffers as the pursuit of healthy living may limit certain social activities (i.e avoid eating out with friends if there are no healthy options).
What can you do to instead?
INCLUDE ALL FOODS. It’s better to eat 1 cookie a day with no guilt rather than resisting all week and end up eating a whole box in one sitting and feeling really guilty about it.
Eat foods that make you feel good, both emotionally and physically. This means finding pleasure in foods again.
Accept that not every day or every meal is going to be perfect. One meal is not going to make a difference on your health.
I believe that “clean eating” means eating whole, natural foods. Foods that will spoil quickly, foods that came from the ground or other natural sources (trees, animals, etc.) that haven’t been processed by man and lavished with sodium and sugars. That being said, I believe this should be 80% of your diet. So if you want 1 day to eat whatever, or if you want to indulge in a small cookie every night, I don’t feel you should say “no, never” to “unhealthy” foods or processed foods. You have to have a sense of balance and life.
Thanks for your comment. Although i do agree that you need balance and eat as many whole foods as you can, this doesn’t necessarily need to be 80%. Putting a percentage creates a feeling of restriction and guilt if ever less than 80% of your diet was “clean”, as you say
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This perspective makes a lot of sense. I have tried so many diets over the years that place rules and restrictions on eating, and while they work for a bit, i always get burned out or bored and end up overdoing the forbidden foods. Thanks for spelling out why #cleaneating, #whole30 and the rest were not sustainable for me.
Thanks for sharing your story!