Have you ever questioned your grocery shopping choices at the checkout after reading those hot magazines headlines? What about hearing a friend or colleague talk about how they’ve made a “lifestyle change” by being strict with their “clean eating”? Or have you tried doing it for a while, but felt like it was a challenge to keep up with and “fell off the bandwagon”? 

 In any case, you’re not alone! The concept of “clean eating” has become quite popular, but…is it really “healthy for you”?

What is Clean Eating Anyway?

To be honest, to give an all encompassing definition of clean eating is pretty difficult, as each person tends to define and interpret it differently. Nonetheless, the uniting characteristic of “clean eating”  is the act of “choosing foods in their whole-food state, or as close as possible to how they’re found in nature.”

This concept is also quite misleading sometimes–really, what is “clean eating” supposed to imply? Does it mean that some foods are “dirty” or “unclean” and not “acceptable” to be consumed?   

In practice, clean eaters usually select organic, whole foods from all food groups, with a special preference for vegetables and fruits. On the other hand, foods containing anything “unnatural” are mostly avoided, such as:

  • Highly processed foods 
  • Foods containing added sugar and unhealthy fats
  • Foods containing preservatives, additives, added hormones, GMOs…

The Benefits of Clean Eating

There’s no doubt that eating whole foods and lots of fruits and vegetables is beneficial for nourishing our bodies as well as encourage us to consider the benefits of a more sustainable and less-wasteful food system.  

Cooking at home more often is fantastic as well, because it encourages us to use less instant-packaged or ready-to-eat meals by incorporating more partially-prepared and fresh ingredients. Regardless if you cook on your own or others, cooking provides a wonderful opportunity to cultivate meaningful relationships, whether with your loved ones or your favorite meals! After all, food is more than just calories–it’s also a powerful vehicle to build community, enrich culture, and create memories! 

The Risks of Clean Eating

Let’s start with the name. Frankly speaking, the term “Clean Eating” already makes me squirm a bit on the inside. The danger with praising the practice of “clean eating” is that it inherently discourages “unclean eating” by the creation of “clean” and “unclean” foods. 

It’s not that eating whole foods and veggies is risky–it’s how we do it, and what else we’re restricting and cutting out to make this happen. Are we compromising our relationships, cultural traditions, and rituals? Are we constantly struggling with figuring out what to eat? Are we overthinking and feeling guilty when we eat something that’s not considered part of this “lifestyle”? 

Taking the joy and pleasure out of eating makes it a risky business. 

As a person and professional who celebrates all types of foods , I think it’s dangerous to categorize foods into “good foods” and “bad foods”. This is because it can lead to feelings of superiority when we stick to foods from the “clean” list, but result in tremendous guilt when we “slip up” and eat “unclean foods”.

Consequently, the combination of restriction and remorse almost always plunges us into the depths of a binge cycle. Think of it like a pendulum – if you pull too far to one side (like restricting multiple foods or entire food groups), it’s got to rebound to the other side (where you end up feeling like you lost control and “failed” the plan).

As a result, this may lead to disordered eating characterized by:

  • A fear of eating outside in social gatherings
  • Choosing not to eat when a “clean option” is unavailable
  • Malnutrition, as the “clean items” list becomes increasingly shorter
  • Miss out on your otherwise favourite foods and feel deprived
  • Experience stigma and judgment if you do choose to eat foods that don’t fit the plan
  • And ultimately, risk the development of an eating disorder, known as Orthorexia [link to a video on what Orthorexia is].

At the end of the day, we must remind ourselves that there is no “one right way” to eat. I’m sure we’ve all experienced those times when the more we tried to control our food, the more we felt that our food was controlling us. Take your power back from food and know, with confidence, that food isn’t only about nourishing our physical well-being, but also our mental and emotional health too. 

If this all seems intriguing but challenging or impossible to you, let’s chat! I help you work through your thoughts, emotions and habits around food and how that affects your relationship with your food and body. Through our sessions, you’ll see yourself unraveling all these complicated learned behaviours, and find peace and freedom again. Book your free call today to see if we’re a good fit and learn more about my packages. 

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Blog Contributor

This blog was written with the help of nutrition student, Jasmine.

References:

nutriFoodie: Mindful Eating & the Hunger Scale (accessed Nov. 5, 2019). Available from: https://nutrifoodie.ca/2019/02/20/how-to-practice-mindful-eating-using-the-hunger-scale/

Today’s Dietitian: CPE Monthly: Clean Eating— What Does it Really Mean? (accessed Nov. 5, 2019). Available from: https://www.todaysdietitian.com/newarchives/0819p42.shtml

Today’s Dietitian: Hottest Nutrition Trends of 2016: Clean Eating (accessed Nov. 5, 2019). Available from: https://www.todaysdietitian.com/newarchives/0616p37.shtml

Today’s Dietitian: Understanding Orthorexia (accessed Nov. 5, 2019). Available from: https://www.todaysdietitian.com/newarchives/0218p24.shtml