The Dirty on ‘Clean Eating’

Hi! Welcome to my first new article here on Powledge! Powledge is a brand new section of Protein Pow dedicated to sharing ideas, information, and food-for-thought-style articles on all things healthy eating, nutrition and fitness. You can find it on the menu bar, right next to the ‘ABOUT’ tab above.


CLEAN EATINGI’d like to start here by discussing an idea that I’m against in hope that, after reading this, you start challenging it too.

It’s the concept, the IDEA, of ‘clean eating’, an idea that’s heavily promoted by countless fitness magazines, blogs, ‘fitness professionals’, and even supplements.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m all for promoting recipes and foods devoid of refined flours, processed carbohydrates, simple sugars, hydrogenated fats, GMO-corn derivates, additives and related faux-food yadiyadiyas.

I’m a massive fan (as you can see from all the recipes on this site!) of following a diet that’s nutrition-dense; a diet packed with fruits, vegetables, healthy fats, and high-quality sources of protein. What I’m really not a fan of is calling this type of diet ‘clean.’

You know the only activity that deserves the clean eating label for me? People eating after taking a shower, hehe.

In all seriousness though, a lot of people would call – and HAVE called – my way of eating and the recipes found on this website ‘clean’ because they’re nutritious and devoid of junk. But I’ve never embraced that term. I’ve never used it to describe what Protein Pow stands for or what my food or way of eating is about.

WHAT’S THE BIG DEAL????

If you read my article on eating disorders in girls, then you know I’m a huge proponent of doing away with words and concepts that can create or feed a disordered approach to one’s body and to food. That’s one of the most valuable things I learnt when I was doing my internship at Chicago’s Eating Disorders Clinic, back when I was considering doing my PhD in the area. One of the things I learnt – which is what I’d like to call your attention to, is that categorizing foods as good or bad, clean or dirty, allowed and forbidden, can give rise – and indeed, exacerbate – eating disorders. It can contribute to people building a negative relationship to food by imbuing food with FEELINGS (like anxiety; like fear) and a sense of self-worth.

Morally dichotomizing food – placing food on a scale that renders certain food as ‘good’ on one side and ‘bad’ on another – gives power to food in a way that it doesn’t deserve. This then can lead someone to feel guilty and/or anxious after eating a ‘forbidden’ food or failing to abide to an idealized ‘clean eating’ regime.

Clean eating, to me, is a wolf of a concept desguised to look harmless, like a sheep. But it’s not always harmless and we need to be aware of this when we ourselves start internalizing these ideas and judging our diets, ourselves, and other people by how we and they choose to eat – or not.

FOOD IS FOOD

Food is food. It sounds ridiculous to say this but it’s an important take-home message I’d like to leave you with. Food is food!

Yes, I’m an ardent believer that we should minimize our intake of junk and strive to eat as best we can. But not because of some ridiculous rules or ‘clean eating’ norms devised to, far too neatly, categorize our food choices into permissible and forbidden, good or bad, clean or dirty.

We should eat as best we can because healthy food makes us FEEL and PERFORM our best.

You know… life can someones get in the way of our ideal ‘diet.’ Sometimes we find ourselves unable (or unwilling) to create rainbow-colored bowls of fresh fruit, whole grains, and superfoods. But we should NOT feel – of be made to feel – any guilt about it. We need to try to disentangle food from feelings of guilt. Or shame. Or self-reproach. We are people at the end of the day. Complex, full-spectrum, living-life-as-best-we-can people. The last thing we need is for someone to tell us that, on top of it all, we need to ascribe to a strict ‘clean’ eating plan.

PERFECT IS THE ENEMY OF GOOD

Let’s promote education instead of some arbitrarily-constructed dietary perfection, you know? Perfection, at the end of the day, is ever so elusive! And far too often, it can stand of the way of good (cf the Nirvana fallacy). Let’s promote a love of nutrition for the sake of how it can make our bodies feel so that, more often than not, when we’re faced with two food options: one junk food and another a nutrition-dense food, we choose the latter out of love (love of fueling our bodies efficiently and with care) as opposed to fear (fear of veering off the path of ‘clean eating’ or any other strict plan that cannot sustainably fit into our lifestyles in the long-run).

HEY, IT’S NOT JUST ME!

It’s not just me who hates the notion of ‘clean eating’ of course, a lot of amazing people in the industry do too. Check out Jessie’s whole ‘It’s Just Food’ post, which goes hand in hand with the above idea that ‘Food is Food.’ And this from Marie Spano, MS, RD, CSCS, CSSD, too! Turn then to what my friend – published author, master yogi, and expert in mental health and eating disorders – Nicola Jane Hobbs has to say on the topic here and what she wrote on a recent facebook post. I’ve embedded it below. Let me quote it here in full as well, because I think what she wrote is absolutely spot-on:

“It’s SO easy to get caught up in diet trends. And at the moment ‘wellness’ and ‘clean eating’ is synonymous with eating raw or vegan or gluten free. When we advocate a diet that is so restrictive and inflexible, and then market it to young girls dressed up as self-care, we are at risk of creating disordered eating. We are at risk of creating fear and anxiety around the very thing that nourishes us.
Food should never be a source of fear 💛”

WHAT DO YOU THINK?

I’d love to hear your thoughts and opinions on this so please comment below!