Why I hate the term “clean eating” and why this dietitian doesn’t eat clean.
Clean eating. What does that even mean?
That right there is the problem, my friends. There is no set definition of the trendy term taking the healthy foodie community by storm. It usually indicates that food is free from processed foods, which isn’t inherently bad. We should all try to eat more whole foods like fruits, vegetables and minimally processed whole grains and protein. And I usually eat mainly whole foods. But I also don’t freak out about foods that aren’t ‘clean’ because I know that the majority of my diet is pretty nutritious and I like to enjoy my food whether it is healthy (usually) or not (sometimes).
While labels on diets can be a good thing at times (obviously gluten-free is essential for those with celiac and those who use a certain type of diet, like low sodium, to manage a health condition), but for the most part, I think labeling your diet is stupid. Especially if you need a ‘cheat day’ from said diet. And while I may have used #cleaneating in a few Instagram posts in an attempt to gain exposure to an audience I thought would enjoy my content, I won’t use the term anymore. Here’s why:
‘Clean eating’ implies that anything not ‘clean’ is somehow dirty.
That by eating something with sugar in it, or heaven forbid – gluten! – we are choosing to put something dirty or unhygienic into our bodies. ‘Clean eating’ may have started with good intentions, but it has gone too far. It has turned into yet another food shaming, diet-y fad that just fuels to fire of unrealistic eating goals.
‘Clean eating’ is elitist.
It further creates the illusion that taking care of your body and being conscious of you food choices is only for the rich or elite. Not everyone can afford organic fruits and veggies or free-range, pasture-raised, grass-fed, blessed-by-a-higher-power meat, fish and eggs. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t trying if they choose conventionally raised fresh chicken over drive-through chicken nuggets. That doesn’t mean that conventionally grown fruits are any less nutritious than organic ones. Eating healthy is not an exclusive club only for the wealthy. It’s for everyone, and ‘clean eating’ seems to shame those that can’t afford to buy the absolute most sustainable, untouched food there is. That’s just not okay with me.
‘Clean eating’ is misleading.
Another term that gives an undeserved health halo to some foods. That ‘clean’, vegan, gluten-free, refined sugar free cookie is still a cookie. It might be made with honey and coconut oil, but it still has just as much saturated fat and sugar as one made with butter and brown sugar. Quite frankly, I’d rather have the latter and enjoy it thoroughly and mindfully.
‘Clean eating’ is unrealistic.
Unless you have unlimited resources, nothing to do and nobody else to take care of, it’s really dang hard to not eat anything out of a package – ever. Packaged foods can be nutritious- think oats, canned beans, almond milk. Are you going to make every single thing from scratch yourself week after week? (This is coming from somebody who makes my own bread most weeks.) There is nothing wrong with the convenience of nutritious, minimally processed foods like yogurt or canned tuna, that make our lives easier. There’s also nothing wrong with having an ice cream cone or a burger – or hell, a unicorn frappuccino if that’s what you’re feeling – once in a while. Perfection does not exist, people.
‘Clean eating’ can lead to an unhealthy obsession with food.
With social media making it possible to be constantly immersed in a culture of health food and fitness, it’s easy to fall into the trap of comparison and thinking that your food is not healthy enough because it doesn’t look like your favorite instagrammer’s ‘clean’ salads and smoothie bowls she posts every day. It’s a slippery slope that can lead to disordered eating patterns or full-blown eating disorders. It’s important to remember the things that you don’t see – the things that don’t get posted because they don’t have that ‘clean’ thing going on – but they still get eaten! And it’s okay for you to eat them too.