Clean Eating: Is It Actually Bad For You?
Over the last few years, healthy “clean eating” has become something we are all increasingly aware of. It has also created a certain type of culture in our society, especially when it comes to food. From gluten free diets, to paleo, raw vegan, juice cleanses, superfood mania and heavy calorie counting, there is every type of diet or form of “clean eating” available under the sun.
Although they still exist, we have come a long way from cookbooks and diet programs that claim “instant weight loss” and other crazy promises. Nowadays the focus is on being healthy, eating “clean” and living a lifestyle that is sustainable.
Is the clean eating lifestyle really sustainable?
What do you think of when you think of the word “clean” when it comes to food? I’m sure most of us would answer with “food that is wholesome, unprocessed and high in nutrients”.
Now there is absolutely nothing wrong with this type of food, so then comes the question “Then why wouldn’t this be sustainable?” I’m not talking about the foods themselves, but rather the mindset behind the word “clean”. If you really think about it, how many people say they are following a “clean eating” plan, yet also include the occasional slice of chocolate cake in that definition?
What do we mean when we say clean eating?
It gets more complicated when you discover that there isn't reall a single definition of clean eating that many people actually agreed on. Working in the health and fitness industry, hearing feedback from the women I train and women in general, I can say that the notion of clean eating can become something that is quite restrictive. How many of our friends have said to us “Oh yeah, let’s start eating clean” and that involved you going to the supermarket and buying lean cuts of meat, brown rice and veggies? Or alternatively did that involve you starting a “diet” or cutting out entire food groups?
Everyone has heard me say that being happy and healthy is not always about how you look, it’s about how you feel. What’s the point of eating “clean” if it just going to make us feel bad at some point? If it makes us feel like we can’t enjoy that piece of cake or slice of bread after 7pm? Why should there even be a label on a type of eating or certain foods that make us feel whole and happy? Can’t we just feel those things anyway and not feel the need to Instagram our poached eggs and avocado as some sort of accomplishment of reaching “health and happiness”?
The dangers of clean verses "unclean" foods
The way we talk about clean eating contributes to another problem, which is designating certain foods as either “good” or “bad”.
While some foods can provide our bodies with more nutrients than others, it is important to understand that there is no such thing as good or bad food. But rather it is the psychological label that we give to food that makes it “good” or “bad”. While you may feel that labelling food may help you to make better food choices, I also believe that it can do the opposite.
When we start labelling foods and telling ourselves that certain foods are “off limits”, then more often than not, that food becomes more desirable and your cravings for that food may go through the roof. So rather than telling yourself that you “can’t have that slice of chocolate cake”, try and shift your way of thinking to “I can have this slice of cake, but I am choosing not to eat it”. Of course, you can still eat the chocolate cake if you wanted, but removing this restrictive way of thinking can make all the difference!
Giving food labels (such as “clean”, “good” or “bad”) can increase self judgement.
It is important to remember that eating that slice of pizza or drinking three glasses of soda does NOT mean that you are a “bad person”. Just because we are surrounded by this “clean eating” phenomenon, doesn’t mean we need to give into feelings of guilt or over-analysing what we put in our mouth. When we get caught up in the emotional aspect of eating, then we can become less aware of how that food makes us feel physically, which I believe is far more important.
Clean eating sets an unrealistic standardI also believe that way of thinking can also cause us to take an “all or nothing” approach to nutrition. How many times have you or your friends gone to a social gathering and someone said “I’ve already eaten badly today”, and then used this as an excuse to order the greasiest item on the menu. On the other hand, I’ve also seen so many people fall victim to the “this food is clean, therefore I can have as much as I want” way of thinking. Yes, that homemade raw cake may be gluten free, dairy free and free from refined sugars, but that doesn’t mean that you should eat the whole thing! I’m sure we’ve all heard of the saying “too much of a good thing, isn’t always a good thing” and I feel that this applies to every aspect of our lives, including food.
You don't have to commit to an idea of clean eating to be healthy
The important thing that I want you to take away from this blog is that you CAN be healthy and still ENJOY your favourite foods and there is NOTHING wrong with this. Although I have said this a thousand times, I truly believe that the key to a healthy and happy life is moderation. Eat a variety of wholesome, fresh foods and enjoy the others when you feel like it too. Add in a some regular exercise and you have equipped yourself with everything you need to lead a happy, healthy and maintainable lifestyle.
* Results may vary. Strict adherence to the nutrition and exercise guide are required for best results.