The clean eating craze has swept the nation for over a decade and it shows no sign of stopping. The outdoor industry in particular seems obsessed with plant-based, sugar-free, non-GMO, organic, no added colors, no gluten, the list goes on, nutrition. I can hardly open any social media without seeing a post about clean eating. And it makes sense. We have been programmed in schools and society to be terrified of being "obese" or "unhealthy". As Americans, we're obsessed with health. Our society's diet culture values thinness and green juice over true health and wellness. You might be asking what's so bad about this? Shouldn't we all want to be healthy? Vegetables are good for you? You should avoid sugar and fat?
Well let's dive into it. What's so dirty about clean eating?
The premise of clean eating is to avoid processed foods, GMOs, gluten, and anything with chemicals while eating whole, "real", usually organic foods. If you've been aware of clean eating for a while you might have noticed what to and what not to eat are constantly shifting. From saturated fat to gluten to meat, what is supposed to be clean and healthy one month is tabooed the next. That's because clean eating is founded in psuedo-science. There's been over 50 years of research showing no significant benefit to eating organic and 20 years of research showing there isn't a health risk to consuming GMOs.
Unless you're eating plastic fruit, all food is real food. ALL food is made out of chemicals, we’re made out of chemicals, everything around us is made out of chemicals! H20 anybody? The strawberries you grew in your garden and the Oreos you bought from the store both are composed of chemicals. There is no evidence that chemicals that occur in nature are anymore healthful than those synthesized in a lab.
What about sugar? Fat? Gluten? I’ll say it once and a thousand times, there are no good or bad foods. Our bodies rely on all macro and micro nutrients to function. Carbohydrates are our brain’s preferred source of energy. They’re vital energy to support our bodily and physical activity as well as digestive health. Fat or lipids are also great sources of energy as well as functioning as insulation, organ padding, and structural components of our cell membranes and brain tissue. Gluten is simply a type of wheat protein that certain individuals have allergies too. While yes, some foods are more nutritious than others that doesn’t make them any better or worse. Just because kale has a fantastic PR agent that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t eat spinach. There is room for any foods you enjoy in your diet without restriction or limitations. Some foods feed the body more, some feed the soul! We need both to feel satiated and satisfied.
So why is clean eating so dangerous? Clean eating promotes food morality that easily becomes associated with our own moralities. Those who eat “clean” and green get boosted as healthy, successful, better than those who don’t. This perpetuates a guilt and shame cycle for both those in both groups. The “clean” eaters will do anything to maintain their health status including increasing restrictions, denying their hunger, diving into deep pits of self-loathing when inevitably a food rule is broken, and bingeing on forbidden foods in secret. Those in the “unclean” group will feel shame and guilt when eating foods considered “unclean” in public, trying to appeal to their “clean” friends when making food choices, making self-demeaning comments about their health, and also bingeing on foods they feel shame for loving in secret. The more instances of guilt and shame, the more restricted a person tends to become, and the more binge episodes follow.
Clean eating can easily evolve into orthorexia: a disorder that parallels anorexia, is an unhealthy obsession with eating healthy. This eating disorder can consume and wreck your life. It did to me. Fear of carrots, potatoes, olive oil, and more sometimes paired with compulsive exercise can degrade both the body and the mind.What starts as a well-intended behavior change quickly snowballs into fear of “unhealthy”, avoidance of entire food groups, and social isolation for fear of being shown as unhealthy or having to interface with food you desire but “can’t” have.
You don’t need to cut out whatever the internet tells you is “bad” for you. You don’t need to stop eating carbs or fat or gluten for your health. You can be healthy while eating a diet that includes your favorite fun foods. You can eat a wide spectrum of foods without guilt or shame and without body attunement to how those foods fuel your body, mind, and soul. The only “clean” eating you need to do is rinsing off dirt when you drop food on the floor (and let’s be honest, sometimes we don’t even do that).
Are you interested in learning more about intuitive eating? Are you ready to ditch diet culture and start on your journey to food freedom? Watch my free training video on how to improve your relationship with food and your body now. Get 3 actionable steps you can implement today!