Clean eating has been a huge buzzword in the healthy living world the past year or so. A quick search on Instagram shows over 12 million posts for the #cleaneating.
What is clean eating?
The exact definition may vary based on the source, but overall it’s a concept of eating whole foods and cutting out processed foods. On the surface, it’s a great concept. Certainly following this general guideline will lead to a healthier diet. You are probably wondering, why on earth is a Dietitian telling me this isn’t healthy?
1. All of Nothing mentality
I have a very simple food philosophy, “all food fits”, which is contradictory to the philosophy of clean eating. When people get stuck on the idea of having to eat clean, it becomes all or nothing. Every single thing they eat has to be “clean”.
Suddenly they are making “cookies” made of banana, coconut flakes and prunes. This concept makes no sense to me. If you are going to eat clean and take cookies out of your diet, why are you making “clean” cookies. And more importantly, I have a very philosophical question to ask: If a cookie doesn’t have chocolate chips in it, is it still a cookie?
Kidding aside, the clean eating mentality takes away the ideas of moderation and balance in the diet and turns foods into “good” and “bad” foods. Which leads me to my next point…
2. Food should not produce guilt
The very notion of clean eating splits foods into two categories “clean or good” vs “dirty or bad”. Whenever you eat something that you consider a “bad” food, it produces feelings of guilt. This may be conscious or subconscious, but it’s happening. The simple act of eating food makes you feel bad; bad about yourself and bad in general. Food should not have this power over you.
If you remove the stigma from food and allow “all foods to fit”, those feelings of guilt are erased. When I eat a chocolate, I don’t feel guilt. I know it’s not as nutritious for me as eating an apple, but I’m at peace with my decision. Allowing myself to have all foods whenever I want takes away any feelings of deprivation or guilt. I choose apples more often because I know they are better nourishment for my body and I know the chocolate will be there whenever I want it.
3. Social Isolation
In every culture food is an integral part of our social interactions. While clean eating isn’t technically a diet it certainly follows dietary guidelines. This makes it very tricky to engage in social interactions where food is present.
If you’re a clean eater, you might find yourself saying no to social engagements because the food won’t meet your dietary restrictions. Staying at home eating your “clean cookies” is a poor substitute for interacting with friends & family over a piece of cake.
4. Mental Health
Health is a very objective term that is composed of many components. One that is often forgotten when we are talking about healthy living and eating is our mental health. Trying to stick to a clean eating regimen can be stressful, cause feelings of guilt and be fully overwhelming.
I am a self-proclaimed chocolate lover. While depriving myself of chocolate in order to eat clean would be good for my physical health it wouldn’t be good for my mental health. I would feel deprived, I would feel sad and I would be craving chocolate. Health should be a balance between physical and mental health.
Eating more whole foods and less processed foods will lead to better physical health but be careful not to fall into the food traps. Cheat is not a word in my food vocabulary and it shouldn’t be in yours either. Respect both your physical and mental health and enjoy all foods.