On Eating ‘Clean’.


Eating clean.  This new catch phrase entertains me and irritates me.   First of all, what is it?  Secondly, eating ‘clean’ imparts some sort of sterile-ness to our food source or how we feed ourselves.  Consider for a moment…where our food comes from that makes eating ‘clean’… nearly impossible, literally (regardless of what it is meant to imply) and a bit ridiculous.  Our food grows from the earth…in dirt, soil, fields.  Furthermore, most growing food is treated with something because we demand perfectly, shaped, colored, large, unblemished produce.  So why ‘clean’?

Dictionary.com defines ‘clean’as:

  1. free from dirt; unsoiled; unstained
  2. free from foreign or extraneous matter
  3. free from pollution; unadulterated; pure
  4. habitually free of dirt
  5. characterized by a fresh, wholesome quality

The term is being used to suggest eating whole foods or minimally processed foods with variations on that definition.  I think that is a great concept!  I teach people how to eat more whole foods as a regular part of their diet everyday, but I have to say… I’m not a fan of this new term.

For if we are not eating ‘clean’ then what are we eating…..’dirty’?  If a salad is ‘good’, a candy bar is ‘bad’.   If a lean chicken breast is ‘healthy’ then a hamburger is ‘unhealthy’…or so the rules go.  Our general tendencies are to approach life through these dichotomies or extremes of good and bad.  No food is inherently good or bad (except trans fats or ‘partially hydrogenated vegetable oil‘ which is directly related to heart disease).  There are better choices for health, but all foods can be enjoyed with balance and attunement.  By attunement I mean honoring hunger and fullness cues.  I would suggest that stuffing yourself silly with a large but healthy bag of walnuts is not practicing good self care through nutrition either.  There is more to it than simply eating more whole foods…

Not eating clean or eating the opposite of clean joins the ranks of the other commonly used labels (‘bad’, ‘not allowed’, or ‘junkfood’, ‘convenience’, ‘fastfood’) that have offered a multitude of ways to make us feel bad about how we eat.  Using these words to describe how we eat causes us to feel guilty and that guilt can be part of a viscious cycle of eating disorders, disordered eating and dieting ‘rules’ that are difficult to step out of.

I beg of you…do not use or proliferate the term ‘eating clean’.  The concept is great, but the words distort the idea of what food is (fuel that comes from the earth)  and leaves one burdoned for eating…’unclean’.  Instead, describe what you eat by what it is:  a whole banana,  frozen vegetables, crackers, frozen pizza, etc.  Using these specific descriptive words are important to alleviate guilt and to understand what and how you have been feeding yourself.  Eat what you love…love what you eat.   Incorporate as many ‘whole’ foods and minimally processed foods as you can and always strive to make improvements.  Your body will thank you and pay you back with feelings of improved health the more you learn to do this.   If you need help learning how, when and what to eat, you are confused or are struggling with an eating disorder…contact me and together we will cultivate healthier food habits that will take you through your lifetime.

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