“Clean eating” can be a wonderful notion for someone wanting to live a healthier lifestyle. But let’s look at the good, the bad, and even the ugly that can potentially come with adopting this idea. (Speaking from first hand experiences…)
Soooo let’s have a little chat, shall we? I’ve had this post sitting in my drafts for… gosh at least four months now. (Yikes!) It was after I shared these cookies with you more thoughts surfaced on what it means to eat healthy and eating “clean”.
So I took a stab at finishing up my thoughts again… That was two months ago. Clearly I wasn’t ready then. But here we are now. I’ve spent too much time going back and forth on this post and it’s just time I share it with you all. To be quite honest I am still a little leery of putting this all out there. But the more time I spend in this (online) healthy living space, the more I realize everyone is on a different journey. They may be similar in nature, but everyone has their own challenges to work through. Everyone is different and everyone has their own way of dealing with their struggle.
So let me preface this post by first off stating that “clean eating” can mean many things to different people. Just like “healthy eating” is subjective, “clean eating” is going to have an array of meanings, depending on who you talk to. At this moment, I’ve determined that “clean eating” to ME personally signifies a diet starting with whole foods, incorporating minimally processed foods, as well as sticking with food products that have minimally added ingredients, and staying away from artificial sweeteners and most food additives as much as possible. I buy some things organic, and some things not, truthfully because of cost. For me it’s not always just about whether or not the product is certified organic, but if you can determine the source and ethics behind the brand, where the ingredients are coming from, sometimes (more often than not) that is going to be a bigger factor in my buying decision. And honestly I don’t ALWAYS buy like this, sometimes you just don’t have those options (i.e. availability, finances, etc.). But I do try to practice being a conscious consumer.
Now that we have that part out of the way, I’m going to dig deep and share some things here that I’m betting some of you can relate to. Whether you’re just starting your journey towards healthier living, in the middle of figuring things out, or have finally figured out a healthy balance of eating and exercising… I’m hoping this post resonates with you.
So “clean eating” on the surface sounds like a great thing. In fact, it is probably one of the main ideas I started using when I transitioned my food habits to eating healthier. It can be a great way to get people to start looking at labels and what is in the food they’re consuming. Can you remove unnecessary ingredients? Lower your sugar intake? Get rid of artificial sweeteners? Nix the artificial colors? In my opinion, this is a great start to cleaning up your diet. Understanding how to read a nutrition label, and taking a look at the ingredients list is half the battle. The other half I find is navigating the grocery store, realistically. There is so much marketing on food products… Natural, artisan, fresh… How the heck do you make sense of it? When you start shopping around the perimeter of traditional grocery stores, it’s much easier to bypass these products, cutting out the confusion for some.
For me, “the good” of eating clean happened when I made a conscious effort to start avoiding heavily processed foods, which also helped me cut out added sugars and stay away from artificially sweetened foods. My taste buds can definitely tell when sucralose or aspartame has been added, and they do not like it.
Alright so what about the bad of “clean eating”? Let’s just get right to it: it can be confusing AF. How does one approach this way of eating? I mean, if the food you’re eating isn’t “clean”, what does that really mean?
I’m not sure about the origin of “clean eating”, or how the masses determined it the lifestyle diet that it is. But just like any thing else in this healthy living world, moderation is key. Of course easier said than done, right? For some (i.e. ME, and I know some of you) yes, definitely easier said than done. Which leads me to
It’s sad when what is supposed to be a healthier lifestyle change, turns into an ugly thing. And this doesn’t happen for everyone, but as someone with a type-A personality, and obsessive compulsive tendencies, this healthy lifestyle change of mine turned pretty damn ugly. I’ll just come right out and say that I 100% became obsessed. Obsessed with looking at the nutritional value of foods, obsessed with finding fault in any packaged food, then swearing it off, therefore it no longer having a place in my diet. Of course I didn’t realize it at the time. People would ask if I was on a diet, and I would look at them as if they were ludicrous. “Of course I am not on an effing diet” is what I was truthfully thinking. That and “Mind your own damn business” because I felt as though everyone was judging me for my food choices.
And I certainly had not intended to label this journey I was on as a “diet”. I didn’t do diets.
It was a “lifestyle change”
I was just being “healthy”
At least that is what I told myself so I could just keep doing what I was doing without people bugging me about it so often.
Unfortunately when I took on a “clean eating” lifestyle I was also tracking my food. I wasn’t necessarily counting calories but I was looking at my macro-nutrition (i.e. carbs, fats, and protein intake). The combination of eating clean plus tracking led me down a not-so-great road. (please note: I do recommend tracking your macros in some way for those looking to lose weight/fat loss and/or with certain fitness goals, however in my personal experience and the way I handled tracking was not the healthiest habit I formed. But I’ve seen people use that tool with great success!)
I became obsessed with healthy “clean” food. I would plan my meals each day and track everything from one ounce of an avocado to a handful of “unplanned” granola. If I was going out to eat at a restaurant, I would likely check out the menu online beforehand. If I ultimately ended up choosing something on the menu that wasn’t a salad or low carb, the guilt would start to kick in. If we would make last minute dinner plans with friends, I would get anxious thinking about what I was going to eat.
I developed disordered eating habits.
Likely a case of orthorexia nervosa. I was never clinically diagnosed or sought professional help for this, but it doesn’t take a doctor to tell me what I was doing wasn’t healthy after all. And to be 100% honest with you, I hate using that term. It makes it sound… dirty? Wrong…? Well, guess what? No one’s perfect. My way of eating “clean” in hopes of getting the perfect body while doing it took on it’s form in disordered eating habits. And that’s the truth. But do you know what sucks? Sometimes you don’t even realize you’re doing it. And then other times maybe you realize it, but you honestly just. don’t. care. You go on with your habits anyway. Have you been there? It’s not a fun position to be in. Fortunately over the past year I’ve been able to loosen the reigns on my diet and actually start living a little. I’ve stopped obsessing over each meal and started enjoying my food again. Do I still struggle some days? Sure. The issues aren’t just going to go away over night. You have to consciously work at getting better each day, reminding yourself that food is just food. Some more nutritionally sound for your body, while others good for the soul.
TIME TO MAKE A CHANGE
Something that truly helped me realize I needed to change my restrictive eating ways (and obsessive workout schedule) was reading other people’s stories, and stumbling upon registered dietitians and former fitness professional’s blogs
to name a few. After I found myself relating to post after post regarding food and exercise obsession, body image, and restrictive eating I realized I had the power to make a change. Not only that I had the power, but I truly NEEDED to make a change if I wanted to start living a more fulfilling, happier life.
I’m sharing this with all of you because while I do think “clean eating” can be a great way to start changing your diet for the better, it can also lead you down a dangerous path. Maybe you’re about to head down that path now, you’re in the middle of it, or you’re just getting out… you’re not alone. Remember that while someone may “look” like they’re healthy on the outside by the food they eat (or choose not to eat), or the fitness plan they stick to, there could be a lot more hiding under the surface.
Of course just because someone does eat healthy a majority of the time, doesn’t mean they’re being restrictive. Maybe they eat healthy because it makes them feel good. I tend to choose healthier options when going out to eat because I actually enjoy those meals. I am also now able to practice being more mindful when I eat. So for the times when I want a burger or sandwich with fries, I’ll choose that because there are no “right” or “wrong” decisions. No “good” or “bad” foods. Don’t get me wrong, I love and 100% believe in healthy foods over processed, sugary ones. A diet starting with whole foods, eating plenty of vegetables is something I will always stand by. But there is room for many other foods in your diet. And when eating healthy and “clean” becomes an obsession to the point where you’re scared to eat “unhealthy” food, there are other issues going on there.
Once we start listening to our bodies, stop judging one another, and just open up about our struggles, I think we’ll all be in a better place moving forward.
What are your thoughts on “clean eating”?
Can you relate?