Lately I’ve been seeing a certain food philosophy called “clean eating” floating around Instagram and the blogosphere, especially in gearing up for 2017 and the rush of New Year’s resolutions. While this seems to be a very popular catch phrase in the healthy foodie community, I have quite a few qualms with this approach to eating… and honestly, what does it even mean?
Unlike many evidence-based eating patterns like the Mediterranean Diet that have been well defined in the scientific community and are proven to manage the risk of chronic diseases, “eating clean” has no formal definition. With no clear guidelines, it is up to literally anyone, licensed nutrition professional or not, to decide which foods are “clean” and which foods are…I guess you’d say “dirty.” And no, contrary to what “clean” usually describes, this doesn’t have anything to do with actual, physical dirt, sanitation or food safety.
Usually, when someone claims to “eat clean” or says they try to eat “clean foods” and only use “clean ingredients,” they are eliminating whatever foods or ingredients don’t fit into the supposedly healthy lifestyle they ascribe to. This can mean eliminating anything from gluten, refined starches, nightshade vegetables (yeah, unclear to me too), and added sugar to legumes, grains and dairy, regardless of whether it is actually a scientifically proven healthy way to live.
Apart from it’s ambiguity, the clean eating approach creates a world of good foods or bad foods, no in-betweens. This dichotomous view can lead to perfectionistic eating, which, diagnosed or not, is disordered eating. Cutting out and refusing to eat foods seen as unhealthy may be well-intentioned, but it is not nourishment, it is deprivation. It is the restriction of foods that might previously have been associated with the simple pleasure of tastiness or the joy of social gatherings, but have instead become associated with the risk of fatness or being otherwise “unhealthy.” It starts out as an attempt to overhaul a diet for the sake of weight loss or long-term health, but it can quickly spiral into an obsessive condition known as orthorexia:
Those who have an “unhealthy obsession” with otherwise healthy eating may be suffering from “orthorexia nervosa,” a term which literally means “fixation on righteous eating.” Orthorexia starts out as an innocent attempt to eat more healthfully, but orthorexics become fixated on food quality and purity. -Karin Kratina, PhD, RD, LD/N
Eating should be a pleasurable and nourishing experience for both the body and the mind. It’s a time to celebrate the flavors of your culture, or to explore all the cuisines of this world. It’s a chance to share a bite of joy with family and friends. It’s an opportunity to fuel your body with nutrient dense foods when you can, and to truly enjoy ALL foods, ALL the time.
Yes, there are foods and ingredients we know are not great when consumed in excess.
Yes, there are foods that are healthier than others.
No, there are no “bad” foods, and there are no “good” foods.
There is a place for every food in a healthy eating pattern, but there is no room for guilt. Cutting out foods, unless you have a medically diagnosed food allergy or intolerance, is not at all healthy for your mind. The key is balance; eating in a way that nourishes your body and makes you happy. Eat your fruits and veggies, but also indulge every once in a while in your grandma’s famous triple chocolate Christmas cake. Strive to eat a little less added sugar and salt, but by all means, DO NOT pass up those beignets in New Orleans or the chips and queso in Texas.
Food is great, and so are you. In celebration of this concept, here’s a picture of mini pies that I made for Thanksgiving this year.
Happy Holidays, Happy New Year, and most of all, happy eating 🙂