The clean eating trend is ubiquitous, but it doesn’t mean it’s the definition of healthy. Find out the deeper meaning behind it.


Clean eating. What does that even mean?

That phrase right there is the problem, my friends. There is no set definition of this trendy term, which has taken the healthy foodie community by storm. It tries to indicate eating food that is free from processed foods, which isn’t a bad message. We should all try to eat more whole foods like fruits, vegetables, and minimally processed whole grains and protein.

But it also has a negative impact on some folks, who will freak out about foods that aren’t ‘clean’ despite the majority of their diets being pretty nutritious.

Labels on diets are necessary in certain cases, such as gluten-free for those with celiac disease or those who require a specific diet like low-sodium to manage a health condition. However,  for the majority of us, there is no need to label your diet, especially if you need a ‘cheat day’ from that said diet. Here are the reasons why:

‘Clean eating’ implies that anything not ‘clean’ is somehow dirty.

By eating something with sugar in it, or heaven forbid – gluten! – we are choosing to put something dirty or unhygienic into our bodies. ‘Clean eating’ may have started with good intentions, but it has gone too far. It has turned into yet another food shaming, diet-based fad that simply fuels the fire of unrealistic eating goals.

‘Clean eating’ is elitist.

The term creates the illusion that taking care of your body and being conscious of your food choices is only for the rich or elite. Not everyone can afford organic fruits and veggies or free-range, pasture-raised, grass-fed, blessed-by-a-higher-power meat, fish and eggs. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t trying if they choose conventionally raised fresh chicken over drive-through chicken nuggets. That doesn’t mean that conventionally-grown fruits are any less nutritious than organic ones.

Eating healthy is not an exclusive club only for the rich. It’s for everyone, and ‘clean eating’ can often cast shame on those who can’t afford to buy the absolute, most sustainable, untouched food there is.

‘Clean eating’ is misleading.

It is another term that gives an undeserved health halo to some foods. That ‘clean’ vegan, gluten-free cookie is still a cookie. It may be made with honey and coconut oil, but it still has just as much saturated fat and sugar as one made with butter and brown sugar. Quite frankly, you may be better off enjoying the latter, thoroughly and mindfully.

‘Clean eating’ is unrealistic.

Unless you have endless stacks of money, nothing to do and nobody else to take care of, it’s pretty darn difficult to not eat anything out of a package – ever. That includes oats, canned beans, almond milk. Are you going to make every single thing from scratch yourself week after week?

There is nothing wrong with the convenience of nutritious, minimally-processed foods like yogurt or canned tuna, that make our lives easier. There’s also nothing wrong with having an ice cream cone or a burger – or hell, a unicorn frappuccino –  if that’s what you’re feeling like once in awhile. Perfection does not exist.

‘Clean eating’ can lead to an unhealthy obsession with ‘clean eating’.

With social media making it possible to be constantly immersed in a health and wellness culture, it’s easy to fall into the trap of comparison.  You begin to think that your food is not healthy enough when it doesn’t look like your favorite Instagrammer’s ‘clean’ salads and smoothie bowls. It’s a slippery slope that can lead to disordered eating patterns or full-blown eating disorders. It’s important to remember the things that you don’t see – food that doesn’t get posted because they don’t have that ‘clean’ thing going on – but they very likely still get eaten!

And yes, it’s okay for you to eat them too.

Adapted from the original article.

Kaleigh McMordie, MCN, RDN is a Texas-based Registered Dietitian and food enthusiast who shares delicious recipes for those who seek a healthy, vibrant life. By focusing on nourishment without giving up the joy of good food, Kaleigh helps others attain a balanced, wholesome approach to life that brings people together. Learn more about Kaleigh and visit her at Lively Table.

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