You hear it all the time, don’t you? “I’m just switching to eating clean”. Another one of those industry cliche phrases like “Go hard or go home’, which has to be one of my personal favourites to hate. As if there are not effective solutions to improving your health and fitness which can be found between the spectrum of staying on the couch or going as ‘hard’ as possible, which already sounds un-quantifiable and thoughtless.
In fairness though, like much of the health and fitness industries wide and colourful array of cliche catch phrases and trends, clean eating is probably more misunderstood than being entirely inaccurate. It sounds like you’re washing your food in Purell before you eat it so that it’s, well, cleaner. I really hope that’s not what people are doing but then again, we all remember ‘fish and a rice cake’ guy.
Though I’ve seen ‘clean diets’ which seem to be comprised entirely of greens, maybe lemon juice in water and other strange detox ingredients. The more mainstream concept it’s intended to portray is simply to reduce the amount of overly processed foods in your diet. Not unlike the paleo diet approach which recommends only cooking with raw natural ingredients to avoid the intake of unknown ingredients and processing typicality’s like excessively added salt or sugar and other nasty’s like hydrogenated fats etc. In essence then, avoiding foods that have been for lack of a better term, ‘processed’.
So, in theory underneath the cliche there is some merit to the idea. What bursts my bubble though is that the same gym rats and Instagram athletes preaching about ‘clean eating’ are probably gulping down 3-4 whey protein shakes per day. Whey protein is heavily processed, it really couldn’t be further removed from its original milk state if you tried. And yet whey protein is probably one of the absolute most significant advancements in bodybuilding and general health and fitness nutrition in the last hundred years. That’s without even throwing creatine into the mix. I don’t even want to know how many rib-eye’s I’d have to put away a day to hit my regular supplemented creatine quota.
But it’s not just the supplements side of things that the clean eating philosophy misinterprets. Let’s face it unless you’re drinking it straight from the udder then your supermarket milk is processed and varies brand to brand. It doesn’t make the milk you and your parents and grandparents etc have been consuming for tears any less nutritious. It still contains protein and calcium.
The same goes for breads and cereals, and no I’m not talking about coco pops here. Breads and cereals while processed are still made up the same nutritionally beneficial seeds and grains your clean eating itinerary will likely encourage.
So, for me, it’s probably one of the most misinterpreted and overall hollow pieces of nutritional strategy out there. Keep in mind that typically a clean eater is adopting the strategy as a method for fat loss. This is a huge pitfall in that you can very easily still eat your way into a calorie surplus by eating low to non-processed foods. All that rice and sweet potato still adds up no matter how unprocessed it is. Proteins have calories too, that slab of organic line caught salmon isn’t calorie free just because it’s on the cover of an ‘eat healthy’ cook book you bought, and it’s loaded with fat. Even if it is good fats you can still overdo it and your weight loss will be hindered.
Another way in which clean eating can go sideways really fast is when it’s taken to the extreme and you have wannabe athletes or general fat shifters eating boiled chicken and rice 4 times per day because they’re just too scared to eat something that might be, dirty. Not only are these people going to develop a very unhealthy long term relationship with food mentally and emotionally but they’re also missing out on all the vitamins, minerals and other micro-nutrients that collectively play a big role in regulating our bodily functions and keep us healthy.
So, before you read a quick blog or two by clean eating Anthea or whoever you stumble across and you head to the supermarket to buy yourself a thousand avocados. Have a serious think about what your goal is and what kind of nutritional approach is going to be the most safe and effective for you while also considering the finer details of what that nutritional plan entails. Rather than following an empty and overused philosophy like eating ‘clean’.