Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Clean Eating, and what it is NOT (this got long)

Thanks to my friend Tiffany at The Gracious Pantry (@GraciousPantry on Twitter), a recipe website chock-full of great clean-eating ideas, for sending me the link to this article. At least....I think thanks are in order.  The article pissed me off so much that I honestly needed to walk away from my computer and do a little internal screaming.  But it was an interesting perspective to read and one that I definitely feel needs a rebuttal.

The writer contends that clean eating, the practice of avoiding processed foods and eating clean and natural foods from the Earth, is a scam and should be abandoned because it is too rigorous and leads to disordered eating patterns.  And as he tells his story, I can see why.  Anything taken to an extreme - which it appears that he did - can be destructive.  I've been there too; I've been burned by my own extreme behavior and have learned from those mistakes.

But just because you went on a crash diet that someone sold you as "clean eating" does not mean that an entire philosophy, one that is not about weight loss or sports nutrition or strategic body manipulation, is flawed. 

In the article he maintains that people who engage in clean eating are purists who would not, for example, eat pizza...but would eat the individual ingredients in pizza.  Clean eaters, he says, would not eat fried rice, but would eat rice, egg whites, vegetables, and other components of the food they shun.  He eschews the lack of socialization that clean eaters have in recreational eating events, such as traveling or going out to dinner with friends.  His personal experience with clean eating was bad, that much is clear.  But please remember these important lessons from his experience:

1. Clean eating is a personal journey.  I know clean eaters who eat things I don't, and I eat some things that other clean eaters won't eat.  I see recipes in Clean Eating that I would never make because they include artificial sweeteners, which I do not consider to be "clean."  It's about setting personal boundaries for what you want to use as fuel for your body.  The only real qualifier in my mind is that the food be un-fooled-around with, simple in its ingredients, and actually healthy. A quick look at the list of ingredients on a food should clear that up right away (hint: it should be short and composed of actual foods).

2. Clean does not automatically equal healthy, and clean does not mean you can eat unlimited quantities of food.  Even healthy food has calories, and they add up.  Even clean food can have unhealthy attiributes (beef, for example, can be perfectly "clean" but still has a lot of saturated fat).  Just because something is natural does not mean it is good for you.  Use your noggin, people!

3. Anything taken to an extreme is going to bite back.  He complains that he was eating clean and working out...and that when his "best body competition" was over and he went to Denny's and binged on an enormous meal of processed meats, pastries, and other food he was dismayed that he had seemingly undone his hard work.  Clean eating did not do that to him.  His binge did that to him, and people can binge after any extreme behavior, not just clean eating.

In short, I can tell that this guy feels cheated and angry because the diet he went on betrayed him in the end.  I have to believe, however, that clean eating is about more than dieting yourself down to win a bodybuilding contest (which he does admit, he placed second in thanks to his clean eating).  As you've heard time and time again, being healthy is a lifestyle, not just something you do on the weekends.  Eating clean is a mindset, a commitment to yourself, and a plain and simple way to fuel yourself every day, not just when you're wanting to shed a few pounds.

If you want to eat clean to lose weight, go ahead, but if you treat clean eating like a diet, it will act like one.  Instead, eat clean because it is a smart way to eat. 

And by the way, this clean eater eats pizza
at least twice a week.  So there! :)

If you have clean eating questions, let me know and I would be glad to discuss with you.  And if you want to see how some real clean eaters cook and eat real food, visit the Gracious Pantry for oodles of recipes!

Good day!


Christy said...

That was a truly horrible article. I think no matter what "quick fix" solution that person found, he was bound to mess it up.

Health is not accomplished by following a restrictive diet for X number of weeks then binging at Denny's.

Eek said...

Hey there. I'm going to tackle on the bulleted points.

1. See there is the first problem with the word clean. It is clearly a subjective term. What is clean. I think JC is talking about moderation. Eating foods that you particulary enjoy without overdoing it. Meet your protein needs, eat some veggies, fruit, and its cool if you have a pizza. It's not going to make a difference.

2. Wait, so I get this. Milk is bad because of saturated fat? Eggs too?

3. I believe clean eating did do that to him because it didn't jive with him. What he needed was moderation.

A couple of years ago my bloodwork was crap. I decided to make a change. I started by eating clean and doing other BBer stuff which is nor relavent here. But no matter how much I worked out or ate cleanly, my bloodwork would not improve.

I got really frustrated and I remember going to restaurants and not being able to pick the foods that I love. Some of the "cleaner" foods looked good but I like pasta and the creamy stuff. I like fries and burgers. I like ice cream. J love pizza, Mexican food. So why deprive myself of them. Why not learn how to integrate them into my diet. That is when I contacted Alan Aragon. He taught me how to do just that. I eat fruit, lean meats, veggies, and also foods deemed unclean. I was happy.

The cool thing? My blood profile improved, so much that I qualified for the highest bracket in my whole term life insurance.

Ultimately you have to do what makes you happy. Eating "clean" obviously works for you. It didn't work for me but I learned how to make my diet work for me.

The (not so) Reluctant Athlete said...

Eek, I think you hit the nail on the head - moderation and personalization is the key for some people. And I think what made me so angry about what he wrote is that he advocated abandoning clean eating because it didn't work for *him*. Ultimately, by incorporating moderation into your diet, your body rewarded you by righting itself and becoming healthier. I am really really bad at moderation so when I try to do it consistently, I fail miserably! It is something I need to get better at.

Thanks for your reasoned comment. I appreciate it!

Rog Law The Stupendous said...

Hey Heather,

You brought up some great points in your rebuttal, especially the one about how "clean eating" doesn't automatically ensure that someone is healthy. However, I think the thing that got you most riled up (and you admitted to this in the comment section), was the fact that he advocated abandoning this style of eating.

The title of the article was based on pure sensationalism - a potentially divisive one used to draw attention and get people to read the actual content of the article and spark discussion, which it did - hooray!

I feel that JC wasn't so much attacking the "clean eating" food choices, but more so the mentality that many people attach to it. On one hand you have foods that are deemed great and healthy, then on the other there are foods are unhealthy and seemingly off limits, rarely to be eaten. This often creates a Mortal Kombat-esque mental battle of epic proportions and that is what I think JC was saying should be abandoned for several reasons:

1) As far as health is concerned, the risks of sandwiching an otherwise healthy lifestyle filled with tons veggies, fruits, healthy fats and protein with processed foods such is cakes, cookies and ice cream is negligible. It is the long term avoidance of such micronutrient/anti-oxidant rich foods that causes problems.

2)Once this mental class system of food is thrown to the wayside, people tend to have a lot more relaxed, objective relationship with food, which is never a bad thing.

Like you said though - moderation and personalization is the key, just like with anything else in with =)

Rog Law The Stupendous said...

in with = in life. My typing skills have failed me many times before - this won't be the final occasion!

JC said...

Thanks Roger. I appreciate your explanation and it's spot-on.

The (not so) Reluctant Athlete said...

thanks Rog and JC for the comments, I completely see your point of view and am so glad to have a reasoned discussion of it here. I discuss clean eating with a lot of people every day, so I get protective over what I consider to be a totally healthy way to eat. But, everyone puts their own spin on it, and that's part of what makes it great. Ultimately, I choose not to eat processed foods because I don't want to, and I have a widely varied diet without them. I eat pizza, drink wine, bake desserts, and more while still adhering to my own personal standards. Thanks for the calm and reasoned discourse! :)

Rog Law The Stupendous said...

Now how awesome would the internet be if every debate ended with a smiley face?

Answer: Fantastically amazingly awesome =D

The (not so) Reluctant Athlete said...

Yeah, we should all go out for some clean eating pizza now! :)

Anonymous said...

I am all for the 80/20 rule. Avoid crap foods 80% of the time, and the other 20% enjoy life a little. I have lost 17 lbs in 48 days just following Robb Wolf's Paleo outline, because I want to see how LEAN I can get in 90 days. After that the plan is 80/20 and use the mirror to gauge what i eat. Pretty simple.