Why I Don’t ‘Eat Clean’ (anymore)
A few years ago, when I began my transition from eating mindlessly, compulsively and emotionally to eating more intuitively (and it was a transition over a period of years for me, not a lightswitch event!), one of the biggest changes happened when I started to adopt ‘clean eating’ practices.
I learned about ‘clean eating’ from my then personal trainer, who was an Oxygen magazine reader. She recommended that I check out a book by Tosca Reno, called “The Eat Clean Diet.”
At the time, I’d just undergone a year-long transformation in which I’d lost 10 pounds, nursed my low back back to health through physical therapy, strength training 3-4 times a week and doing cardio interval workouts 2-3 times a week.
My limiting factor: my total lack of diet/nutrition knowledge. So this seemed like a good place to start! After all, it was recommended by my trainer (who was a really ethical and amazing person), and featured a 40-something woman (Tosca Reno) who was super fit.
Over the next three years, I slowly adopted the Eat-Clean practices, demonizing processed foods, labeling and categorizing food groups, and I fell into a very restrictive ‘on-plan/off-plan’ perspective on eating.
I started to develop a kind of fear of processed foods as a whole, a little bit paranoid that if it wasn’t a ‘good’ food, I was poisoning myself and my kids.
If I couldn’t find or use the special, prescribed ingredient (rapidura sugar comes to mind—where do you go about finding that in rural Germany, btw??) for a recipe, I was failing.
I started to be paranoid about what kind of produce I bought, so much so that I would skip buying it if it wasn’t organic—which caused me even more stress because then I wasn’t feeding us enough produce!!!
Oh yeah, my obsessiveness wasn’t exactly helping my relationship with my husband either.
Holy unnecessary life stress, Batman.
It came to a point where I realized I was not helping us by adhering to such an all-or-nothing way of thinking. I was causing myself stress, adding stress to my relationship, and just making things much harder than they needed to be. And one kid still had acid reflux and the other one still had excema.
So the iron fist nutritional regime began to shift and change.
I decided that some produce that wasn’t organic was better than avoiding all but a limited selection or amount of produce each week—because not only is organic produce a little harder to come by, it’s a lot more costly.
I decided it was okay for us to eat non-organic pasta. It probably wasn’t the devil.
I accepted that a little refined sugar in baking (and I do still keep it minimal) wasn’t going to poison us.
This ‘nutrition regime change’ also coincided with when I started working with clients as a personal trainer.
Like it or not, I was a role model. People wanted to know how I ate to get/keep my results, so I spread the “Clean Eating” message.
But I soon realized that all-or-nothing approaches, like the “Eat Clean” diet set them up for feeling like they were failing if they couldn’t adhere to the approach 100%. And it really wasn’t reasonable to expect that any of them would adhere to such a drastic and sudden change to their current, and historic, eating patterns.
They could hang in there for a few weeks, like they could to any diet, but then there would be the inevitable backslide once the dam of resistance broke. And they would feel shame.
I wanted to help my clients learn to live better, and eat more healthfully, not cause them shame!
So there just had to be some give in the approach—for personal, practical and financial reasons.
Which leads me to another reason I stopped preaching the Eat-Clean message and pushing the ‘all clean or nothing’ doctrine….Shame.
More specifically, the use of shame by established fitness and nutrition professionals as part of their ‘clean eating’ platform.
There is a woman who I followed for about two years during my hard-core Eat-Clean phase.
She was over 50, kickass strong, a fitness model and everything I thought I wanted to model myself after.
I loved her pull up challenges on YouTube, loved her articles in Oxygen when she contributed, ate up what she had to say on her facebook page.
Until that day when she went on a rant about domestic animal big Agriculture in the U.S.–which wasn’t what bothered me, btw. I get that position, that feeling, and there’s much that needs to be improved for the animals’ welfare as well as our own.
It was the part where she said, (and I paraphrase—it was over two years ago) “Shame on you. Shame on you if you eat meat from these places. Shame on you for not eating grass-fed meat.”
I posted in the comments that maybe that wasn’t feasible for everyone—that organic meat isn’t always affordable for people on limited incomes, that shaming people for just doing their best to feed themselves and their children as well as they can was really inappropriate.
Of course, it wasn’t well-received by her and I was chastised for my small-mindedness. I naturally unfollowed her, unsubscribed, etc, immediately.
That was pretty much the nail in the ‘all-or-nothing’ ‘Eat-Clean-or-else’ coffin.
The idea that my eating choices were either morally superior or inferior was ridiculous.
It wasn’t a concept I wanted to take any part in or perpetuate any longer in my personal or my professional life.
Sometimes good enough IS good enough.
I’ve got enough to worry about in life without struggling with myself over which bell pepper to buy each time I go to the grocery store.
I suspect it’s the same for you!
I don’t Eat Clean anymore. I eat well.
I eat sustainably—in a way that I can continue without stress or strife.
I eat healthfully, but not ‘perfectly.’
Sure, I’m still partial to some organic products and produce, and if there’s a sale or special on my faves, I’m ALL over it.
But I don’t freak out if what’s in my shopping cart isn’t all grass-fed, pasture-raised, GMO-free, and/or free-range.
Because the way we shop, cook and eat shouldn’t be causes for stress or shame. The way we sustain our physical selves and care for our families shouldn’t be a moral platform.
It should, at its best, be reasonable, satisfying, and just plain do-able on a daily and weekly basis.
Eating real foods, lots of veggies, quality protein balanced with some treats here and there is our big objective. And demonizing foods and food groups, thinking and living restrictively doesn’t serve our long-term welfare. It just hangs us up at the starting line.