In defense of “Clean Eating”

The world we live in today is so different to the world we lived in a decade ago. You just take Social Media as one example. It was almost non-existent ten years ago or certainly it did not exist in the same capacity it does today. I am daily overwhelmed and inundated with messages, articles, opinions, research, etc thrown at me. I am assuming many feel like this. Some of this information is truly great, some not so much. “Not so much” stuff does not always bother me, but, today, I saw something that, instead of ignoring, I thought of using as an opportunity to throw a different light at it as it is health related and a subject close to my heart.

As the title of the article suggests, it is indeed about “clean eating”. Because, while I thought I heard it all, I was amused, to say the least, to read how one “TV dietitian”, names need not to be mentioned, called clean eating as “unhealthy, another diet and bullshit”, pardon HER French. Well, her 65 thousand (plus 2000 extra since yesterday) followers loved her for it. I can see the appeal, audience loves when we dare, even swear and throw bombastic claims. Everyone has their audience. However, I can not agree any less and I thought it warrants writing why that is and why you shouldn’t agree either…

Firstly, what is Clean Eating?

Well, clear definitions vary and so do opinions on whether certain foods should be part of it, but, in a nutshell – it is a balanced diet that focuses on whole grains, fruits, vegetables, healthy fats, protein and it is a diet that eliminates processed foods. I think it is logical and something we have always known to be good for us, however, we have just now given it a name. Mediterranean Diet is probably the closest to clean eating we can think of. Which, in my opinion, is not really a diet, but a way of life for many people and they are better for it.

Saying that, I personally always say that I eat clean, however, on top of other 3-4 balanced meals, two of my meals are nutrient-dense, perfectly balanced meal replacements (clean food too) from a reputable source because I also believe in Optimum Nutrition. That belief is based on much research showing that all-food-diet is unable to give our bodies, at this age and time, all it needs. The research is based on the fact that soil across the globe is lacking nutrients and, if soil is deficient, so are the plants and, ultimately, so are our bodies – 100% participants from every experiment came back as deficient in some vitamin or mineral.

So, there is controversy even with wholesome foods and begs for questions such as – have they been picked green & how long have they travelled (fruit and veg), what has it been fed (animals), how has it been produced, stored, how long has it travelled, what about pesticides, fungicides, etc… Lots of etc. As each one affects the nutrient density and quality of those foods. So, personally, based on this understanding, I try to combine the best of science with the best of nature. That is my choice and so far so good, it has been serving me and my family well for the past 15 years.

But, if we put all that on the side, I do believe that, ideally, our diet (“diet” as in a “way of life”), if we truly want to be healthy, live longer and protect ourselves from disease – should be both clean and balanced. And we will be better off because of it. Clean eating without the right balance of micro and macro nutrients can still be damaging to our health. Veganism is one of the examples – so amazing and yet, if you do not know what you are doing – not great at all and your body will soon show signs you are not doing it right – because it won’t “feel” right.

Eating “clean” in addition to balanced eating means we eliminate all those foods that have adverse effect on the health of our cells – foods such as alcohol, fizzy drinks, juices, sweets, crisps, biscuits, cakes, fast foods, as well as foods with additives, pesticides, etc, whilst making sure body gets the right nutrients in the right kind of balance – proteins, healthy fats, healthy carbohydrates and fibre, vitamins & minerals, phytonutrients, etc – so it can optimally function.

Of course, it is important to say that it is virtually impossible to eat clean 365 days a year and hell will  not break loose if we do break rules. Problem is more with consuming foods on a daily basis that messes with our hormones and health of our cells. Going “clean” whilst remaining balanced can be a great detox plan and it can be made a lifestyle, if that is what we want. So, we each need to redefine what “balance” actually is for us without obsessing with it. Balance as in – how often we consume sugar and other non-clean foods. Little, ideally, should go a long way.

Overall, eating clean and in balance is a prescription for a healthier life and longevity. This is a fact. The rest is up to us whether we want that or not for ourselves. What is good to know is, as science shows us, our genes are switched on and off by the environment we decide to live in and expose our bodies to (epigenetics) and many of these processes relate to diseases. So, development of disease is directly linked to the lifestyle we choose (what we eat, drink, breathe, think), as one of the biggest factors, put simply.

Just to throw in another wheel – while “body positive” movement is amazing and I totally agree with it, we all want to be healthy, right? So, it is important to get to the point, if we are not there already, where we accept and love our bodies just the way they are, whatever the body shape, size and colour, whilst also pursuing the best health possible. And doing it in a loving and kind way towards ourselves. Because, when illness strikes – we will not have time to even think about “body positive”. Health is paramount. And your shape and size do not define whether you are healthy or not (what I mean is – if you are overweight – you most probably are at a higher health risk, but being slim says nothing about the health of your cells and could be at just as much risk).

I also do not think that clean eating itself contributes to the mental health problem either, as this same nutritionist/ dietitian suggested. I understand even where she is coming from, but it is a wrong way to go around it. Bashing “clean eating” does not make things any better, especially not for those who could really benefit from it. Or those whose life might even depend on changing their habits. Clean eating can protect our health in this time and age when food is less and less wholesome and addictions are running rampant because of what is being put in foods and what we are choosing to eat without realising that it is creating and then further feeding the addictions that we sometimes are not even aware of having (talking about salt and sugar in particular).

I would love to go a step further and actually say that clean eating also protects our mental health. Because it can help us think more clearly and even eliminate lack of nutrition related brain fog. But that is, I am fully aware, just a tip of an iceberg.

After 15 years of working with clients, one thing is also clear to me – those happier about themselves get better and more sustainable health and weight management results. Because they are ready for a lifestyle change, for the transformation at physical as well as mental and spiritual level. Or they have already done deeper work on themselves and physical change is usually the last one that takes place – as a result of working on their psychology and mindset first. They learnt how to cope with emotions. They dealt with hard situations, limiting beliefs, addictions, etc. and came through at the other end. It really is about the mind and spirit and body.

Those clients are so easy to notice – they are open, they talk about their challenges, they do not leave anything out, they do not make up excuses, they do not blame (themselves or plan they follow), they document their journey, they are not afraid to have lapses (they are annoyed with them, no doubt), but they admit them and are not phased by them – they learnt that seeking perfection can be a road to being very unkind to yourself… they know that honesty and transparency is healthy and it facilitates their further progress. They meet their appointment schedule even if they have had a bad week or month.

Of curse, many are not there… yet.

The secret of health, of course, is not to focus on the diet itself but on development of that healthy dose of self-love and, whilst some may need a therapist or a coach – self-help indeed is possible through commitment to the daily practice of personal development. But, even that requires awareness that we need help in the first place (taking responsibility), than courage to dig deep and deal with issues and then resilience to continue and see it as a lifetime work because we are never a finished product, we just get better. Better at loving ourselves, being kinder to ourselves, practicing gratitude and forgiveness – to ourselves and others…

Those that develop a healthy dose of self-love are finally free to claim their healthy body too. Clean eating can help. Or whatever plan person decides to do – as long as it is healthy and balanced. What person understands “healthy and balanced” to be will impact their choice of what plan or influence they will follow and, ultimately, the results they get.  Whatever it is, it needs to be their choice. To succeed or to be an experience to learn from, for their own self-betterment.

As much as we say in business: “work harder on yourself than you work on your business”, the same rings true to a healthy lifestyle. Work harder on ourselves and our mindsets – our health and weight management results will follow as a consequence. As much as I have seen people giving up business and starting new ones and then giving up those to start something new completely again, unaware that the answer is in development of themselves and their own skills, not the business per se necessarily – same I see with clients changing diets. One minute they are juicing, then fasting, then focusing on fat, then exercising like crazy, etc… each time unaware that answers are in educating themselves and working on themselves and their underlying issues, so they can end up with a more balanced approach to a healthy, active lifestyle rather than going into extremes.

So, that is where it is wrong to claim that “clean eating can put you at the risk of eating disorders like ortorexia or binge eating”. Definition of ortorexia is “an unhealthy fixation with what the individual considers to be healthy eating.” It is parallel with anorexia. The problem is not in “clean eating” per se, but with the individual and his or her perception (of a diet or himself/herself?). Clients like that could easily get obsessed with any other form of dieting or even exercise, because the problem is not in the actual diet being followed, but in the individual itself who takes it to the extremes because of the underlying issues and conflict within themselves. 

When we are truly happy, we are almost, by default, (more) body positive too and inclined to choose health and overall “clean foods” as we have more respect for our bodies.

My only hope for anyone susceptible to sabotaging themselves through food – is that you will find your way. The same I wish for those addicted to drugs or alcohol or cigarettes or any other form of addiction. Because it is the presence of addiction itself that is the problem as well as its underlying reasons. Clean eating is marvelous, when done right, with the right mindset. So, seek the shift that is needed to happen so you can start making different choices that will create a whole different path to health, more balanced and one that will become part of your healthy lifestyle for long-term.

So, all of us in the profession of helping people – let’s please be responsible and kind towards those that we try to help and those that are looking up to us. Let’s not further confuse them (media does that already) or, even worse, do it for some personal agenda. Let’s educate, not label and avoid making irresponsible and bombastic statements! Let’s inspire and lift people up, give them power of knowledge without manipulation. Let’s instead create a dialogue and an education platform. Each of us has something to offer. Let’s remain part of the solution.

So much from me for now. If you wish to comment, please do so below. I would love to know what healthy means to you and what your health challenges are.

Please feel free to reach out.

Until then,

Yours in health,

Sanela

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