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Why I Hate The Term "Clean Eating"

Good morning!

Did you catch me on Instagram last night? I met Shalane Flanagan and Elyse Kopecky and got their New York Times Best Selling Cookbook, Run Fast Eat Slow. I’ve been scrolling through the book and I’m already SO EXCITED to make tons of their recipes – a sweet potato lasagna, superhero muffins, beet smoothies, berry crumble, teff cookies…so much yumminess ahead. It was also inspiring to hear about their backgrounds and how they came about to write Run Fast, Eat Slow. 

Run Fast Eat Slow


So, today’s post is a little bit different. I’m focusing on the term “clean eating,” and why I pretty much despise those words together.

"clean eating" , why i hate clean eating, pizza

clean eating, nutrition

What is clean eating?

What does “clean” mean anyway? It’s almost like one of those cult words, like IIFYM (if it fits your macros), but still people will have their own definition. Some may say it’s all vegan, or paleo, or no added sugars, or nothing processed. The reality is that there is no such thing. It’s a subjective term.

What I show on Bucket List Tummy is a real representation of my life. Those who know me well know that I have a super sweet tooth, and I will go out of my way to try something new. I eat balanced most of the time, but I also eat ice cream and cookies and cake. I eat plant-based when I want to, but I also eat meat when I’m craving it. And I’ll definitely dig in to french fries, nachos or wings if I’m at a sports bar or watching football.

[Tweet “You can eat french fries, cookies, cake and ice cream and still be healthy. Read why!”]

I go through greek yogurt like it’s my job. I drink beer, wine and I’m a huge craft cocktail lover. To me, eating all of those things is balance and healthy. I don’t know healthy any other way.  I still feel pretty good the majority of the time, yet my diet may not be what some call “clean.”


clean eating, ice cream

The dangers of clean eating

Let me tell you where I can see “clean eating” going. You’re trying your best to eat clean, and avoid any of the “off limits” foods. You do so well for the first few days, but all you can think about are those cookies at home, or the french fries you want to order out at dinner. And then, you finally “give in,” because you can’t stop thinking about them. But when you give in, you go all in, rather than stopping when you’re full. And then you disappoint yourself for not sticking to “clean” foods, and then you decide to try again the following day. This cycle is likely to keep happening because when we tell ourselves that certain foods are off limits, we want them more. It’s totally normal.

"clean eating" , why i hate clean eating, pizza

We have a high standard as RDs. Yes, we are trained in how the body works, how foods are digested, and why certain foods are linked to chronic disease, while others may decrease risk. But, just because we have this education and credential doesn’t mean we are perfect or clean eaters. We’re humans! We struggle with many of the same things as the normal population, with weight changes, body image issues, hormone fluctuations, lack of time to meal plan and cook all our meals, etc. Sometimes I don’t have an answer to client questions because I struggle with some of the same issues.

I want you guys to know that I’m all about being real. Life happens. I eat out. I drink too much wine when I have to be up early sometimes. Sometimes I eat carbs and only carbs for dinner, with no protein to slow my blood sugar spike. Sometimes I snack my way through a meal, or forget my veggies. These things aren’t worth stressing about day to day. Health is not dependent on our daily activities, it’s the snapshot over time. Our overall habits, feelings and choices.

[Tweet “One meal or one day of eating does not determine your health!”]
"clean eating" , why i hate clean eating, pizza

Will some people disagree with my philosophy? Sure!

Nutrition is very controversial and ever evolving. And then there are also self-proclaimed people (without credentials, mind you) selling diet books and drinks and meal plans, with their own opinions. Do I have to put my RD hat on when I talk to clients? Absolutely. Some people just don’t know why they have diabetes, or high blood pressure, or how to eat with PCOS, and that’s what I love talking about and teaching. I’m trained on that.

clean eating, salad

But I’m not trained in eating perfectly, or clean. Just like each person is so different, each practitioner has his/her own style as well. I can’t preach to my clients what I don’t believe. And I don’t believe in clean eating.

We make so many food choices throughout the day that having to analyze and scrutinize each thing entering our bodies is exhausting! Think about how much brain power that takes. It’s much easier to just eat what you’re craving at that moment and nourish your body. Health is so much more than just the food we put into our bodies.

[Tweet “Health is so much more than the food we put into our bodies… Read why!”]

I’m just asking you not to freak out over clean eating, or lack thereof. You are WAY more than that, and so is your health!

Thanks Amanda, for hosting Thinking Out Loud!

No questions today. Would love to hear your thoughts!

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  1. Yes!! This is something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. I am realizing that by keeping this “clean eating” mindset, I end up feeling guilty all the time for eating “bad” food and I end up craving those foods more! I’m starting to let myself enjoy the foods I love in moderation. When I am craving pizza, I get it and don’t feel guilty because most nights I eat healthy dinners.

  2. Absolutely love this! I think “healthy eating” is better than “clean eating.” When you’re eating healthfully, there’s room for sweets, treats and processed foods. Feeing your soul is just as important as feeding your body!

    1. I think healthy can still be somewhat subjective, but I agree with you that it certainly includes sweets, processed foods and all the likes. Just finding peace with your choices, too!

  3. I have to agree with you on this! “Clean eating” is just another one of those things people get obsessive about – and one of the biggest reasons why orthorexia has become so much more common! If you label food as “good” or “bad”, “clean” or “unclean”, you’re not looking at it with a healthy balanced mentality.

  4. So much YES to this post! Outside of the super specific labels like gluten-free, vegan, nut-free, dairy-free, etc. that I use to categorize recipe for my blog, I really don’t like attaching any labels to my food… especially with something like ‘clean eating’ where no one really knows what it means. I’ve had people tell me they think clean eating means low calorie, or low fat, or no processed foods.. and while I agree that, yeah, it’s important to have a general idea of what we’re putting in our bodies, stressing about it too much is way worse for us in the long run than having those not-so-“clean” foods. Nothing is off-limits in my head because, like you said, that just makes you crave those “forbidden” foods even more and leads to a seriously unhealthy relationship with food.

    1. The tough thing is that we all have different opinions and representations, and sometimes they can be so binding that we don’t want to color outside the lines. I’m so glad that nothing is off limits. Your recipes are some of my favorites!

  5. Great post and I couldn’t agree more! I hate it when I hear the term clean eating though people will say that to me expecting kudos or a medal or something and are surprised when I tell them it isn’t a term I use or believe in and why. Bravo!

  6. This is an absolutely wonderful post. You said it all perfectly. I hope when I graduate I can join the voices of Nutritionists and Dietitians preaching this message.

  7. I am so happy that you posted this because I think it’s really important. Everything is about balance – in fact I just had pizza for lunch and am very pleased with this choice!


  8. I absolutely adore this post! You’re right–I don’t find “clean eating” to be a particularly meaningful term. Definitely more useful/healthy than dieting, but still really problematic. We are all human, even dietitians, and we should not let guilt motivate how we eat. We should let joy motivate what we eat instead–including, but not limited to, the joy of taking care of our bodies and eating more traditionally healthy foods.

  9. I don’t mind the term clean eating, but then again I don’t have issues restricting myself around food. And of course that’s something I learned! I’m more about intuitive eating, but it doesn’t hurt to keep in mind a daily focus on choosing healthy foods (“clean”) and then deeply enjoy my cookie.

  10. I agree that it is such a loaded term and everyone has there own ideas about it. For me clean eating is more about 80/20. Eating healthy, whole foods 80% of the time and the other 20% of eating foods that make you happy. I also think as a whole society is moving away from highly processed foods like we ate in the 90s and 00s which is a beautiful thing. Great thoughts today! Thanks for sharing.

  11. Such a great message. I’m really tired of hearing the term “clean eating”. We all just do the best we can. I need to know where you got those donuts from, they looked sooo good! Meanwhile I’m trying to fight the temptation of all my leftover Halloween candy!

  12. I try to keep my food choices “whole” but real life only allows me to do that 80% of the time…like you said, we are all human and denying that really messes up your relationship with food!

  13. I hate the term too. It just oozes judgment. Plus, it’s so arbitrary. Unless you grow your own food, almost everything you eat is “processed” to some extent.

  14. Yesssss I kind of hate any kind of labeled eating. Clean eating is one of the worst offenders. I think it’s so important that RDs model balance, especially if they have a social media presence. Thank you!

  15. I love this post! I def struggle sometimes, but everyone does, just like you said! I try to keep it pretty healthy most of the time, but when I want something, I eat it. It is all about balance and stressing too much about food is not going to be very good on your health. It is definitely a work in progress for me though.

  16. I can just like HUG you for writing this post; I totally feel a sense of food freedom whenever I read your posts. You enjoy EVERYTHING in moderation, and your laid back attitude about food really really speaks to me as someone who has struggled with food restriction. This is such a blessing Sarah. Thank you! <3