Why Clean Eating is Dangerous
- August 23, 2017
- Last Updated: March 16, 2022
- 28 Comments
- Intuitive Eating
So, last night I wanted a quick dinner and after seeing a few inspirational dinner ideas on instagram, I came up with my own that turned out quite delicious. I boiled pasta and added butter and some spinach. And then I sauteed some tofu in a peanut sauce (basically with peanut butter, a little honey, worcestershire, soy sauce and lime juice, plus some water to thin it out), and added it to the pasta. I didn’t even take a picture but you guys…so good. In case you need an idea for tonight.
Otherwise, the week has flown by! I think the eclipse on Monday made for a weird afternoon/half day at work and now we’re just about halfway through the week. I’m just popping in today for a mini rant on the term “clean eating” after reading this article. This isn’t my first post about this topic. You can also see why I hate the term here.
When Clean Eating Becomes Dangerous
I think the term, “Clean Eating” started innocently enough, actually. It probably stemmed from people authentically wanting to be healthier, and understanding healthier food choices. And like anything, we can get so caught up in what is good and start to think that more is better.
I don’t know what it is about the term that irk’s me so much, but I think it’s a guilt ridden food. Once you start eating “clean,” it’s easy to only want to eat “clean” things. And then you’re going down a rabbit hole of labeling foods as good or bad. My point through this post is that food is food; it doesn’t need to be labeled as clean versus dirty or unhealthy. It’s nourishing to your body either way.
Like anything, obsessions can become dangerous. I have so many clients who have gone the “clean eating” route because that’s what people tell you it takes to be healthy. But, what they don’t tell you is the other myriad of problems it can lead to. This obsession with only eating clean, unprocessed, “healthy” foods, has now fueled our culture with orthorexia, overexercise, undereating, amenorrhea and more.
It’s become more of a belief system, and developed a sort of “food police” in many of our minds. But in reality, we’re the only ones policing ourselves.
You have people (some who are credentialed influencers, others who are just people you may know) telling you to cut “x” out of your diet to feel better. And they may speak from experience, as if that is the only way. Get rid of dairy, gluten, sugar, you name it, we’ve probably vilified it in the health world. You may have tried some of these things and felt miserable doing it. Or, you may have tried this and it’s helped with symptoms. I totally get that some people can’t handle or digest all foods, and those aren’t the people I’m talking about. Moreso, the people who take foods out of their diet for no reason because they have vilified it (or someone else has vilified it for them) for some reason.
You don’t need to follow any food rules.
Actually, there are no rules with food – foods are inherently judge-less and come without guidelines and restrictions surrounding them. People just choose to give them rules.
Food is just food, and no matter what you eat, it will nourish you in some way or another. Like those brownies? Yeah, they’re made with oil (fat our body needs), eggs (protein for our muscles) and flour (carbohydrates, for energy for us to live). Don’t let society psych you out about what food really is. And processed foods? They’re not inherently bad. As a matter of fact, I eat quite a few of them daily, depending on your definition of processing. The point is, if you’re eating a few here and there because that’s what happens in life, you can move on with your life and not feel bad about it.
When you lose the idea of food flexibility, or ban foods that don’t fit in your boxed idea of healthy, you’re not following healthy standards. You’ve given up your control to someone else’s rules or thoughts.
It makes eating for fun non-existent.
Food rules makes eating socially difficult. They set nearly impossible expectations for choosing meals based on how you’re feeling in the moment. Rules fuel shame when you cross the lines or choose something outside of your norm.
We avoid gluten because we think it’s inherently bad. Actually, it’s only harmful for a small amount of the population.
We ban coconut oil completely based on certain claims that make it seem like an all or nothing food.
We’ll try to cleanse and detox our systems because non-certified “nutritionists” or others tell us to – they say it’s worked for them.
We drink juices, or chew gum, to starve off our physiological hunger. The sign from our body that we’re low on fuel and need to refuel. This is a sign that we we want to trust and respect, not ignore.
Isn’t it crazy to think about examples of all the different rules out there? All of these are examples of extreme eating. None of them represent the answer.
The answer is finding that flexibility for yourself and your lifestyle. What would that look like? What DOES it look like?
I challenge you to throw one food rule out the window this week that you’ve been holding onto. It may be that you can’t eat after 8pm, you need exactly four 1-cup servings of veggies/day, or you have to exercise for 45 minutes every day. Try letting go and see how it feels. Defying the food police and giving yourself unconditional permission, as we know it in Intuitive Eating, is so freeing.
The bottom line is that strict eating and dieting is not sustainable nor natural. You’re setting yourself up for failure. Because you are human, and you’re going to want a piece of cake or some ice cream at some point. And that’s okay. Heck, that’s normal and part of life’s enjoyment.
But, the internal system of shame, guilt and fear that these food rules evoke just aren’t worth it. If you’re struggling on your Intuitive Eating journey, let me help.
Because most of all, it’s not fun.
What are some of the food rules you’ve heard or you’re trying to conquer? Let’s help each other!
What do you think about street food? Should one consume street food on regular basis to keep checking his/her strength to overcome any disorders/illness?
Yes yes yessss I couldn’t agree with you more on this! I am a big believer in moderation – both for physical and mental health! Too many times “clean eating” turns into a bigger issue like orthorexia- or just being a food bully to everyone around you!
I feel that way about any extreme mentality!
I just watched “What the Health” the other day and couldn’t believe how one sided it was. And I can’t believe people are actually going Vegan just because of that documentary, people believe everything they see and read. I am a firm believer in everything in moderation and eating to feel good!
Arh that documentary made me so mad! It’s very one sided, and provokes alot of fear!
I’m thankful for you talking about this Sarah; for a long time I was really tied to ‘clean eating’ and ‘eating healthy’ but it wasn’t actually mentally healthy. I loved what you said about food being ‘judge-less.’ We just often add more meaning or judgment to it than we need to.
Yes, I love using that analogy with my clients – learning to see food as neutral and judgeless is a great mental activity.
Hi – I’m enjoying your blog. You have a different perspective/opinion from my own (at least in terms of nutrition and eating habits) and I enjoy reading other views. I am curious on meal-prep with respect to intuitive eating. What do you suggest for your people who bring their lunch to work every day? If you don’t know what you’ll be craving that day, how is that inline with intuitive eating? Maybe this is explained somewhere in some book on this topic so I apologize if it is obvious!
Hi Amanda! Thanks for your comment. Intuitive eating really includes multiple pillars – instinct, emotion and rational thinking. To answer your question, I think sometimes food is just food – it doesn’t always have to be exactly what we’re craving, or extravagant or taste amazing every time. Sometimes I pack my lunch and it may not be what I’m feeling but I eat it anyway. On the other hand, though, sometimes if it’s not what I want, I’ll go out and get what I want. It’s really finding that balance, but giving yourself permission to have that balance. We all have a certain food budget, so if going out and buying something doesn’t fit into your budget, then that’s using the rational part of your brain for intuitive eating and letting the food you packed nourish you. We say the same for people who say “I’m not hungry, I shouldn’t eat.” Well, if you won’t be eating for 4 more hours because you’ll be caught up in meetings, then yes, you should let your rational brain override the instinctual brain so you can nourish and take care of yourself. I hope that makes sense!
Your reply is clear, Sarah. Thanks for taking the time!
I used to be one of those people. My motto was actually “You can eat what has a mom or grows from the ground.” I’m not sure where I first heard that phrase, but it really stuck with me and it really did become sort of a “belief system” for me. Many other people looked up to me and my so-called willpower with food, but really, it was very disordered. The secret to my willpower? An eating disorder! I am so glad I’ve finally seen the light and my life has been so much better since. Thanks for this post!
I think willpower is a tricky word for that very reason – I try not to associate that word in my one on one client sessions because it’s easy to feel like a lack of willpower is a reason for “failure”- FALSE! I’m so glad that you have learned about what works for you.
yes girl!! this is EVERYTHING. I am so glad you are putting this message out to the world. People need to read this
Thanks so much, Alyssa!
I love this! Thanks for sharing.
Thanks for reading, Emily 🙂
YES!! Totally love this post. Food rules are all around us and it’s so easy to let them influence your eating, whether you actually realize it or not. I originally took dairy and gluten out of my diet because I truly struggled with serious headaches and fatigue in middle school. Blessedly, my symptoms began to subside. I’ve felt especially great in the past year, so I’ve been trying to reintroduce dairy and gluten with the hope that my body has healed itself enough to feel just as good while eating moderate amounts of these foods for the sake of normalcy and making life easier. So far, dairy has gone pretty well. When I was on vacation, I was struck by the fact that I could have ice cream that had Butterfingers pieces in it. I hadn’t had regular candy in SO long. But, I’m so happy to say I didn’t let that fact phase me. It was really delicious and I’m so glad I got to enjoy it. With being able to eat dairy again, I’m already so excited about the doors it’s opened for randomly going out to eat with friends or just enjoying regular food at parties. I think food spontaneity (and intuitiveness) is SO important for maintain a balanced approach to health and fighting off thoughts of food rules.
I’m so happy that the reintroduction has gone so well for you, Meah! I think mindset can very much help with physical symptoms too!
What is so fascinating (and sad) is that, as the obsession with orthorexia, diets and “clean eating,” has grown and grown…. so has the societal rise in anxiety, depression and – ironically – obesity.
I understand the need for rules. I understand the desire to have guidelines, and have someone just TELL you “what to do.” That hope that this sense of control will be the cure to all your woes and “make everything better.” I so get it and understand why still so many people are flocking to any sort of clean eating regime that will make them feel in control. Unfortunately it takes a lot of learning to understand that this does. not. work. In fact, it only back fires. Stressing over what we eat is actually causes MORE health problems than the actual food itself. I wish I saw this years ago before I got into the clean eating trap. I’m out of it now, thank goodness, but I still see the pull. And its a mean one to get out of.
I have like ten posts I could write right now based on all of this, haha. Thanks for being a constant shining example for us all to follow.
Great point of view, Cora. You’re right – people like some guidelines with the easy way out. Unfortunately, life is about making our own choices and learning (sometimes the hard way). I would love to read your posts – keep the words flowing!
I’m trying to limit the amount of added sugar I eat! I eat a peanut butter sandwich every day for lunch at work and I realized that it’s a lot of extra sugar I’m putting into my body that isn’t necessary. I would rather eat added sugar in the form of ice cream or another delicious dessert.
I also want to get better with intuitive eating so I’m trying to do that.
There are peanut butters made with only peanuts and salt that would decrease some of the added sugars. Intuitive eating definitely takes time, and a willingness to be curious and open to a new mindset. Let me know if you have any questions! 🙂
Nice approach to “clean eating.” It’s been a long time since I have started thinking about my eating habits. I never thought that clean eating can sometimes become dangerous.
It crosses into dangerous when it’s the only thing people think about and concentrate on – there should be room for some fun foods without feeling guilt.
I LOVE your intuitive eating posts. I love how you tell BOTH sides of the story. Love that you brought up the coconut oil thing. Love these posts, sharing with the world!
Thanks so much Kelli 🙂
Thank you for this reminder. I’m trying to get better at listening to my hunger cues instead of the clock!
It takes a little bit of time, but it’s totally worth it 🙂