If you’ve been trying to lose weight and have been on a number of diets, like most people have, chances are you’ve probably heard of the phrase ‘eating clean’. Perhaps you have even tried it as a strategy to help you lose weight yourself.
Well, we’re here to tell you that clean eating isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, and that following this kind of eating plan is likely to do more harm than good.
Before we tell you why, it’s important to understand what clean eating means.
What does ‘eating clean’ mean?
In its simplest form, clean eating focuses on eating ‘whole’ or unprocessed foods. This is usually taken to mean eating only vegetables, fruits, whole grains, lean protein and healthy fats in the form of nuts, seeds and oils. Followers of clean eating tend to focus on eating these foods in their purest, ‘untainted’ form, instead of livening them up with other ingredients. For example, choosing steamed chicken and broccoli, instead of chicken and vegetable curry. Processed foods are avoided and include refined grains, snack foods, foods high in salt, sugar and fat, foods containing additives, colourings and preservatives, and anything that has an extensive ingredient list on its packaging.
On the surface, clean eating looks and seems like a legitimate and sensible way of eating. Afterall, most of our calorie intake comes from highly-processed foods, so from a weight-loss point of view, consuming fewer calories and focusing on eating more whole foods seems to make sense.
However, the clean eating movement is really just another fad diet that has the potential to wreak more havoc in your life, than you even imagine.
Why ‘clean eating’ is a problem
Promotes shame and embarrassment
The main issue with ‘clean eating’ is that it implies if you don’t eat ‘clean’, then you’re ‘dirty’, ‘lazy’ or ‘unhygienic’. Because if you’re not eating ‘clean’ then you must be eating the very opposite of clean.
While the initial focus of clean eating was about consuming whole, unprocessed, and therefore generally healthier foods, the psychological effects of clean eating are far from healthy. Clean eating has morphed from ‘healthy eating’ into a diet that shames food, and shames people for eating particular foods.
Many people who struggle with their weight already feel ashamed about themselves. This shame causes them to feel that there is something wrong with them and therefore unworthy of love and belonging. Diets in general are great at making people feel bad about themselves, but the clean eating diet not only shames people for what they weigh, but for what they eat. This is a double-whammy, which leads to increased levels of shame and lower feelings of self-worth, which influences your weight more than you realise. To understand how, be sure to read our blog How low self-worth affects your weight.
Perpetuates the diets and the diet mindset
The food shaming that the clean eating movement engages in only perpetuates the diets that we know don’t work. People following the clean eating principles focus on the food rules and restrictions, as a way to control their food and to feel good and worthy about themselves. The more they adhere to the rules, the better they feel about themselves. This in turn promotes the diet mindset which is one of the biggest blockages to losing weight long-term. To fully understand how it impacts you, read our blog Change your mindset to lose weight fast.
Excessive food rules can also cause you to strive to be perfect in your eating. As we have seen before, ‘perfect eating’ doesn’t help you lose weight. This is because the effort of being perfect creates so much stress in your body, that this outweighs any benefit found by ‘eating healthy foods’. Stress is a metabolic blocker which means that even if you eat and exercise ‘perfectly’ (whatever that may mean), you’ll find weight loss extremely difficult.
As well as increased stress levels, perfectionism impacts your weight in many ways. To understand how, read our blog Why you’re not losing weight despite being perfect.
Leads to binge eating and emotional eating
Despite its focus on eating ‘clean’ food, clean eating actually increases the chances of you eating food that isn’t on the ‘approved list of foods’ (i.e. highly processed foods high in calories, fat and sugar). That’s because food restriction causes your body to kick in physiological processes to stop you from starving. This causes an increase in your appetite along with cravings for certain foods — usually those high in calories. This eventually leads to binge eating (and we all know we never binge-eat a salad!). Then the guilt you feel about eating ‘off plan’ causes you to restrict food even further, which leads to more bingeing, or causes you to engage in emotional eating in order to try to comfort yourself. All of this extra eating contributes to increased levels of stress, and weight gain.
To understand how food restriction leads to binge and emotional eating, read our blog Why food restriction, food rules and diets are making you overweight.
Makes you anxious around food
Any restrictive food plan, including clean eating will cause you to feel anxious around food. When you believe that you have to follow a set of rules and avoid certain foods, you’ll be forever worrying about ‘getting it right’, and trying to stay in control of what you eat. The clean eating philosophy has taken over the lives of many people, to the point that they constantly read food labels, worry about what they can and can’t eat, and feel anxious, shame, fear and guilt around eating. For some people, this turns into an obsession with food, which takes over their entire life. Once again, this anxiety around food not only causes stress, but it makes your life miserable.
Promotes the idea of good and bad foods
Clean eating promotes the idea that some foods are better than others, and that if the food you eat isn’t ‘clean’, then it must be ‘unclean’. But unless you actually drop your donut on the ground, there is no such thing as ‘dirty food’. As we’ve seen in our blog What are good foods for weight loss and what are bad foods, there are no such thing as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ foods. There are simply foods that serve different purposes. The truth is that no food is bad for you, just as no food is ‘dirty’ — not even donuts! Make sure you read our blog to fully understand this concept.
Makes you feel miserable
Finally, following a clean eating plan, or any diet for that matter only makes you miserable. Being overweight is hard enough, but no one needs to take on the pressure of having to eat a certain way, and the baggage and food shaming that diets — especially clean eating — promote. To really understand how diets make you unhappy, read our blog How diets steal your health and happiness.
What should you do instead?
Of course, eating food that will nourish your body, help it work at optimal levels, and make you feel healthy and energetic is important, and obviously cutting back on the foods that are high in calories, fat and sugar will help you lose weight.
However, it’s important to have a healthy relationship with food, and to learn to eat all foods, without fear, guilt or anxiety. This approach will lead to greater weight loss results without the guilt and misery.
Instead of focusing on food rules you should:
- Focus on nutrition — The 14 best foods to lose weight and How to improve your nutrition to lose weight quickly will show you how to do this.
- Eat enough food — so you don’t experience the cravings to binge or emotionally eat. Read Help! I don’t eat much and I’m still not losing weight to understand this further.
- Stop trying to be perfect
- Allow yourself to eat your favourite foods — How to stay on track when eating out will show you how to do this without fear or guilt
- Stop dieting — Our blog Why diets don’t work will explain how dieting contributes to weight gain and what you should do instead.
- Focus on changing your habits — Our habits influence our weight more than food and exercise, so to change your weight, you must change your habits. To understand this further read our blogs Why weight loss is never about food or exercise and Nothing changes if nothing changes: How to lose weight for good.
Ditch the diets and enjoy all food
If you’ve been stuck in a cycle of dieting we know this is hard to break, especially if you’ve been taught that diets are the solution to weight problems, or if dieting is all you’ve ever known. But that’s why we’re different.
We can help you overcome the diets and fad eating plans that have taken over your life, so you can feel free around food and still have the body you’ve always dreamed of. That’s right, you can have your cake…and the body you want too.
Through our Diet Antidote Transformation System (DATS™️) — the Not-diet diet for people who are sick of diets and want more than a good body, we help you ditch the diets, the wellness programs and even the clean eating movement, and show you how eating for weight loss is simpler than you imagine.
Through our program we will give you specific, personalised action steps and provide you with the right amount of structure and accountability, to help you understand that all foods are meant to be enjoyed, and that all food serves an important purpose.
DATSTM will give you the knowledge, systems, tools and skills to help you deal with any situation, so you can keep moving forward and making progress, even on your worst days.
Our online and face-to-face Diet Antidote Transformation System is for those people who are ready to change. However, if you’re not ready to commit to our DATS program, get a head start with our entry-level myPersonalised eCoaching program, our state-of-the-art 6-week program designed to help you bridge the gap between diets, exercise and long-term results. Customised for you to reach your personal goals, build healthy habits around mindset, discipline, nutrition and exercise that stick, and transform your life. You get 12-months’ worth of content compressed into 6 weeks, complete with worksheets, personalised action steps and resources. You also have lifetime access so you can learn at your own pace, and revisit any lessons you need to.
Have you tried clean eating? Please tell us in the comments below.