Clean Eating Sucks

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clean eating sucksThe term clean eating makes me cringe. At first it makes you feel superior while you reach for a virtual pat on the back. “Wow, you eat clean all of the time? You’re so good!” After the thrill wears off, you’re left feeling judged followed by shame.

Why is Clean Eating so Seductive?

Perfectly posed, flawless photos of barely clothed self-proclaimed fitness gurus have taken over instagram. They lift, jump around and tells about their meals of fish, chicken, broccoli, and sweet potatoes. No words are necessary. Their social media accounts scream “you could look like this too if you stay disciplined and eat what I eat!” It’s sales 101. Who wouldn’t want to be part of this exclusive group? The clean eating community provides more than just a sense of identification. It also gives people a little boost. Hey, what I’m doing is better than what you are doing. Clean eating seduces people with community, a common bond and a feeling of control. In a world where so many things are out of our control, we often reach for something, anything, we can control to decrease our anxiety.

What’s Wrong with Getting Sucked into Clean Eating?

“I eat clean most of the time,” an athlete recently told me, his sentence trailing off in volume as his eyes looked downward in shame. “But, sometimes I eat wings, fries and a few beers with the other guys,” he confessed, as he glanced up waiting for his penance. One small step away from the rigid rules of clean eating and you’ll feel like a failure. Any deviation can lead to a landslide – bingeing on forbidden foods. The authors of Intuitive Eating call this the What the Hell effect. The moment a forbidden food is eaten, overeating takes place.

How are these people in shape? For some it’s a cycle of diet, extreme exercise and bingeing. I bet more than 90% of the women and 70% of the men don’t feel great about their body (1, 2). They are fishing in the vast social media ocean for likes and positive comments. Many also engage in disordered eating and exercise (over exercising, using cleanses, laxatives, diuretics or fat burners, dietary restriction etc.).

How Can You Loosen Your Grip on Cleaning Eating?

Last week I ate lunch with one of the baseball players. He had a few cookies on his plate. One of our new players (who hasn’t figured out yet that I’m not the food police) came in and said “are those cookies good for your body?” His response was classic, “they’re good for the soul,” he said with a warm smile as we continued our conversation.

Instead of trying to “eat clean,” consider eating healthy foods most of the time while eating “play” foods, foods that are good for your soul, when you want them. Allow yourself flexibility with eating. People who allow themselves some food flexibility are less dissatisfied with their bodies and weigh less than those who don’t. Don’t judge yourself and never allow others to judge you based on what you are eating.

Eat the real thing. If you are craving a freshly baked gooey chocolate chip cookie, have one. Don’t try to get by with a low fat kale cookie made with cocoa powder (unless of course you’ve found one that is delicious). Eat what you are truly craving. If your anxiety hits the ceiling as you worry about your weight, remember it’s one cookie or a few cookies. Another gem from Intuitive Eating:

If you get pleasure and satisfaction in eating you won’t eat as much.

If you have issues with the scale, set it aside (the attic is a good place) and focus on how you feel. There are foods that may taste good in the moment but if you have too many of them, you might not feel as good. Let feeling help drive your food choices.

Moving Away from Judgement and Shame

I have probably tagged some posts on Instagram with #cleaneating. After all, I’m in the business of selling better performance, in sport and in life. I want to reach as many people as possible. But, I don’t want you suckered into a life filled with strict rules, judgment and shame. You also don’t need to live unto to someone else’s standards of an “ideal body.” Doing this will compound negative feelings about your body. Any time you feel a little down remember what your body has done and can do for you. It’s time to look past those finger pointing, clean eating photos and, like Hilary Duff (below) tell them to #kissmyass.

1 Eur Eat Disord Rev 2013;21(1):52-59. 

2 Research on Males and Eating Disorders

5 thoughts on “Clean Eating Sucks”

  1. Once again another amazing post by Marie Spano . Definitely one of the best in the industry . Thank you for all of your efforts Marie .

  2. This is a topic I’ve seen get more attention lately, and I think that’s a good thing. Clean Eating is so ambiguous, and it gives a negative impression for any food that doesn’t fit that mold. I honestly think it does more harm than good to use that term. Thanks for posting, I shared this over on twitter

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