Last week I took a vacation to the Gulf Coast of Florida. I had a glass of wine with every dinner, a two-scoop ice cream cone one afternoon, and on the last night out I ate every single bite of a big ol’ plate of fried seafood and french fries. And for all of this, the clean eating gurus of the world would call me a failure. And if I believed their hype, I would think I had failed at clean eating too.
In fact, I’ve been “failing” at clean eating for a long time now. But here’s the thing: I’m totally okay with that because it isn’t really a failure at all. It’s freedom.
I failed at clean eating, and here’s why I think you should too.
The term “clean eating” is literally meaningless.
For as much as some people preach the clean eating philosophy, there is actually no standard definition. For some people, clean eating means avoiding all processed foods (whatever that really means), and for others, it means avoiding all refined sugar, dairy, and gluten. How can anyone know if clean eating is really good for you if no one can even come up with a common definition for what it is? They can’t. And there’s no science to back up clean eating either.
Clean eating is just another diet disguised as something supposedly more healthy.
Many clean eaters like to think they’re not dieting because they’re not necessarily eating for weight loss. Rather, they’re limiting themselves to certain foods or food groups so that their bodies can be healthy, clean and pure. You can call it whatever you want, but any eating plan that restricts specific foods or food groups (unless as directed by a doctor to treat a medical condition) is a diet. In fact, a “clean” diet can become so restrictive that rather than making the person more healthy, it ironically has very real negative impacts on their health and well-being. This extreme, unhealthy obsession with healthy eating even has a name – orthorexia – and is now a diagnosable eating disorder.
The term clean implies that some foods are dirty.
If you really think about it, this makes absolutely no sense. Certain TV doctors and healthy living bloggers would have you believe that many common foods contain horrible toxins that will ruin our bodies, but this simply isn’t true. Our bodies are so much stronger and smarter than you think! Your liver and kidneys work tirelessly for you every day to filter out anything potentially harmful, and they do a darn good job at it. Foods are not either clean or dirty, and saying they are is just a scare tactic. Don’t buy it.
Food is meant to be enjoyed.
As with any diet, clean eating often prevents you from eating foods that you love. This is a problem because enjoyment of food is essential to feeling full and satisfied after a meal. Furthermore, savoring foods we love in moderation helps us to avoid bingeing on them later. While it should be no surprise that you will feel best if you eat a varied diet containing lots of nutrient-rich foods like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, satisfying your cravings for other less “healthy” foods is just as important for your well-being.
Contrary to popular belief, people who eat clean are not any healthier than the rest of us.
The unnecessary dietary restriction often associated with clean eating can lead to nutrient deficits, social isolation, and increased stress and anxiety around food choices. Stress can have devastating impacts on your physical and mental health, so you are much better off choosing a more balanced dietary approach and less stress. For a truly healthy lifestyle, consider a more balanced eating pattern combined with regular physical activity, adequate sleep, and quality time with family and friends.
The bottom line is this: There are many, many ways to live a healthy lifestyle, but food restriction definitely isn’t one of them. When we choose to “fail” at clean eating, we give ourselves the freedom to enjoy the foods we love. Yes, our bodies need lots of fruits and vegetables, but they also need the occasional sweet treat or bowl of comfort food, too. Moderation might not be as sexy as clean eating, but at the end of the day, it’s what works! Choose balance over perfection, and your body, mind, and soul will thank you for it.