In Defense of Clean Eating | Katie Proctor

“Clean eating” is getting a bad rap these days. 

I believe this is because the term has been distorted beyond its original intent. During my dietetic internship in 2009, I decided to embark on a “clean eating” challenge with one of my good friends and classmates. In doing so, we used different parameters to guide our food choices, especially at the store. For the first time, we started reading the labels more intently for unidentifiable ingredients. We made sure our pasta was 100% whole grain and that our tomato sauce didn’t have a bunch of additives or excess sugar in it.

You might think it odd that this was a shift in mindset for two future dietitians.

But the truth is “healthy” eating recommendations looked a whole lot different 10-15 years ago. It was all about low-fat, fat-free or low-calorie. Or counting Weight Watchers “points” with little regard to what you ate and only how much you ate. Ham and Cheese Hot Pocket? Why not! I’ll just log it and eat less at dinner.

Because all foods fit. Because everything in moderation, right?

I honestly can’t sit here with all my training in nutrition and agree with that. 

Browse supermarket shelves and half of what you’ll find hardly resembles “food”. It’s more a combination of ingredients engineered to make you crave it and buy more of it. And knowing that not everyone has time to cook 100% of their meals from scratch {myself included} or avoid anything in a package {because there are actually good options out there}, shouldn’t we have some way to help them figure out which options might be better choices and why?

And this is why I believe in clean eating. Because if we don’t have standards, then we don’t stand for anything. 

For those of us who live and breathe food and nutrition every single day, it’s easy to forget that not everyone has the same knowledge we do. I’m reminded of this every time I talk with one of my coaching clients.

And I always encourage them to choose whole foods first, or packaged ones with minimal and recognizable ingredients. And here’s the key: when they can. There are no absolutes.

That’s what clean eating means to me.

When “clean eating” gets out of control is when it gets twisted and is used as a justification for elimination:
To the point of obsession.
To the point you follow more food rules than you do your intuition and your hunger cues.
To the point it causes social anxiety, especially in the presence of food.
To the point where it becomes about control.
To the point where you judge the food choices of others.
To the point of eliminating entire food groups “just because”.

I recognize it’s a slippery slope for some people. But I’m not going to stop using the term, because I wholeheartedly believe we need a base of comparison.

My goal is to empower others to ditch the diets without using it as an excuse to eat junk. And while there may not be a “standard” definition of clean eating, it can be used as an umbrella term to identify foods that are doing more good than harm.

Recipes made with whole food ingredients are so much more satisfying. I’ll take a homemade cinnamon roll over one you pop out of a can any day!