What is clean eating?
Really... what is a clean food!? A word that is used in a domestic or hygienic context has now been used to dub food as either good or bad, edible or avoidable. Seems silly, doesn't it? Not to mention the grey area that it leaves for questions surrounding what actually is okay to eat when following these guidelines. If you ask a number of people who consider themselves as clean eaters what clean eating is they'll likely throw different answers, beliefs and perspectives without a definitive answer to give. A lot of answers will include definitions of nothing processed, low sugar, low GI and very 'caveman' style. So as you can see there's confusion and inconsistencies which has made this practice of eating not only confusing to abide by but given rise to inconsistent eating too. The more questions you ask surrounding 'what it is' the more the practice struggles to set a universal standard. If you eat a big chocolate sundae with a full bananas and berries, ice cream, whipped cream and candied peanuts what will your body do? Will it send the fruit somewhere else to the icecream? How does it know that you're having a piece of fruit?
So in the long line of questioning clean eaters are usually left with a narrow and small list of foods that are acceptable and list longer than your arm as to what is not.
Our Equalution client Leah, down 10kgs and a complete change in body composition! This was achieved through a science-based and flexible diet allowing her to enjoy her favourite foods daily including chocolate and ice cream, among lean meats and vegetables.
To add to an airy-fairy definition that leaves confusion and questions each time food needs to be decided upon, there are a number of other flaws of clean eating that makes it ineffective in a lot of cases:
1. It doesn't consider the individual's intake needs: Whether clean eating, Atkins, Paleo, Primal, Dukan, keto or any other diet that categorises food as good or bad, they do not involve tracking your intake or eating to a specific intake calculation of the individual. Instead, the approach is taken as to whether or not the food should be consumed on whether it's ‘clean’ or not basis which is problematic seeing as each person has an optimal intake at different stages of their body transformation.
2. It doesn't consider the end goal: In light of the above if you want to lose weight you need to be eating less than expenditure, if trying to gain weight you need to eat more than you’re burning. Without awareness or consciousness of the numeric requirements of these goals and instead of eating on a yes/no, clean/unclean basis it’s uncertain and unlikely that these goals will be achieved. If clean eating according to a micronutrient intake daily, then the flaw then is that there will be blow out days or uncontrolled binges whereby the daily average of this number will be significantly increased, affecting the achievement of the goal.
3. It doesn't consider the individual's lifestyle: The main reason people fail when dieting in both adhering and seeing physical results is a lack of consistency. This inconsistency comes through unenjoyment or feeling that a diet is simply too hard in real-life situations and day to day living. Clean eating tends to fall in these traps. With the extensive preparations of food given that a lot of dine-out options aren’t allowed for, together with the anxieties associated with social situations, the practice places a lot of lifestyle restrictions, making it short-lived and unsustainable.
4. It doesn't consider food preference: Foods are not consumed on the basis of preferences and likes, they are consumed given fulfilling the criteria of being classified as ‘clean’. This usually means that the ‘real wants’ are deprived of or forgone.
5. It doesn't consider the long run: Whether from a strategy perspective or realistically thinking about how long eating in this manner can be adhered to, clean eating in both contexts isn’t a long haul approach. Firstly, very rarely will there be a consideration of manipulating the intake strategy over time for optimum results as most are not eating to an intake requirement but rather on a good/bad food basis. For that reason, progressively decreasing caloric intake and/or reverse dieting isn’t considered. Secondly, clean eating as a practice of discriminating foods is a very immediate way of thinking. It doesn’t take into account sustainability, how long can you really go on like that? Will you pass up cake at every birthday event? Will you never eat again at a girls chip and dip night? Will you always eat separately to your family?
6. It doesn’t consider the relationship with food: Restriction of foods and food groups can lead to a negative relationship with food through forbidden foods you would actually love to enjoy, having a false stigma surrounding food, fearing it, or yo-yoing through restriction and binging. In most cases, no matter the duration of success with self-discipline, the time always comes where there’s a snapping moment or a ‘well-deserved cheat meal’ that in the case of clean eaters usually includes nil control. Clean eating is merely a bandaid for these underlying issues as it doesn’t facilitate balance and flexibility.
The issue with focusing on quality VS quantity
The issue of quality vs quantity in the context of clean eating basically boils down to looking at a food and saying 'yes' this is good and consuming it without consideration of calorie content or the food in the context of what else has been consumed that day. Eating food because it's 'healthy' doesn't defy the laws of thermodynamics in that if you've consumed more calories than you're expending for the day NO MATTER IF THE FOODS ARE HEALTHY you WILL still put on weight. With a lot of foods that are considered 'clean' very calorie-dense such as:
- Protein balls
- Brown Rice
- Coconut Yogurts
- Raw slices and treats
- Chia seeds and other seeds
While one of these foods won’t directly lead to weight gain, a diet that is comprised of a collection of these foods in the wrong quantities can quite easily put you in a calorie surplus. Consider the below diet for an early 20’s female who works a desk job during the day and trains about 4 times per week. :et’s say she has an average daily expenditure of 1800 calories:
Meal 1: Smoothie
½ Cup Oats
1x Scoop Pea Protein Powder
1x TBSP Almond Butter
Unsweetened Almond Milk
1x Can of Tuna
½ Cup Brown Rice
Meal 3: Salad
Grilled Chicken Breast
1x Homemade Protein Ball
Total calories: 2300
So while there’s not an artificial ingredient in sight, unrefined, unprocessed carbohydrate sources and all ‘clean’ foods.. It totals 2300, which is why clean eating is so hit and miss. For many females this is well in excess to their fat loss intake requirements to put them in a deficit and for many would be a surplus. Add a cheat meal in there on a weekly basis and the surplus each week could average out to a progressive weight gain weekly.
Energy balance - not the food source itself determines weight changes therefore examining the calorie content of meals and foods in and out of the context of the diet itself is vital. Remember: All food has calories!
Eat to preference adhering to an 80/20 rule, NEVER neglect the science
We always advise an 80/20 approach when it comes to balance in your diet. Flexible dieting in its optimum practice follows an 80/20 rule; 80% wholesome and nutritious food and 20% fun and flexibility. In conclusion, eat what you want. Of course its human nature that naturally some days will be better than others but the underlying gain of following an 80/20 approach is that for the most part you will be satisfying your body with its requirements for optimum functionality as well as satisfying your mind with food for your soul that will allow for long term sustainability and a healthy relationship with food. The body doesn’t recognise food as good or bad, it recognises it for its macronutrient value - i.e proteins, fats and carbs.
If you want chicken eat chicken, if you want an ice-cream eat an ice-cream, if you want a superfood bowl eat the superfood bowl but remember these few things:
1. There is no ‘GOOD’ or ‘BAD’ foods
2. All food has calories and a content of protein, fat and carbs that shouldn’t be neglected
3. Each body has an ideal energy intake for reaching a goal and not every individual is the same
4. You can gain weight off too much ice-cream but you can also gain weight off too much chicken and broccoli just the same
5. Let each meal you have make you happy, fit in with your lifestyle and be scientifically fitting within your goals for optimum results.
Clean up your mentality towards food and get the results you deserve with your own balanced nutrition plan reflective of your preferences, contact Equalution today.
Yours in Health & Fitness,
The Equalution Team