In the past, I have had the pleasure of being part of an expert panel for The Rooted Project. Here we discussed some hot nutrition topics in front of 150+ audience members. The hosts had sent us ideas for questions in advance, all of which were really relevant to today’s society and the trends and fads that we see about nutrition in the media.
One of those hot topics was the idea of ‘clean eating’ which is still being talked about constantly and has had some bad publicity from the science community. Nevertheless, it’s still a really popular topic and one of the most shared foodie hashtags on instagram too.
So let’s start positively, what’s right with ‘clean eating’?
Well, for me, anything that encourages the public to think about their food and pay attention to their nutrition and health status is a good thing. So encouraging people to eat more home cooked meals, include more veggies in their daily diet and to try new foods is certainly a plus.
Recently ‘health’ seems to have come onto many peoples’ agenda and I for one am really pleased to see this happening. However, the WAY in which we think about or try to improve our health is also important.
So what’s the problem with ‘clean eating’?
The problem comes mainly from the title. Firstly – what does clean eating mean, as it seems to mean completely different things to different people; Vegan? Raw food diets? Avoidance of processed foods? Home-cooked only? Fresh ingredients? Who knows, the definition is up for grabs and depends largely on an individuals’ interpretation of what ‘clean’ really means.
Additionally, clean eating suggests that other ways of eating are ‘bad’ or ‘dirty’. This definitely isn’t the message that Public Health Nutritionists, as well as dietitians have been trying to get across about our food. It’s actually not very helpful to make people think that some foods are ‘bad’ or ‘good’ as it often stirs up negative emotions when eating. For example, we eat a large bar of chocolate and we feel guilty or like a failure, when in fact, healthy eating is all about context!
If you eat well the majority of the time, then having chocolate or cake, or anything you fancy, isn’t ‘bad’ at all. For a long time now, I’ve been trying to help people understand the moderation side of healthy eating – since I started my career really. I’ve seen first hand how overly restrictive diets can have the exact opposite impact on a person’s health.
Health isn’t just about body, it’s about a good physical AND mental condition and therefore if you’re feeling guilty about eating certain foods, then that’s not healthy either.
Eating well should allow you to have a balance and a healthy relationship with food and your own food choices. Not restrict you and make you feel bad about your one-off food ‘splurges’.
Is clean eating realistic?
The other thing that I don’t like about the whole ‘clean eating’ fiasco is that it’s comparable to celebrity magazines, in that it often sells an ‘unrealistic’ portrayal of what a healthy lifestyle should be. In exactly the way that we see unrealistic images of celebrity bodies in magazines, which can make us feel inadequate and ‘less of a woman’, the same thing may be said about ‘clean eating’. People may feel pressure to have beautifully presented ‘clean’ meals every day, and feel like failures if they cannot keep up or when life just gets in the way!
That’s one of the reasons why I try and make my instagram blog as realistic and honest as possible. Real, simple foods that anyone can make and that don’t cost the earth!
So, in conclusion, when it comes to clean eating…
By all means follow bloggers and be inspired. But be realistic about foods and think about the CONTEXT of your eating. Also do continue to think about health and ways you can improve your diet, but avoid feeling guilty or having negative relationships with ANY food types.