Eating “clean”, is dumb

A lot of people identify with the concept of clean eating. I won’t mince words, this article is going to talk about how ignorant that is.

“Clean eating” doesn’t mean anything. That is the point of this article. If that point makes you mad, and you prefer to stay with an idea you have not examined thoroughly, like “clean eating and what that means”, then stop reading immediately! This blog post might change your mind, and I don’t care to change anyone’s mind about anything. If you’re scared that you might be presented with facts you’d have to consider, than please exit this blogpost immediately! If clean eating is something dear to your heart and habits……do NOT read this article.

To begin…..

Over the years, first as a serial dieter, than as a fitness-chick-almost-trainer, then as a strength coach, full-time personal trainer, and an observer and participant in the fitness industry, I have discovered that there is a contradiction that is alive and well today.

“I eat clean” and “clean eating” has risen in popularity. People talk about “how clean their diet is” with the conviction that they are acting in favor of their health and with the confidence that theirs is a “superior diet” and comes with benefits that other diets do not aka dirty diets and dirty foods. Clean eating is a popular, popular thing. And I’d like to help kill the whole concept.

The sentiment behind clean eating isn’t a bad one, but it is an ill-defined and potentially dangerous way to manage your nutrition.

Clean eating, is a concept. It is a vague term, left open to interpretation. “Clean eating” is based on avoidance of foods that are necessary to balanced nutrition. “Clean eating” creates a moral divide, with good clean foods on the one side, and bad dirty foods on the other side. “Clean eating” is defined by vague beliefs, compelling arguments or a mishmash of reasoning that does not hold up under examination, and is scientifically unsound.

Nutrition beliefs, of any kind,  are important to examine, on a personal level, because they will directly influence and govern your health. Actions and decisions are a product of our beliefs. We decide actions based on personal beliefs and values about what should or should not be done.

Someone’s daily nutrition, guided by the idea or value of “clean eating”, can range from pretty sensible (avoiding lots of processed food, which is generally a good idea for most people) to ragingly insane (30 bananas a day? avoiding multiple food groups?) to dangerous (malnutrition from diet imbalances, lack of calories or nutrients and the accompanying medical complications that can arise). There is not real gentle way to put it; “eating clean” is a stupid idea or value to adopt and allow to govern food choices, because it will generally lead someone to develop unnecessary beliefs, if not downright dangerous ones in the name of “health”.

To know that you are acting in favour of your own health, especially in nutritional matters,  means attempting to understand the requirements your biology relies on for improving your physical appearance (fat loss or muscle gain) exercise performance, and overall health. Clean eating, as an idea, does not allow for the implementation of the correct actions needed for actual physical results, that respect the scientific principles our bodies are governed by, because it’s not a thing. Clean eating doesn’t mean anything.

What is biology?

Biology is: the study of life and living organisms. Like you.

Biology is also: “the physiology, behavior, and other qualities of a particular organism or class of organisms.” – Wikipedia

Your biology is: the ways in which you function, as a living organism.

Biology has several unifying facts.  The first is that cells are the basic unit of life. You are a collection of cells, that work together to be the organism that is you. Genes are the basic unit of heredity. Through genes your individuality, in a variety of ways, as a human, is expressed. There is only one you, because there is only one combination of genes that is expressed through your cells, as you, in your environment.

Lastly; evolution is the engine that propels creation, destruction, and the cycle of life. We, like everything else on this planet are evolutionary creatures. We are changing daily. We, are changing weekly, monthly, yearly, generationally.

Ok, went a bit far there…

But the point is that the possibility of change for the better, is what we are hoping to accomplish when we say “I want to lose fat” or “I want to get fitter”. From a biological standpoint, aging is gradual decay. Since there is no escaping the changes of age, what is left is to age well or to age poorly.

Ok, but what does that have to do with “eating clean”?
Fat loss, is not mysterious. But to those who want to adhere to healthy ideas, and also get actual results, the confusion between their idea of health, and their actions for health, are often profound and self-limiting.  One of the problems today, with improving someone’s nutrition, is that there are so many unscientific and downright dumb ideas about nutrition out there, marketed endlessly, everywhere. Without the cooperation, between the right ideas leading to the right actions, results will elude you, and health will remain a vague concept, rather than something you experience physically. I know many unhealthy people who spend a lot of time and money trying to improve their health. Or their fitness.

Ideas are abstract. But actions are literal. At least, we think of them that way. Ideas, though, can be thought of as literal too, when we consider that an “idea” is a neurons firing inside your brain in certain patterns. Ideas like “clean eating” are powerfully dangerous, because they allow you to make decisions about your actions that may or not may not actually be what you need to do from a health standpoint, or for getting results. They may also be directly contraindicated to what would be considered sensible and effective. “Clean eating ” is neither sensible, or usually effective.

Ideas govern actions. Clean eating is a stupid idea.

To get the best of both worlds, good ideas leading to good results, you will have to understand the functioning of your body accurately and examine which beliefs are wise to act on, and which to let go of. To make nutrition concepts deliver results to us, we must first understand on a basic level how our human bodies function, and how the concepts we adopt drive our behavior.

What does someone mean when they say they eat clean?

In my experience asking this question to those who “eat clean”, there is a handful of answers I have come across, but they share the same quality of vagueness. Now sure, there are books and blogs galore about clean eating, and some of them are close to cool, some are not. I’m not arguing any one’s “personal stance” on what clean eating means.

I am against the whole idea in the first place!

Here are the answers I have heard when asking someone what they mean:

“I don’t eat processed food.”

“I don’t eat dairy or grains.”

“I don’t eat junk food.”

“I don’t eat carbs or gluten.”

“Well, I eat pretty clean.” (that’s a funny one, since…..putting pretty on it doesn’t illuminate the meaning any more)

We, who live in modern environments have a slightly different battle to fight in our quest to be strong, lean and fit. We need to know what matters most, and direct our energies to accomplishing those daily basic actions upon which the thriving of our biology relies. You are at the mercy of the ideas you adopt for your health and fitness. In order to truly thrive in faster paced environments, you need to know how to both benefit from advances in technology that require us to live at a faster pace, manage the stress of doing so and stay physically fit in environments that do not demand that you stay strong, fit and lean. That’s work. Shitty ideas make that work harder, and less beneficial to you because they mask and complicate the work that needs to be done.

“Eating clean”,  doesn’t mean anything. That’s about all there is to it.

Where can you go for sound nutrition advice?

Here’s a list. Start here:

Leigh Peele

  • Fat Loss, difficulties with fat loss, popular dieting concepts, figuring out your needs, lifestyle concepts, science and more.

Renaissance Periodization

  • Easy to use templates, nutrition for athletic goals and general goals, science.

Lyle McDonald

  • Everything related to fat loss, muscle gain, protein intake, etc . Lots of science. Lots of fit-nerd reading.

Evelyn “Carbsane”

  • A professor, and personal-fat-loss-success story, debunking carb-phobia, ketogenic fadism etc. Plus, science.

Dr. Yoni Freedhof – Weighty Matters

  • The blog of an obesity and family doctor, also, science. Get an educated aka scientific opinion here.

Dr. Spencer Nadolsky

  • Another obesity doc, in the trenches daily. Also, sciencing.

Jen Sygo

  • Registered dietician, writer and speaker who delivers the SCIENCE of nutrition in her work. Heard her speak at Uni of Toronto last year. Fantastic.

  • Excellent, science site, that will answer all your supplement, vitamin, ingredient, drug, herb, pill etc questions with the research, all neatly organized and easy to use.

There’s more, and they are out there. Choose to be smarter.





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