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What is Clean Eating?

variety of squash

Mini Butternut Squash









You can hardly open a magazine, newspaper, turn on the television, or see a Facebook page without seeing something about ‘clean eating’. There is even an online magazine named Clean Eating and they define clean eating as buying food with two or fewer ingredients, along with a list of meal frequency and amount of water to consume, which I can’t really see as part if clean eating.  Different sources vary the concept slightly,  the common theme is getting processed foods out of your diet. I’m not sure what, if anything is the difference between Real Food, and Clean Eating. 

When I worked for Whole Foods Market we would often refer to the food/ingredients that met our quality standards  as clean. We were also asked to keep that term internal, as customers could infer that other food wasn’t clean, and insulting them was not considered good customer service. The ingredients Whole Foods Market makes every effort to avoid selling in any of the products they carry is in a list you can download here. This is not a secret, internal list, you can find it on the Whole Foods Market website which is accessible to anyone. Another idea about “clean”, and this list isn’t confined to foodstuffs!

There are things I love that I haven’t been willing to give up, and yet I hardly feel like I am a slave to processed aka fake/dirty food. I don’t eat much bread, but I do love the occasional everything bagel, I am not a fan of whole wheat pasta, sorry, I have tried, really. Sometimes I even eat Cheetos, shhh, please don’t tell anyone!! Oh the shame, the mortification, the sheer filth of it all. Yes, I am being a tad sarcastic, but really, I see/hear people beat themselves up for things like sneaking out for ice cream, or getting their kids a pretzel, as if deciding to rid their pantries of processed food is some kind of purity pledge.

bowties tuna and tomatoes

Like so many things, I see people hurl themselves into a style of eating that they cling to like it’s the holy grail, and panic if they stray at all. I think it’s great to get processed food out of your life, I think there are way better ways to feed your kids than giving them  Happy Meal. I also think that zealous devotion to anything sets you up for failure, and healthy eating shouldn’t be about success and failure. The danger of course is that failure is inevitable, and then what happens? Many people (myself included) when we put ourselves in these tight boxes, and a hand or foot slips out, we throw up our hands, declare our failure, and break the box into splinters, undoing all the good we’ve done.

Eating, like meditation, like yoga, is a practice, one we all engage in in many ways to varying degrees of dedication, mindfulness, devotion and regularity, but not perfection, or success. Some people eat merely to survive, but I don’t know any of those people. Most of us find a degree of pleasure and satisfaction in eating, some more than others, and there’s no reason that eating clean, real, or any other type of whole food based diet should interfere with that pleasure, in fact, if you allow it to it can enhance that pleasure.

Jean-Francoise Millet 1859

Jean-Francoise Millet 1859

By removing artificial flavors, tons of salts, sugars and other ‘flavorings’ from your food, after an initial period while you and your taste buds adjust you will be amazed at what food actually tastes like, and it’s not a Jacked Dorito! What I propose to all of you hanging on by your fingernails trying to adhere to some prescribed clean or real food plan is to relax, just a bit.  Instead of regarding these eating styles as a religion, what if you considered them a guideline, a best practice, and allow yourself some room for things like movie popcorn, or a Creamsicle, or even an Dorito, and just move one rather than allow that choice to define your character. If you have removed process food from your regular diet, and you decide you’re craving something that falls outside those parameters, giving in occasionally will not cause the universe to crumble, or your health to deteriorate, it may even reinforce your healthy choices.

If you are plagued by cravings on a regular basis and your chosen eating style is leaving you hungry and unsatisfied, here’s my best helpful tip, it’s not you, your diet isn’t providing what your body needs. Of course when you start to make these changes you will be consumed with cravings and depending on how much processed food was part of your past you may feel your food is tasteless and flat, this will pass, I swear, and this is not the time to succumb to your cravings. If after a month or so you’re having those cravings make sure you’re getting everything your body needs from your food, including variety. 

Are you struggling with real food or clean eating? What would make it easier for you? 





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  • August 21, 2014 - 11:42 am

    Peggy Gilbey - Hi Nancy, what a terrific, thought provoking topic of discussion. I see your points and they seem good to me. Around my house, we have for the most part a broad selection of healthy meals with lots of fresh vegetables. We also have, especially for school snack time, chips, pretzels, and Cheetos. It’s not part of any meal, it is there for ‘snacking’. In the case of children, over the course of twenty-five years, the kids that ate the most junk at my house- the kids where it is made a big deal! Just my experience, continuing today. My opinion on fast foods- like Burger King- guess what? that’s what they are- fast foods- not meant to be eaten everyday, its only my opinion, but these are what they are, and I’m not sure why businesses are being tormented- People- its fast food! If folks cannot get a healthy food message- with all of the messages out there today- well then, I don’t know what the answer is! I don’t believe it is infringing on profit focused businesses. ReplyCancel

    • August 21, 2014 - 9:50 am - Peggy,that sounds about right. We never had snacks or treats at my house as a kid, and so they still maintain that ‘forbidden pleasure’ quality. Food, it’s all so complicated…ReplyCancel

  • August 21, 2014 - 2:24 pm

    Gina Badalaty - I’ll admit I cheat, but it’s not that safe to do for my kids. So with them, yes, I am a food nazi, and the reason is that when THEY cheat, it plays havoc with their behavior and moods and bowel processes. It’s not something medically diagnosed but I can see the changes from when they went to junk in moderation to zero junk, and I can see the problems when they accidentally eat junk. Besides for them on some intuitive level, they already know, after 3 years, that this food or that is a no-no. (They have intellectual disabilities, making it challenging to talk to them about it.) And yes, I have lightened up and relaxed since we began, but when I relax TOO much, the girls pay the price (and so do I!). It’s just been my observation that food really can mean everything, unfortunately. If you’re wondering, they don’t eat soy, corn, gluten, dairy, GMOs, artificial flavor/dyes, preservatives or too much sugar. And it’s not NEARLY as hard as I thought it would be when we started. As for me, when I do eat strictly like them, I feel much much better overall so I try to do it as much as possible.ReplyCancel

  • August 21, 2014 - 10:31 pm

    Heather - I think it is great advice to not beat yourself up if you stray…I am working to eat more cleanly as a family – but it is not easy!ReplyCancel

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