Clean Eating: Here's Why You Need to Make the Food Shaming Stop
I don’t believe that obsession, guilt, or restriction has any place in eating.
All the food rules are exhausting. Right?
“Clean eating” often refers to diets that ditch some combo of meat, dairy, gluten, grains, legumes, sugar, and/or alcohol. Pre-packaged foods are off limits too.
Maybe you tried the Whole30 diet in January. Whole30 claims to help people develop intuitive eating skills, yet it consists of rigid black-and-white rules. And you're supposed to start over again if you eat a "non-compliant food.” 🙄
If you have a challenging relationship with food, clean eating diets won’t help. In fact, they could even make things worse. Yes, “wellness programs” are diets too.
Clean eating is elitist.
Clean eating is at the top of the moral food hierarchy.
When it comes down to it, clean eating is elitist. It disregards the time and money you need to buy perfect, farmer’s market-fresh food, and to make everything from scratch.
You won’t find the term anywhere on this site or The Good Yolk social media accounts.
What you eat (or don’t) is a personal choice.
Insta influencers who post about their virtuous habits often promote restrictive clean eating diets to “increase energy,” “improve clarity,” and “feel lighter." But it’s the same food-shaming diet culture language packaged up in a glossier format.
Instead of using the word “diet,” you might notice that they say things like “whole foods,” “real food,” and “wellness.” Don’t let them trick you!
Besides making you feel like 💩, the pressure to “eat clean” can create an excessive preoccupation with food. When taken to extremes, restrictive practices can lead to disordered eating patterns.
For example, “orthorexia" is the name for an excessive preoccupation with the quality and purity of foods.
Challenge the food police.
There's another reason that I don’t use the term “clean eating.”
By calling some foods clean, it reinforces the idea that other foods are dirty. The words “clean” and “dirty” are synonymous with “good” and “bad.” These associations exclude and oppress people.
In our culture, we tend to assign a moral value to food. You’ve probably noticed this show up before.
The moralization of food can look like:
Shaming parents for feeding children “junk food;”
Labeling something as a “guilty pleasure;”
Earning a “cheat day” for being “good” on a diet; and/or
Promoting detoxes and cleanses for improved health.
It’s not surprising if you’ve internalized the shame too. Have you ever said, “I’m being bad” before reaching for a brownie?
Do you feel guilty when you eat from your “bad” category?
Your self-worth isn’t tied to what you eat.
What you eat can affect you, but food is more than the sum of its individual nutrients, vitamins, and other components.
As a nutritionist, I recognize that some foods contain certain nutrients. Others don’t. Some foods nourish our minds, taste buds, and senses. Others don’t. So what?
All foods fit into a balanced diet. You can enjoy all foods guilt-free (even French fries). Food itself isn’t good or bad. Food is a resource.
Clean eating is too rigid.
Clean eating creates fear, shame, and mistrust around food. When you try to follow a “clean diet” or “only eat clean,” you set unrealistic expectations of yourself and the food you eat. It’s too rigid.
The opposite of a restrictive approach like clean eating is intuitive eating.
Intuitive eating rejects external diet messages.
Intuitive eating is a way of eating that has nothing to do with diets, meal plans, discipline, or willpower.
It responds to your body’s hungers without judgment, punishment, or the need to compensate. It’s about learning to trust your body again. Click here to read about how you can use intuitive eating to unlearn the diet mentality.
What do you think? Does the term “clean eating” bother you too? Would you ban any other words from health and wellness conversations? Does language even matter?
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Meet Ellen Kaross (she/her), the Non-Diet Nutritionist and Intuitive Eating Coach behind The Good Yolk.
Ellen helps women-identifying folks uncover what their emotional eating can teach them, and find joy and balance in their relationship with food.
Her passion for advocacy informs her compassionate, non-judgmental approach.