RIP: “Clean” Eating

No, I’m not giving up Primal eating. But I am giving up any sanctimonious attitudes about my diet.

I’d been seeing this term thrown around—clean eating. As in, “I’ve been eating pretty clean, so that cheat really messed me up,” or “My family doesn’t understand I only eat clean.” I began to wonder, what exactly constitutes clean eating?

The answer, of course, isn’t clean cut. Google it, and a few things pop up. Apparently there is an entire print publication devoted to it. There’s a prominent site called The Eat-Clean Diet which claims:

It is eating the way nature intended. You eat the foods our bodies evolved to function best on, and that makes you feel – and look – fantastic. When you Eat Clean you eat more often. You will eat lean protein, complex carbs, and healthy fats. These practices keep your blood-sugar levels stable and keep you satisfied. The best part is that if you need to lose weight it will happen almost without you having to try. And yes, you can have a treat now and again.

Sounds almost Primal, doesn’t it? But then I browsed the recipes and recommendations there and saw noodles, tofu, wheat, and beans. Admittedly, their focus on reducing sugars, eating grass-fed beef, and eliminating processed foods would go a long way to helping a lot of people eat better than they do now.

So I’m not talking about The Clean Eating Diet. If that’s your thing, keep on keeping on. What I’m more concerned with is the use of the adjective to describe/validate our WOE. Why? It smacks of judgy-judginess. It reminds me of when my sister was a raw foodist and referred to cooked food as “dead” food. And her kids were saying it too.

Mmm...tasty dirty pig.

So let’s not go there. Because to imply that something is “clean” immediately points a finger at something “not-clean.” It begins to track too closely toward orthorexia. Let’s be above that. Because the more we get high-and-mighty about our WOE, the less people will listen. The more we fight with banana-eating vegans, the more cultish and crazy we seem. We have research on our side, and they can find research for theirs too. After all, it’s a lot of bad research that gave us the SAD in the first place! Do I think our side is right? Of course I do. But I won’t let my ego be so fragile that I can’t concede that someone else’s experiences or beliefs could lead them to eat another way. We can disagree respectfully, if even smugly yet quietly. But we have too many people to save to let this whole thing get bogged down in holier-than-thou food wars.

The other important thing to remember about this WOE? It’s a luxury and a privilege. Be grateful that your intellect can handle the complexity of the science. Be grateful that we have such an amazing range of foods available that we don’t have to settle for less optimal nutrition. Be grateful that we have a choice in this matter.

Besides, who wants to be clean? I want to gnaw meat off bones, scoop marrow out, sop up my plate’s bloody juices, dig veggies from the dirt, lick my fingers, run barefoot through mud puddles! I want to revel in the pleasure this WOE has afforded me and returned to me as my rightful inheritance.

Wanna join me? I’ve got bacon…

For more on judgy-judginess in the real food movement, see here and here.

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6 Responses to “RIP: “Clean” Eating”

  1. Chris - Daily Cadence Reply 05/05/2011 at 10:05 am

    Great post! I don’t really care for the term clean eating…people ask me what “diet” I’m on and I say…I’m not on a diet, I only eat it if I can kill it or pick it fresh.

  2. I just found your site yesterday.
    Your articles are great :).
    I began somewhat paleo/primal eating a month
    ago due to low adrenal functioning and severe hypoglycemia. I went off caffeine, processed sugars, grains, beans and legumes. I still do dairy but I have no lactose issues so it works for me.
    My health has improved dramatically. No more dips in sugar or shakiness, unpleasant intestinal stuff is virtually gone for me, I am able to go longer without eating and not get shaky and I have more energy. A lot of my energy is most likely due to medication for adrenal function and cortisol levels but I attribute the lack of sugar lows to paleo.

    Thanks so much for a great contribution to the information on paleo!

    Lalie

  3. I guess I’m sorta on the edges of this movement, I hadn’t heard the term “clean eating” until I read this post. Real food eating, yes, and there’s some nifty grey areas as to what is “real” food from one person to the next, and my own understanding of this continues to evolve. But no, I don’t really want to be a purist, whatever the terminology, so long as my choices can generally guide me towards ultimately healthy directions.

    I was pretty dirty and messy last night, with my huge lamb shank, big enough that I’ll have some bit leftover for Friday’s lunch. (Mind you, I won’t bring the bone in to work, but perhaps that’s because that part has already been gnawed to bits!

    To the person talking about diets: I used to call what I do a diet, just out of using a default word. Now I call it my nutrition plan, or to be more basic and honest about it, my food plan. (So you know, I’m not truly paleo — on the outskirts for sure and definitely quite sympathetic — I do follow the real food movement of some sort.

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