“Clean eating” has been a popular movement for years now, but with particular interest increasing and spreading due to the prevalence of social media in the last half a decade. Now we can show off how “good” we are being to everyone we know, and many we don’t with a few taps on our phone. The issue with using the term “clean eating” is that it often reduces food down to a moral decision of what is “good” and what is “bad.” However, this just perpetuates the idea that food should serve as a reward. An idea that was most likely ingrained in us as children, but can lead to unease and unhealthy habits later in life.
Some people see clean eating as a way to respect nature and the help the earth continue its natural cycles with minimal human impact. The back-to-nature movement gained a foothold during the 60’s and 70’s through communities of people often referred to hippies at the time. Growing food for small groups and living off what the land provided seasonally was seen as radical at a time when the post-war production industry was booming and more food products were being produced than ever before. Just about anything could be canned or frozen it seemed! Although interest in natural foods waxed and waned through the decades, food remained a staple of controversy with a new miracle cure or scapegoat being discovered every few years.
Other people see the clean eating movement as removing certain foods from their diets. Now that we have presumably moved past the years we held onto the low-fat movement and low-carbohydrate diets and are becoming more interested in Paleo-style eating and cutting out specific ingredients from our kitchens such as gluten, most people are left confused and fearful. The general public is scared of all kinds of food, but more determined than ever to be healthy. The dichotomy between the obesity levels in the world and the interest in health and nutrition are quite frankly, shocking. The shelves of grocery stores are lined with more “healthy” products-bars, shakes, juices, than ever before. Considerable time, effort and money are being poured into buying the right food products and searching out the trendiest health food and avoiding everything “bad.”
While demonizing certain foods may make you feel better about yourself when you avoid them, what happens when you do consume them? How do you feel when presented at a gathering with one of your dirty foods? Anxious? Worried? What happens if you do take a bite? Does guilt or shame wash over you? Do you question what it means to your self-worth, or self-proposed title of a “health nut,” or “clean eater?”
Paying attention to what you foods are best for you is a great practice. Tuning into your needs and figuring out what foods, drinks, and lifestyle practices work and what doesn’t serve you as well is brilliant. However, reducing the definition of yourself to just what you eat is dangerous.
My recommendations would be to first slow down. Then, begin to play with your food. Start to adjust your diet to incorporate all kinds of foods instead of sticking to a strict plan that you read about in a book or that was suggested by your favourite Instagram star. See how you feel when you eat what you want, when you want, including small amounts of previously off-limits foods. Figuring out what works for your unique and beautiful body is vital to thriving in life. This can take some time, so be gentle with yourself. Take this opportunity to learn about new locally-owned markets, stores, and restaurants in your area and what they have to offer. Those radical ideas of living locally have come full circle and are more widely accepted, making foods and products that have been grown or created with minimal processing and impact to the environment more easily available.
You don’t need to prescribe to dietary theory to be healthy. Clean eating can mean different things to different people, so scrape all the labels and work on what works for you.