Dissecting the Diets #2: Clean Eating

“Clean eating” sounds a little like you’re spraying your food with Windex before you eat it, but actually it’s a dieting craze that’s sweeping the nutrition world. The term clean eating originated in bodybuilding circles, and was initially used to describe the bland, boring style of dieting that bodybuilders in contest preparation would survive on. More recently though, it’s made its way into the mainstream, with personal trainers, nutritionists and even celebrity chefs marketing the clean way of eating.

The name screams “wholesome” and the premise sounds entirely sound, so you’d be forgiven for thinking that there’s nothing bad at all about eating clean. But read on and you might be surprised.

What’s Involved?

Much like the Paleo diet, clean eating involves eating foods in as close to a natural, unprocessed state as you can find them. Unlike Paleo however, clean eating doesn’t ban grains, beans and legumes, dairy, or coffee.

Clean eating diets tend to be high in protein, due to their bodybuilding background, but will also contain plenty of carbohydrates and fats, and there aren’t too many foods that are off limits. Your protein sources include all types of meat and fish (apart from processed and cured meats) along with low-fat dairy products, eggs and egg whites. For carbs you’re looking at fruits and vegetables as well as brown or whole-grain varieties of rice, pasta, quinoa and couscous. When it comes to fats, avocados, nuts, peanut butter, oily fish and olive oil are on the menu. Some clean eaters choose to go organic, but this isn’t necessary.

What Are The Benefits?

Clean eating isn’t nearly as restrictive as many other weight loss diets out there, so the risk of nutrient deficiencies is much lower. Additionally, the two main bonuses are the balance and variety clean eating brings, writes trainer Shannon Clark in an article for Bodybuilding.com.

By taking junk food off the menu, straight away you’re ensuring you’re eating fewer foods that contain trans fats, hydrogenated oils, refined sugar and have a high-calorie density, which is going to do your weight loss the world of good.

Planning is also relatively easy, as each meal should contain a protein source, some carbohydrate, a little healthy fat and a large serving or two of vegetables. It’s this emphasis on protein and fiber with the veggies and unrefined carbohydrates that make clean eating plans particularly filling and satiating, so you’re less likely to feel hungry than you would on a fad diet.

What Are The Cons?

Because you’re categorizing foods as “clean” or “dirty” there’s a risk of developing a disordered relationship with food. In fact, a study from the “Appetite” journal concluded that –

“rigid dieting strategies, but not flexible dieting strategies, are associated with eating disorder symptoms” (1.)

Another study in the same journal also found that a more flexible style of dieting, whereby you don’t look at foods in isolation, and don’t see any one item as bad or forbidden also correlated with a lower body weight, along with a healthier approach toward dieting. (2)

Eating out and socializing can be a little problematic when you’re trying to eat clean. For instance, there’s no way you can get anything to eat at a pizza parlor or burger bar, and you can often feel like once you’ve broken your diet just a little bit, that you’ve failed, which leads many clean eaters to then binge on foods they wouldn’t usually be allowed on their diets. It’s the notion that as soon as you’re told something is forbidden or banned, you crave it more, and so the chances of you giving in to it are higher.

A Day In The Diet

This will vary depending on what type of clean eating plan you’re on, but considering bodybuilders were the early adopters of this system, a typical day for a bodybuilder may look as follows;

Breakfast would be a plate of eggs (mainly whites) along with a bowl of plain oatmeal, perhaps with a little fruit added, but sweeteners, sugar and condiments aren’t allowed. Your lunch would be a large salad with some grilled chicken or canned tuna, along with a carb source such as a baked potato, sweet potato, or some brown rice. Dinner would be similar, but the salad swapped for vegetables and the chicken or tuna for steak or maybe salmon. In between meals, your snacks would include protein bars, boiled eggs, nuts, cottage cheese or low-fat Greek yogurt, brown rice cakes, fruit and protein shakes.

Should You Go Clean?

If you’re currently eating a diet filled with junk food, and not too sure where to turn, then a clean eating diet could be for you. That said, this switch may prove to be too big to begin with, and feel a little overwhelming, in which case you may be better served simply trying to make small, simple changes to your current routine, as this is likely to result in greater dietary adherence. You can check out how to do this by reading “Building Healthy Habits: 5 Proven Tips to Nail Your Diet.”

Clean eating is a great way to get in shape if you don’t want to start counting calories however. The unprocessed nature of the diet means you’ll almost certainly slip into a calorie deficit (where you’re eating fewer calories than you burn, and thus losing fat) and the high protein, high fiber and high vegetable intake is great for your overall health.

On the whole, clean eating isn’t nearly as extreme as other popular weight loss diets, and so is much more sustainable. You just need to be careful not to fall into the trap of classing foods as “good” or “bad” as restriction and deprivation can lead to an unhealthy relationship with food.

Andrew Raynor Dover NH References:

  1. Stewart, T. M., Williamson, D. A., & White, M. A. (2002). Rigid vs. flexible dieting: Association with eating disorder symptoms in nonobese women. Appetite,38(1), 39-44. Retrieved March 3, 2016.
  2. Smith, C., Williamson, D., Bray, G., & Ryan, D. (1999). Flexible vs. Rigid Dieting Strategies: Relationship with Adverse Behavioral Outcomes. Appetite,32(3), 295-305. Retrieved March 3, 2016.
Andrew Raynor

Leave a Comment