There are a few standout things that make me cringe, and the phrase “clean eating” is certainly one of them. Any time I hear these words, my limbic system gets triggered and it takes biting my tongue and a few deep breaths to avoid going off on a tangent to whoever is talking.
In this context, the word clean is defined as “morally uncontaminated; pure; innocent.”
To me, putting the words “clean” and “eating” together is unnecessary because it suggests other foods are unclean, unvirtuous, impure, and corrupt.
Remember, this is food we’re talking about…
It is phrases like “clean eating” that lead people to label foods with other names like “good” and “bad.”
You’ve heard it before:
Avocados are so good for you.
Dairy Queen is so bad for you.
This is all fine.
The problem is that we’ve been so conditioned to food shaming by larger corporations, company’s, grocery stores, media, celebrities—and more—that it’s caused people to not only label foods, but to label themselves.
Oh my gosh, I ate so bad today…eventually turns into I’m bad.
I shouldn’t have had that cheesecake, I cheated… becomes I’m a cheater.
The worst part is, most of us are blind to the phrases we’ve clung to as identity markers. Why? Because it’s normalized in our culture to tell people we’ve been “so good about not eating sugar” and “haven’t slipped up once.” People are now using clean eating as a description of their Instagram accounts, blogs, recipes…the list goes on.
One example that comes to mind, are La Croix cans. Man, do I love La Croix…but I’m sorry, can you please not claim your sparkling water as “innocent” because it contains no calories, sweetener, or sodium…??
We forget that to be healthy and nourish our bodies means more than just closely monitoring, labeling, and restricting the food we eat, in addition to shaming ourselves when the food we eat isn’t considered healthy.
To be healthy and nourish our bodies means to check in often, to see what it is our body needs, and to give it the thing it needs without guilt and without shame.
I can promise you, your body is not it’s not always going to need or want vegetables. In a perfect world, maybe, but there will be days where all you can think about is melted cheese and bread.
So, allow yourself a little cheese and bread, and then move on with your day. Food doesn’t control you and you have a choice as to how you maintain a healthy relationship with food. For me, that means allowing myself foods of all kinds while being mindful of how those foods are serving me.
I came home early from work one day this week due to feelings of depression and anxiety and for dinner, I made grilled cheese on sourdough with tomato soup. Was it a healthy choice? At that moment, it was.
There’s a lot of research being done right now on how allowing ourselves comfort foods is actually a smart thing because in doing so we are able to feel more of a relaxation response than we do a stress response.
Think about it: If your body is craving waffles and you give it something completely different, or if you ignore the craving entirely and try to pretend it’s not there because you’re living from a fear food mentality, your body is more likely to have a hard time processing whatever you did give it. You’re also more likely to still be hungry after or to overeat and binge once you finally do have those waffles.
Now let’s flip this: You’ve been craving waffles and you decide the next day for breakfast, you’re going to make some at home. Once you are ready to start putting your plate together, you decide to top your waffles with some fruit and maybe a little whip cream and maple syrup (yum!) You sit down to eat, excited and eager, and you enjoy those waffles slowly, savoring each bite and leaving the table satisfied.
You give your body what it needs, not only is your stomach satisfied but your mind becomes deeply satisfied too because our mind and gut are connected. The craving to have waffles has most likely disappeared and you can be content with the decision you made to have waffles.
You see, the goal shouldn’t be to “clean eat”, or to go on a diet and work at being “good” and not “cheating.”
Rather, the goal should be to eat healthy a majority of the time to live long and healthy lives and to do the things that matter most to us, while also enjoying all kinds of food—in moderation-—plus the memories, events, and feelings associated with certain foods.
I get it, there are some people wanting to make lifestyle changes to improve their health, but restriction, labeled foods and strict ways of eating are not the way to get there.
Other people have been educated on how harmful certain ingredients are for our bodies but don’t forget about how harmful stress is for our bodies.
If you’re wanting to make lifestyle changes that include tweaks to your diet or if you’re trying to lose weight or avoid certain ingredients, you can still practice checking in with your body, assessing what it needs, and deciding how you’re going to give it what it’s asking for.
This could mean, using a healthier alternative than cane sugar in a recipe, or choosing a product at the store with lower sodium. Regardless of what you choose, don’t let shame have a say in your decision.
Once you do sit down to eat whatever item (healthy or unhealthy) you cooked or picked up at the store, I think you will find you’re able to enjoy your food more, eat slower, eat less, and feel satiated (not hungry for more) once you finish eating.
The other day my boyfriend said to me, “I’ve noticed that whenever you’re eating something you don’t care for you eat it quicker, and whenever you’re eating something you really like you eat it slower.”
This is true for me and could be true for you too.
Sometimes eating something I really like includes a plate of veggies and hummus. Other times, it means eating a bowl of popcorn with nutritional yeast and black pepper.
I truly do believe we can all “have our cake and eat it too”, but not long ago I would have laughed at this because the cake would have interfered with my goals to be thin, fit, and healthy. I didn’t trust myself around cake because if I ever did allow myself a piece, I wouldn’t be able to stop eating. It’s part of the all-or-nothing mentality that comes when we limit ourselves to a small list of foods.
Not surprisingly, there are many people who have experienced weight loss from eating more intuitively and less restricted.
Thanksgiving is right around your corner and if I could give one piece of advice it would be this: Your body is your friend, it is resilient and strong, and within it, you have everything you need.
I’ve found from checking in with my body more regularly and noticing how I feel after eating certain things, that I have more taste for fruits, vegetables, nut butters, oats, and yogurt more than anything. Knowing this, I have learned to trust my body when it says I want something I don’t normally have—like grandma’s homemade apple pie—because I know it’s not a normal part of my food intake and probably won’t become one.
The point I’m trying to make is, the food you eat does not determine who you are at your core. More than harmful ingredients, is the harm done when we start to label food or ourselves as clean, good, bad, etc.
Sometimes food is just food and we need to give our time and energy to more important things, than worry and stress over what we eat and what we look like. Sometimes we need to also, focus more on the memory, experience, or relationships being cultivated than we do the food in front of us.
Not just what you eat, but how you eat does something to your brain and emotions. We mustn’t keep searching for the next diet, food trend, or a quick way to lose weight. Instead, we must reevaluate our relationship with our bodies and learn to—wherever we are—accept them and thank them for all they do.
It’s once we learn to befriend our bodies, that we’re able to say goodbye to labels and move from a place of food fear to food freedom.
And who doesn’t want that?