Is "clean eating" that bad?

Is “clean eating” that bad?

I read a lot of fitness and nutrition-related articles, and I share my favourite posts over on my Facebook page. Last week I read this post but I didn’t share it, as I wasn’t completely sure how I felt about it. To be honest, I’m still not sure so I’m interested to hear your thoughts on the article.

The general gist is that eating clean is no longer about being healthy, but about shaming others into cutting out certain foods. The main people criticised are Sarah Wilson and her “I Quit Sugar” book and Pete Evans and his “The Paleo Way”. I haven’t read Pete’s book so I won’t comment on it.

Sarah’s publication started off as an ebook before showing up in bookstores internationally, and she has even released a second recipe-focused book (which I own). Her book was inspired by David Gillespie’s two books, which I have praised here. Of course, I am not as psychotically anti-sugar now as I was when I wrote that post more than three years ago (!!), but I still agree with many of his points.

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One of the first changes I try to make with my clients is to reduce their sugar cravings. Even when people follow restrictive, low-calorie diets, they often still consume significant amounts of sugar. Many people eat a minuscule amount of carbs outside of simple, quick-releasing sources of sugar such as fruit, chocolate, yoghurts and cakes. This not only creates a blood sugar environment where it is difficult to lose weight, but it further fuels your desire for sweet foods.

As soon as I increase a client’s consumption of complex carbohydrates and healthy fats (even if their overall calories do not increase), their sugar cravings either significantly reduce or disappear completely.

Using myself as an example, I used to run on sugar. By all definitions of it, I was addicted. I used to have muesli and yoghurt for breakfast, fruit for my snacks, and chocolate or ice cream every night. When I added sources of carbs which were once scary to me – foods like bread, pasta, rice and potatoes – back into my diet, I stopped needing to have dessert every night.

I never used to be fussed about things like bacon, burgers or steak (I was once vegetarian, believe it or not!) but now I would pick these foods over dessert any day. Eating these foods are incredibly satisfying, and usually mean I don’t crave sweets. That being said, of course I sometimes want dessert or can’t pass up the opportunity if one of my friends bakes something especially delicious. The difference is I can now say no. The fact that I no longer constantly snack on sugar also means that I can be satisfied from just three meals a day, whereas before I needed to constantly top up my energy stores by eating every 2-3 hours.

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Another interesting point is how my body responds to sugar now. On Wednesday, I had a brownie right before I went to the gym. It was my first dessert in more than three weeks. I didn’t even enjoy the taste of it that much (I always thought people who claimed something was “too sweet” were crazy, but now I understand!) but the worst part was the sugar slump it induced. About half an hour into my workout, I felt nauseous, sleepy and exhausted – not exactly the effect I was going for!

Do I think my preference to avoid sugar makes me part of a cult? Uh, no. Do I shame other people for having a piece of cake? Definitely not. As anyone who knows me will attest, I am open to including almost any food in my diet – it just so happens that I personally feel better when I limit sugar in my diet. The books spell out all the negative effects which sugar produces in the body and don’t try to force anyone to give up sugar against their will.

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I bought Sarah’s book because I think it contains healthy and delicious recipes, not because I plan on avoiding sugar for the rest of my life.

As for going Paleo, I think it completely depends on the individual. Some people experience great results by cutting out grains and dairy (myself included) but others often feel worse – the latter of which is less publicised. Even though I experienced health improvements when I was strictly following the Paleo diet, it wasn’t worth the inconvenience and stress it caused me to maintain it long-term.

One final thing to keep in mind is the source of this article. When I was a teenager I idolised Mia Freedman and read every post she made when she first started Mamamia. I even tried to get a job with them! But, over time, I feel like the quality of their writing has declined and become more sensationalised.

All that being said, I don’t think anyone should feel ashamed of the way they eat, or force anyone else to eat the way they do just because it works for them. I don’t  think anyone’s diet should be all-or-nothing in any sense. I would never recommend making any food off-limits for any type of orthorexic reason. Instead, if you’re experiencing health or digestive issues, or difficulties losing weight, experiment with different nutritional strategies. Vary your caloric intake, the balance of your macros and even the types of foods you use. Keep a record of how your body responds, and fuel it according to what feels best.

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I should also point out that I hate the term “clean eating”, as it is essential nonsensical. Case in point:

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What are your thoughts on the article?

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