You’ve probably heard the term a million times: ‘clean’ eating. It’s that photo of a meal that is more like a work of art than food. It’s the celebrity touting their new meal plan that prescribes certain foods in certain amounts at certain times of the day… Is this really what healthy eating has become? Or has our perception of healthy eating changed?
Although it seems like an exciting new way of eating brought to light by social media influencers and fitness fanatics, aren’t the basic principles of clean eating what we’ve known all along? We’re aware that our diet should consist mostly of wholefoods from all food groups, in a variety of colours. We also know that it’s not essential to eat this way all the time. So why are people taking clean eating to the extreme? – and why are our Instagram feeds full of such people?
When we look at the evidence on food intake and perceptions, it’s easy to see why we are so quick to praise and emulate the habits of clean eaters. Several studies have found that we associate what people eat with certain personality traits. For example, one study found that females who favoured low-fat foods were perceived as being more intelligent, attractive and conscientious than those who favoured high-fat foods.Mooney KM, DeTore J, Malloy KA. Perceptions of women related to food choice. Sex Roles. 1994;31(7):433-42. A similar study found that those who chose ‘good’ foods were more likeable and even more moral than those who chose ‘bad’ foods. Indeed, healthy eaters were considered more ethical, tolerant, kind-hearted and even more monogamous!Stein RI, Nemeroff CJ. Moral overtones of food: Judgments of others based on what they eat). Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. 1995;21:480-490. If we’re judging a person’s character by what they put in their mouth, it’s easy to see where the old notion of ‘you are what you eat’ came from. Judgement aside, let’s consider both sides of clean eating…
- It can be expensive. Rather than choosing the organic, everything-free options in the health food aisles, stick to the basics. You won’t become malnourished if your nuts aren’t activated!
- When it involves rules, it’s not sustainable. When it comes to weight loss, there is little evidence that diets involving rules produce short- or long-term results. In fact, many dieters regain the weight they lose following strict plans – with interest!Anton SD, Hida A, Heekin K, Sowalsky K, Karabetian C, Mutchie H, Leeuwenburgh C, Manini TM, Barnett TE. Effects of popular diets without specific calorie targets on weight loss outcomes: Systematic review of findings from clinical trials. Nutrients. 2017;9(822):1-15. When it comes to general healthy eating, rules lead to feelings of deprivation and, ultimately, binging.
- It can affect our mindset. As we’ve seen from the studies on food intake and perceptions, labelling foods as ‘clean’ and ‘dirty’, or ‘good’ and ‘bad’, can lead to us judging people and ourselves. Restricting ourselves to ‘good’ food will only lead to feelings of guilt or failure when we inevitably slip up. Instead, think of food in terms of what your body needs.
- Eating mainly wholefoods. This ensures you’re getting the nutrients your body needs for optimal health. It also means the occasional Mars Bar won’t have much of an effect (yesss).
- Without rules, it is sustainable. By hitting pause on the wholefoods in order to enjoy that lunch with friends or the M&Ms while you’re relaxing after a hard day, you won’t feel restricted. This realistic balance allows you to live a normal, sociable life and is easy to maintain long-term.
The take-home message? We need to remember that food exists as a source nourishment, fuel and pleasure – not as something on which to base judgement of ourselves or others. Eating in a ‘clean’ way is fine if you remove negative connotations. You don’t need to go to extreme measures and you certainly don’t need to follow strict rules. Just stick to what you know – and FYI: when Santa checks if you’ve been naughty or nice, he doesn’t take into account whether you’ve had your daily green juice or not.
References [ + ]
|1.||⇪||Mooney KM, DeTore J, Malloy KA. Perceptions of women related to food choice. Sex Roles. 1994;31(7):433-42.|
|2.||⇪||Stein RI, Nemeroff CJ. Moral overtones of food: Judgments of others based on what they eat). Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. 1995;21:480-490.|
|3.||⇪||Anton SD, Hida A, Heekin K, Sowalsky K, Karabetian C, Mutchie H, Leeuwenburgh C, Manini TM, Barnett TE. Effects of popular diets without specific calorie targets on weight loss outcomes: Systematic review of findings from clinical trials. Nutrients. 2017;9(822):1-15.|