Please Define “Clean Eating”

I’m gonna start with this. Most dietitians I know cringe at certain words or phrases. Here they are:

  • Gluten free
  • Cave man
  • I’m not eating enough to lose weight
  • Low Carb
  • Dr. Oz said
  • Detox
  • I don’t like the way water tastes
  • Just tell me what to eat
  • I used to teach home ec
  • Clean eating

Not because they aren’t valid or true, but because usually they are either taken out of context or based on opinion instead of fact. I’m only going to focus on the last one today, “clean eating.” Because it was the most requested topic for this blog and I don’t want to disappoint.

Yes, there is such a thing.

And a lot of people want to know about it. But what does “clean eating” really mean? I can’t define it. I looked up various resources and got different answers with three main similarities. The reality of it is, it’s based on opinion, and here’s why:

To some it simply means whole food, plant-based. To others, it just means no processed foods.  Yet to others it means eating what makes them feel well, possibly organic too. Some may picture “Paleolithic” type diets (another blog post for that). I think we all can agree it means no sugar and possibly reduced or low salt. The three main points were in fact, no processed or refined foods, eat 5-6 times a day, and include lean protein with fresh produce and whole grains at meals. The point is, it’s confusing to people what healthy eating really means and in many ways, largely opinion based. (Although those three main points are not.)

For example a clean house to me means if the toys are picked up, the counters are wiped off, no fingerprints on the mirrors, and there aren’t any odd smells (I live with three boys and two animals!). But others have to scrub the baseboards, bleach the toilets, and dust the shelving before they consider their home clean. I know for my husband, the house isn’t clean until he has scrubbed the bathtubs. I’ll admit, I have never scrubbed a bathtub in my life and don’t plan to in the near future.

So let’s talk for a moment what is scientifically proven. I’m not talking about what your neighbor told you made them feel better or what your girlfriend said her mother-in-law said was a good thing to do. We got busy lives to live. Let’s make a choice and stick to it. It’s a proven fact and no brainer that we should be eating whole foods and no processed junk. But again I don’t know what the term “clean” actually means. As stated above, it’s likely opinion based and maybe some fitness guru made it up several years ago and now we all just think that’s how we’re supposed to eat – or it’s just an easy way of thinking about it. The closest thing I know to what clean eating really is, based on factual evidence that I have personally experienced and read is a “whole foods plant-based diet” or what many know as a vegan diet. Now I am not a professed vegan although I am a wannabe. I will admit I have just not gotten past the fact that I would have to give up all dairy. But even the most strict of vegans I know cheat every once in a while. Mostly when they are on the run and need something that is quick and easy and yes, processed. Otherwise they may not eat for hours on end and that is not helpful either. I promise you will Eggplant Pattiesprobably not kill over from eating a processed protein bar (unless you’re allergic to peanuts and pick up a peanut butter bar, of course.)

I will spend the next several blog post outlining what a diet like this looks like. But for now, I will leave you with a “vegan” or “clean” recipe I plan to try for dinner tonight.  I will let you know how the patties turn out. And meat eaters, don’t hate me! I eat meat, all the time. My husband would kill me if I took it out of our diets, he ain’t convinced yet. But do choose fish, skinless chicken, and nitrite-free deli meat at least!

P.S. Today’s featured image was my failed attempted about a year ago to grow my own garden. Yes, it was a massive failure. Me and plants don’t have a great relationship.

Also, feel free to leave in the comments what it means to you to “eat clean.”

P.S. If you’ve been looking for support, you’ve come to the right place, request to join my online support group for all things nutrition and weight loss support.

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Jillian McMullen, CSOWM, RDN, LDN



2 thoughts on “Please Define “Clean Eating”

  1. I absolutely love your article!!!! Makes complete sense that most people will interpret it as they see fit.
    But I have always been lead to believe as you mentioned that it was not eating any processed BS. The best way I could describe it to my son was to pick out foods that you could eat 200 years ago. 😉
    Maybe a little Paleolithic, but you’re cutting out a ton of crap we shouldn’t be eating!
    🙂 Thank you so much for this blog! I love it!!

    1. Thanks so much! I hope to keep adding value. Yes, many people just do not know what “clean eating” is or “gluten free” for that matter. But, it sounds good, so why not? 😉

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