CLEAN EATING, a ‘healthy’ way to eat, or IS IT?

Can it really be true that Clean Eating has a dirty secret and it is linked to eating disorders such as bulimia? On the face of it, it seems unlikely. I mean Clean Eating is healthy – right?  But as is true of many things, maybe all is not what it seems…

If you’re like me when I was suffering from Bulimia, you’ll probably know every new diet or system of eating that hits town.  So, perhaps you have been at least tempted to follow a Clean Eating plan?

And if you haven’t heard about it, and by the way, I’m not proposing you follow this method of eating, for reasons that will become clear as you read on, Clean Eating is…

Er…. well, this is where it gets a bit confusing because different people or ‘experts’ and the media are promoting different definitions and strategies of what Clean Eating is and how to do it.

AND to make it more enticing, it is not just being linked to health but weight loss and maintenance too.

However, we’re told Clean Eating is NOT a diet.

Is this because the negative impact of dieting is in danger of becoming mainstream and people will soon begin to shun them?

So we have alluring headlines such as…

“Clean Eating – the diet that’s not a diet and could help you loose a stone”

“The Weight Loss Strategy That Will Change Your Relationship With Food”

“Clean eating is not a diet, it’s a happy and healthy lifestyle” and

“Instead of feeling like you’re on a “forever” diet, committing to the clean-eating lifestyle can help you achieve the results you’re after and feel more energized than you could have imagined”.

I Get It.  

Any of the above headlines, referring to clean eating, would have got my attention when I was struggling with Bulimia and trying to control what I ate.

But here’s the thing…

Clean eating has a dirty little secret.

  • It’s NOT really clean and…
  • It’s NOT even healthy.

And in most cases, clean eating is bad for you ESPECIALLY…

  • if you have Bulimia,
  • wanting to recover from Bulimia or
  • are recovering from bulimia. AND
  • Clean eating may be unwise to follow, if you’ve had an eating disorder in the past.

Diets In Any Disguise Are BIG Business.

The thing is “Clean Eating” for the most part, is another FAD diet, disguised as “healthy eating” or part of a ‘healthy’ lifestyle.

It is being driven by pseudo-science and advocated by people who either have little or no understanding of nutrition, are trying to resolve their own food and body image issues and, or are in the business of making money.

“Clean Eating” Is Not New.

Now “Clean Eating” or “eating clean” isn’t a new concept, although the phrases are.

In fact, the origins of clean eating go back to the days of eating home cooked meals and is exactly what my Mum used to do. That is making meals from scratch: Using fresh, natural or unrefined ingredients and where refined or processed foods were limited.  Principles that still form the bases of current nutritional science and real healthy eating.

Initially “Clean’ Upheld The Principles of Healthy Eating.

Rather than another spin on the idea of eating ‘more’ or ‘less’ of one of the major food groups; proteins, carbohydrates or fat, “Clean Eating” was initially Healthy Eating.

It was about…

  • Eating a wide variety of foods from ALL the major food groups which provided a rich and varied source of nutrients.
  • Cooking from scratch using whole food ingredients
  • Minimizing highly processed and refined foods

And as long as you did the above you could eat pretty much what you liked, from steak to cake.

You made your food choices from what YOU felt like eating (your hunger and appetite) and although there was some planning involved, it was flexible enough to fit into most lifestyles and routines.

  • You didn’t beat yourself for an overindulgence, unconsciously trusting yourself and your body to eat less at the next meal
  • Eating was pleasurable and something to enjoy.
  • You didn’t feel fearful about food.
  • You didn’t feel anxious or guilty for eating something you shouldn’t.
  • And you didn’t feel ‘good’ for eating something you should.

Clean eating was not a moral issue.

However, It’s A Far Cry From Where “Clean Eating” Is Now

You see there’s really not much money to be made in promoting those ‘old’ rules and so “Clean Eating” has morphed into something quite different.

With the ‘experts’ wanting to differentiate their product, program or book, The Rules have changed, in some cases drastically. And in doing so Clean Eating is no longer necessarily healthy eating.

Enter Clean Eating V2.0

Fit young woman fighting off fast food
Whilst “Clean Eating’ still sticks to the ‘old’ principles of cooking from scratch and limiting processed and refined foods, the new versions embody eliminating certain foods COMPLETELY, with little or no basis for doing so.

For example gluten. Cleaning eating is now associated with eliminating gluten (found in grains) from the diet.  This makes sense if you are 1 of the estimated 1 in 100 people who have celiac disease.  An autoimmune disorder that can occur in genetically predisposed people where the ingestion of gluten leads to damage of the small intestine causing serious health complications.  However, for most people, the avoidance of gluten is not just unnecessary but unhealthy.

The Biggest Proponents of Clean Eating Are Not Doctors, Dieticians or Nutritionists.

These experts or “health and wellness gurus” are mostly celebrities, bloggers, and YouTube stars who have decided to take their limited understanding of nutrition, or what has worked for them (so far) as gospel and are spreading ‘the word’ to their followers.

However, most of what they say has no scientific basis. And what should also be alarming, is that a number of these clean eating experts have eating disorders of their own.

Like the dieting experts before them, these new ‘health’ experts are playing on our fears of weight gain, getting fat or not being good enough as we are.

On top of which they promote and perpetuate a belief that the only way to be ‘healthy’ is through Clean Eating

Despite what it may look like Clean Eating is really no more than a restrictive diet fad. And for many people this will be a problem and it could be a problem for you.

Why Clean Eating Could Be A Problem For You.

One of the fundamental problems with following any “diet” including Clean Eating is that you stop listening or don’t learn to listen to your own internal cues of hunger and appetite, satisfaction and satiety and start listening to someone else.

Someone who probably doesn’t know who you are, what you do or what is going on in your life.  That is, they are not really equipped to be telling you what and how and when to eat.  However, there is someone who is!

Your Inner Nutritionist.

We all have an “Inner Nutritionist” who knows your body better than anyone – even you!

Learning to listen to her will restore your sanity around food, eating, and even weight maintenance. You will finally trust yourself and your body again.

Because of this, listening to your own internal cues around food and eating is an imperative part of bulimia recovery.  If you wanting to learn to listen to Your Inner Nutritionist, are struggling to do so or would like to know how to start please email me and put “Inner Nutritionist” into the subject line.

Restriction Causes Bingeing

Although there is nothing inherently wrong with having a gluten or grain free meal or even meals, to be avoiding these (unless you are a Celiac) or any food on an ongoing basis, results in cravings for the very foods you can’t have and ultimately leads to bingeing.

I know how tempting it can be to limit your food choices in the hope it will stop you bingeing but unfortunately limiting your food choices tends to have a counter effect.

If you’re not satisfying your own internal cues of hunger and satiety – that is providing your body with enough calories or nutrients for its requirements, you are likely to find yourself wanting to binge.

The Rules of Clean Eating Can Set You Up For Failure.

Not only are there rules for what you can and can’t eat but there are also rules for cooking.  Now cooking from scratch is great – I love it – I advocate it – but it isn’t always possible.

Some of the overly long and complicated cooking practices advocated by the clean eating movement make adherence difficult, if not impossible. That is unless, like the Hemsley Sisters, for example, this is what you do; promote the movement.

And if you’re prone to Perfectionism which many bulimics are, you really don’t need more rules to live by.

More rules and regulations around food and eating and cooking don’t free you, they keep you trapped.

Further, if you find cooking from scratch too hard to adhere to, then you may reduce your food choices, even more, to stay within the boundaries of eating clean.

And clean eating can get in the way of you saying “Yes” to invites out, potentially increasing your isolation.

As tempting as Clean Eating may sound, if you are suffering from or trying to recover from bulimia, jumping onto the clean eating bandwagon or going on one of the 30 Day Clean Eating Challenges, that are currently popular, you are likely setting yourself up for failure.

Clean Eating: The Devil In Disguise?

Clean Eating keeps in place the idea that food is the problem, by continuing the story that some foods are “good” and some are “bad”.  However, there IS no food inherently ‘bad’, fattening or addictive, it is our thinking ABOUT it and how we consume it, that is the problem.

Food is not the real problem, IT IS YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH FOOD THAT IS THE PROBLEM and ‘eating clean’ does nothing to heal this.  It keeps in place the belief that you cannot trust your body or yourself and that you need to listen to someone else.  This keeps you powerless in the matter of actually taking care of and nourishing yourself and your body.

The sentiment underlying Clean Eating isn’t bad. We all want to be healthy and eating well is part of that, however, if you have Bulimia BEWARE: Clean Eating Can Play Straight Into The Hands of Your Eating Disorder.

For you, it could be the devil in disguise.

2 thoughts on “Bulimia & The Dirty Secret About Clean Eating”

  1. I am 52 years old and have been a bulimic for 38 long years! UGH!! Today I am so happy I have been bursting with tears all day. It’s a miracle, really a true miracle!! I wanted to share this with someone, however, I have no one to share it with, so I thought I would find a blog and share it on a blog. Today marks my 30th day of recovery. No binging, no purging, no sugar. I am also gluten intolerant and lactose intolerant so food can get very boring without the sugars. This was not a planned recovery, this is why I say it is a miracle. I woke up one morning, went about my day busy as always end of the day went to sleep. 4 days later I realized that not only had I not binged, or purged for 4 days, but that I had had no sugar. My meals were the same as usual small healthy gluten and lactose-free and snacking on raw nuts throughout the day.
    I don’t feel like I am forcing myself to not binge so there is never an urge to purge. I don’t really understand what happened to my brain, but it is amazing!!!!

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