When we hear the term “clean eating”, what do we think of? It can say something different to each person. Possibly, the most common interpretation of clean eating is that it refers to eating whole, “real” foods that have undergone little processing and have not been flavored or bulked-up with too many additives, preservatives or seasonings. We like foods we can recognize – preferably something as close to its natural form as possible. We are more likely to consider a fresh, organic fruit salad as being healthier than a dessert made from powder in a sachet because we understand what the ingredients are if they look familiar.
This can lead to branding other food options as “dirty” or “bad”, such as grains, refined sugars, alcohol, ice cream, confections, pastries, burgers and pizza. Even the cleanest of eaters will often cheat a little, maybe with some meat or other food they avoid for the remainder of the week. If the focus is kept on clean ingredients, it’s a good idea to have a plentiful supply of high-quality, natural, nutritious food at hand in your home so that you can easily make a good, healthy meal without resorting to packaged or processed foods for convenience. A good example would be a hearty salad or brown rice bowl with some broccoli and a grilled chicken breast, flavored with minimal seasoning.
Clean eating seems like a great course of action for optimal nutrition and sustenance but there are a few possible drawbacks. If we consistently exclude certain foods from our diets, this can lead to nutrient deficiencies and our bodies need a wide range of vitamins, minerals, trace minerals and other nutrients. Also, if you put yourself on a rigidly strict diet, it’s awkward to say the least when you’re invited to dinner at someone’s house or you go out to a restaurant and the only choices are dishes that you are convinced will make you ill or undermine your health.
When we restrict our dietary intake, sometimes we find ourselves feeling deprived and compensating for all our efforts and self-restraint with binge-eating or battling huge cravings. This is inevitably followed by feelings of guilt and shame at having failed to stick to the plan and eat only the cleanest, “best” foods, as we strive to maintain the high standards we have set for ourselves. People can get trapped in a bingeing and cheating cycle and can develop severe self-esteem issues and even eating disorders.
A clean eating diet regimen may result in initial fat loss when high-calorie foods are replaced by low-calorie options. If you choose to focus on balancing calories to lose weight, you’d need to use up more calories than you take in, so just focusing on the quality of your food choices can often lead to a false sense of security.
The idea behind flexible dieting is to keep track of the proteins, carbohydrates and fats in your food intake. This shifts the focus from what foods you are eating towards meeting your daily target. On the whole, about 80% of your calories should come from proteins and 20% from foods with lower nutritional profiles. This way, if you decide to have a little of the food that you really love, you can enjoy it in moderation without the shame or guilt that can come with “cheating”. If it’s included in your nutritional plan, you can’t accuse yourself of straying too far from your goal. One of the lovely aspects of flexible dieting is that it doesn’t ask you to label foods and categorize them as “clean” or “dirty”. Without such prejudices, you are more likely to be more adventurous and eat a wider variety of foods. With such a satisfying approach, you’re less likely to feel deprived and your body might feel fewer cravings, as the nutritional profile of your diet will encompass a wider range of nutrients.
Cooking meals becomes a more exciting process as you expand your horizons, and as you begin to include more ingredients, your recipes become more elaborate and tastier. Additionally, eating in restaurants becomes a lot less intimidating and gets a lot more enjoyable! All this works well when done in moderation. For instance, you might enjoy a large green salad with simple proteins and your side dish of pizza would be a smaller portion, rather than dominating the meal. So you’d still get to enjoy the food you really love and want but not get filled up with just that.
Clean eating changes body composition.
It seems hard to go back to a diet of processed foods once we’ve experienced eating cleanly. If we allow our nutritional instincts to do the steering, the emphasis we once had regarding “fun” foods becomes a co-factor instead of our main drive, yet we can still enjoy those foods in moderation. Our bodies can change composition based on the amount of nutritionally dense calories we need to support our lifestyles. An active person will need more fuel than a sedentary person. When we get really specific and track the proteins that make up these calories, we can target fat loss and muscle gain, not just keep the focus on losing weight itself. Muscle weighs more than fat and it’s good to be conscious of our physical composition. So tracking protein intake is greatly superior to just counting calories. In the end, it’s always the quality of the calories that counts the most.