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Hot Take: Is clean eating really worth the hype?

by Renee Dunn 14 Jul 2021
Hot Take: Is clean eating really worth the hype?

Real. Organic. Food. 🌿🌱🍏🥒⁠

Well, what does "real" really mean? Is "clean" eating this pinnacle of health that the wellness industry promises? 👀⁠

Hot take: Probably not 😵⁠

... but I definitely used to think so!

This might be somewhat confusing coming from the founder of a brand that is indisputably clean label. We're allergen free, preservative free, free of added sugars. We keep it pretty squeaky clean with just 3 ingredients per snack.

I stand by this, and am proud of our short ingredient list. But when it comes to my daily intake and how I approach my food choices, the "clean"ness of them is no longer the only thing I take into consideration.

I used to be incredibly restrictive with my food. It originally stemmed from gut issues (as well as body image issues, which more often than not, often converge as one) as far back as middle school, but really picked up in high school.

I started to cut out anything "bad" for you - I remember my middle school self avoiding the mac and cheese at the cafeteria or the pizza offered at musical theater camp in favor of boat loads of fruits, nuts, microwaved sweet potatoes with tuna, romaine lettuce, and hot sauce (???????). Then in college, my sophomore year, I started a paleo diet, which lasted until I was about 25 years old. 

Throughout this period, I did 3 Whole30's, 2 21 Day Sugar Detoxes, 2 3-day Juice Cleanses, a bout with the low FODMAP protocol... always looking to cut something out and stay as clean as possible, always "resetting" and restarting; searching for clean label swaps that would help me "heal my gut" and inflammation, and beating myself up whenever I went for the "real thing" versus a "cleaner" version (didn't matter that the paleo nutbutter covered twix bar concoction was probably 4-5x the caloric intake of a regular candy bar because it was ~*~nutrient dense~*~ and ~*~quality of my calories over quantity~*~). 

I do believe in the power of nutrient-dense food, and that food can truly be medicine. I recognize that some of these choices have helped me form healthier habits in my daily life (I crave veggies and fruits, and when I grocery shop, I still gravitate mostly toward the perimeters of the store), and believe they CAN be an excellent starting point for folks looking to start on the path of a more nutrient dense diet.

I also recognize that sometimes we make the "clean" choice because of values or moral beliefs - because we're avoiding ingredients that are harming the soil, that are adding chemicals to our environment, or that support large corporations with little to no ethical consideration in their supply chains.

That said, when we come at "clean eating" from a place of always trying to detox, to fix, to avoid, to cut out, therein lies the issue.  I struggled with body image, bloating and binge eating cycles, and my mind was constantly preoccupied with food. As a fitness instructor (for the past 10+ years), I was always sore, injured, inflamed, often refusing carbs or fearing that if I ate processed food I'd gain weight. 

It became a question of morality. Good or bad. "Clean" for the sake of "clean." From a place of fear, instead of trusting myself to make good decisions for my body.

Over the past 1-2 years, I started loosening up. I reintroduced some legumes, then some grains, then dairy, some sugar (GASP), and over the past year, gluten - real deal cereal, bread, pasta..... AHHHH. 

And to my surprise... I did not die. My health did not deteriorate.

In fact, I started to realize that I could enjoy a scone and move on with my day, without the guilt and stress aftermath and spiral. I could eat over 200g of carbs a day, and gain muscle mass - and it could come from foods other than sweet potatoes. I feel a freedom with my food - and my BODY - that I have never felt before. 

So while I do fully support the innovations in our better-for-you space to provide folks with more nutrient dense options on the regular, I don't subscribe to "clean" everything, or WATCH OUT FOR THAT TRACE OF INFLAMMATORY OIL (unless of course you have a medical condition or are working to identify a health issue). Fear is never the way.


What do you think? I'd love to hear your thoughts or your food journey in the comments! 

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