Clean Eating Conundrum

So let me just preface this post by saying: I don’t want to come across as a virtuous, judgmental vegan who thinks everyone should eat my way or 100% clean. I think everyone’s entitled to eat the way that makes them their healthiest and happiest, whether it falls under a dietary label or not. Like for example, I claim the label of vegan because that’s how I eat 99% of the time, but I also eat raw honey and don’t question every last ingredients when I’m out at a restaurant so I don’t want anyone thinking that I’m trying to be the perfect eater or whatever. These are just my observations on a very big blog world trend.

Clean eating. Probably one of the most popular, yet polarizing phrases out there in the nutrition world today. Remember when people just used to call themselves healthy eaters, and left it at that? Now, everyone’s jumping on the ‘eat clean’ bandwagon, and for good reason. Errr…or maybe not? Yes, eating as many whole foods as possible and avoiding certain additives is certainly conducive to good health in most cases, but what about when it’s taken too far? As mentioned in my orthorexia post, I’ve taken a ‘good’ thing to the extremes and a lot of people, especially those who have struggled with EDs, can fall into the trap of cleaning up their eats…to an unhealthy point.

Not only that, but clean eating can be an unhealthy competition. I feel like Instagram, and just showing off food/fitness photos in general, can create an atmosphere of jealousy and guilt. If you don’t eat 100% clean, like so-and-so from this blog or this-or-that user you follow on IG, you’ll never achieve their bangin’ bod. I don’t necessarily think there’s anything wrong with having a certain body ideal, but if it’s unrealistic or causes you anxiety, it’s not a healthy goal to pursue. I have to admit that I’m guilty of this mindset sometimes, likely because I still have really bad body image most of the time, and I feel like I have little power to change how I see my body outside of drastically changing my eating patterns.

Is my love for a salad-a-day obsessive or healthy? That can be a confusing part of clean eating.

Is my love for a salad-a-day obsessive or healthy? That can be a confusing part of clean eating.

The actual definition of clean eating bothers me too. Mostly because there isn’t one clear cut meaning–it’s variable depending on the person who follows it. Nothing wrong with that, but there is when it becomes deceptive. How many people out there say they like to eat clean, that they never eat anything processed or packaged…and then they post all these low-cal faux foods made with sugar-free syrups and low fat peanut butter. Uhhhhh…that’s not processed? Again, I’m not trying to be virtuous, but to me, real maple syrup is a hell of a lot healthier and more  real than sugar free maple syrup filled with who-knows-what. I feel like clean eating can sometimes be synonymous with restriction. Not necessarily restriction in the form of counting calories and limiting them, but restricting themselves to ‘diet’ foods in order to achieve their physical goals and possibly stay in their safe, disordered comfort zone.

Never skinny enough. Never pretty enough. Never fit enough. Never perfect enough. This is the mindset a lot of girls (including me) fall in to.

Never skinny enough. Never pretty enough. Never fit enough. Never perfect enough. This is the mindset a lot of girls (including me) fall in to.

Clean eating can become such a slippery slope. For me, it’s started to take over my life. I’ve cut out certain things, even things traditionally considered healthy, because they fail to meet my high clean eating standards (mostly just focusing on all natural, no weird ingredients and cutting down on grains). I pore over nutritional labels in stores and online to figure out what I should buy. I feel guilty when I go out to eat and have no idea exactly what’s in the food I’m eating. And all of those signs point to something that’s not so healthy for me. It’s become my new way to restrict, and even if it’s not putting me at physical danger, it’s putting my mind in a really bad place. It’s making me focus way too much on my perceived imperfections, both with my body and with what I’m putting in my mouth, it’s making me obsessive over exercise and food choices and it’s not leading me in the path I want to be on–the path to full recovery from my ED. So this is why I think clean eating may not be the best thing for everybody…at least not if it turns obsessive, restrictive and deceptive.

What do you think about clean eating? 

23 thoughts on “Clean Eating Conundrum

  1. This is such great information and advice. I think I read the whole thing like 3 times. I agree with what you said and know exactly how you feel. You’re not alone girl…keep pushing forward.

  2. I agree 100% with everything you say here,Ashley!
    I am so,so glad you finally realized how awful it is to constantly over-analyze what you eat and buy. I seriously don’t get how so many eople can call this a “lifestyle” because to me,all those restrictive habits are not worth being called a life anymore.
    I hope you’ll find your way out of this and start enjoying food again,Asley – even if it’s not 100% sugar-,gluten,soy-,or allergy-free.

  3. completely agreed. I think balance, and eating things that make you happy even if they’re unhealthy sometimes, is far more important than focusing only on nutrient content etc.

  4. This post just made me a bit sad because you’re so smart and observant yet you seem like “trapped” and I’ve been there too and it’s a deep hole to climb out of. In fact, I struggle really often with ideas of “is this healthy”, “will this make me fat?”, “will this make my hair shiny?”, “should I eat and then exercise or just not eat at all” Yes it all seems stupid to someone who’s never been where we are but when you’re stuck in the middle of it all it’s crazy overwhelming! I think that the first step is admitting you have a problem, and you did which is awesome 🙂 I think you’ll overcome this! You should go out and treat yourself to a panini and a mocha from a coffee shop then watch movies and eat popcorn and m&ms 😉 I’m serious though, you need to prove to yourself that your body is strong enough to handle more than just healthy and clean foods! Instead of ‘stepping’ out of your comfort zone, just freaking jump out ahhaha and you’ll see that you’ll enjoy yourself so much you wont look back 😀 best of luck ❤

    • Ok, I really love what you said here about jumping instead of stepping out of my comfort zone! I always tell myself, the small changes will add up but they never do because I find more ways to cut them back out of my life again. Jumping into fear foods will be a lot harder I think but a lot more freeing for sure!

  5. Hi Ashley,

    I’ve been reading your blog for awhile, but I felt the need to comment on this post because I can relate to it so much. Firstly, I want to say that I think it was very brave of you to come clean about your orthorexic tendencies. It’s so important that you recognize that you’ve become obsessive and it’s significantly interfering with your life.

    I have fallen into the clean-eating “trap”. I am currently recovering from anorexia, and my eating disorder basically started as a way to eat healthier. I wanted to have the perfect diet. Gradually, my list of acceptable foods became smaller and smaller, and I got to the point where eating any kind of “snack” food or any food I deemed “unhealthy” made me feel incredibly guilty. Thankfully, I am getting better. In my opinion, I think it’s best to eat everything in moderation. I think it’s great to want to eat healthy foods, but it’s important to not deprive yourself of foods that maybe aren’t so great for you. I used to fear foods like ice cream and cookies, but now I realize that eating these foods doesn’t make me unhealthy and they don’t hurt me. In fact, it’s been really freeing to know that I can enjoy these foods and I don’t have to feel guilty afterwards.

    I really feel for you and know what you’re going through. Orthorexia can be just as damaging, if not more so, than any other eating disorder. I know you can overcome this though. Like I said before, the important thing is that you recognize that your obsession is unhealthy. Once you overcome this, you will be healthier and stronger than ever, and I promise you, it will feel so freeing. We are all here to support you! 🙂

    • Thank you so much for commenting, I really appreciate your insights. As much as I would never wish these issues on anyone, it’s comforting to know that others have gone through them. I’m so happy for you that you’ve also come to the realization that ‘clean eating’ isn’t all it’s cracked up to be and can actually be really dangerous! I think a lot of girls need to recognize that.

  6. Hi Ashley! I just want to say that I really hope you don’t get any more entrenched in this way of thinking, because honestly it’s just a downward spiral, not just mentally and emotionally, but physically as well. It’s easy to keep cutting out different foods and products the more you focus on eating “clean”. I have a friend who got to the point where she was only eating kale. She got very, very ill and suffers from severe bone deficiencies. I really don’t mean to be so negative, but this eating “clean” phenomenon is just getting to be too much in my opinion. I know how difficult it is to change these thoughts and behaviors, but I’m rooting for you because I know how horrible it is to struggle with this constantly weighing on your mind. You are obviously so smart and talented and you shouldn’t waste your energy on this. 🙂

    • No, don’t apologize for your comment, I think it’s incredibly eye-opening to see just where clean eating can lead you. And it is hard to change that mindset but honestly, I want to one day live a normal, worry-free life and I need to make some changes to work towards that life.

  7. Aja says:

    I 100% agree with everything you said here. I try to “eat clean” but what that means exactly is kind of unclear and that makes it hard for me. And I do the exact same things you wrote you do with clean eating. It’s really hard, and I don’t know if that’s just because we have EDs in our background or because it’s unclear what clean eating is or both.

  8. I have am extremely tainted view of clean eating, probably because my obsession with it was what sparked my eating disorder, and it’s gotten to the point where I can’t help but question a person’s true intentions whenever I hear that they’re trying to eat clean. From personal experience, I’ve found that eating 100% clean wasn’t enough to make me healthy. In fact, the cleaner I ate, the more unhealthy I became. Taking care of the body is all well and good, but it doesn’t mean much if the mind is in a bad place… I think that the happiness and satisfaction that comes from eating treats on a regular basis does way more good than harm, even if it means that you’re not 100% “clean.”

    • The mind is really important–even if our intentions are good, and trying to be healthy, it really can backfire and make us unhealthy. I know I’ve been in much better mindsets when I wasn’t so hyper-focused on everything I was eating, and I think that really makes a big difference.

  9. Clean eating is a concept that doesn’t fully agree with me. Sure, I’m all about trying to eat “better” but it really is too easy to overdo it. Not to blame other bloggers though I’ve seen quite a few I’m finding too extreme in their “clean” ways. Cutting out whole food groups and saying sugar/saturated fat/whatever was the devil? Not healthy anymore to me.
    I’ve personally taken the concept too far, too, but denying myself my true cravings. It’s my mum reminding me continously that I’m not truly living a healthy lifestyle. Yes, maybe I’m choosing healthier foods like whole grains, nut butters, lots of fruit and vegetables. But her credo is: “It’s not a healthy diet as long as you’re not eating enough to properly nourish and fuel your body in general.” Allowing myself to have white bread in the Semmelknödel I enjoy such a lot, snacking on real chips when watching a movie or not questioning every ingredient in a restaurant dish: It’s these small steps that make life more pleasant in general. I’m sure you’ll find a good balance for yourself, too :).

    • I love that quote from your mom–that really makes sense to me with my restrictive tendencies and it’s true that not eating enough is not healthy, no matter what people try to fool themselves into believing.

  10. P says:

    I don’t ever think I was a “clean” eater since I didn’t mind eating sugar-free stuff and gums with sugar alcohols…all as long as there were no calories.

    As you know, I did put severe restrictions on myself for a while (limiting fat gram intake, severe caloric restriction despite working out) so I guess you could say my form of “clean” eating was through severe restriction.

    It’s still a tough battle to fight, but at least we are both aware of our issues and mindsets and know what we need to do.

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