What Does it Mean to Eat Clean?

BFM Clean Eats#3

Illustration by Kimberly Suchy

Pinterest boards, dieting websites and fitness enthusiasts alike are abuzz with a new craze for a healthy lifestyle: clean eating. With so many different sources, what it really means to eat clean can be confusing. Because of this, considering a clean-eating lifestyle can leave you with a few questions. Lucky for you, BFM has the answers—clear and simple.

The basics
At its most basic level, clean eating means choosing unrefined, natural food sources such as vegetables, fruits and organic meats and fish and avoiding packaged, processed goods that so many of us are used to.

Debbie Turner, Registered Dietician for Sodexo Food Services at Bryant University in Rhode Island, says “Anything that grows naturally should be able to be processed naturally by your body. Chemically manufactured food has high correlation to health issues.”

Kimberly Flemming, health and fitness blogger for keepitmovingfitness.com, notes it’s important to remember food’s main purpose, beyond taste and comfort, is to provide bodies with energy and nutrients.

“In my opinion, clean eating is eating things that produce fuel for energy, disease prevention and overall good health. It’s eating [some]thing as close to its natural form as possible,” says Flemming.

The clean eating movement centers on this emphasis of consuming naturally grown foods. The Gracious Pantry, a website that offers clean eating recipes for everyday living, advises that if you can’t pronounce one of the ingredients in the food you’re eating, you shouldn’t be eating it. Unprocessed food is simple enough for a body to break down easily, and is naturally healthy.

The Gracious Pantry also provides readers with tips on how to embody a clean-eating lifestyle. Consuming a lot of plants while including meats that are whole and not pre-packaged is the basis of clean eating, but whole wheat pastas and brown rice shouldn’t be forgotten either. And, like all clean eating guidelines, they advise that foods with fewer ingredients are the way to go.

Just another trend?
As far as trends go, clean eating is not a new concept; people have been eating naturally and organically for years. But, according to ABC News, it’s picked up popularity in recent years for a few reasons.

“Books such as Michael Pollan’s “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” and popular documentaries like “Food, Inc.” have helped bring ingredient awareness to the forefront of people’s minds. Michelle Obama’s healthy-eating campaign has also played a major role in this awareness,” said Lauren Torrisi in her article “What the Heck is Clean Eating?”

Aside from focusing on real food that is worthy of consumption, the success of eating clean is dependent on it being adapted as a lifestyle more than a temporary diet.

As many unsuccessful diets eventually reveal, eating right for the purpose of losing weight is a temporary band-aid over a long-term, and often recurring, problem. Clean eating should not be used as a diet so much as a lifestyle change in order to rid the body of chemicals and improve general health. With healthy living and eating, then, comes weight loss that lasts.

Even if the recent obsession with clean eating is born out of the recent books and political trends, clean eating in your own diet should come to stay. Besides focusing on foods that help you to feel better, some suspect that eating clean is the only way to lose weight and keep it off consistently.

“People are getting in tune to the fact that certain diets aren’t working, so they’re marketing towards this idea of clean eating” says Turner.

How to start
Like any lifestyle change, clean eating is one that takes adjustment and effort, but one that is worth it all the same.

“I think that people who aim to eat clean should do it progressively,” says Fleming. “It’s hard to go from eating bad to completely restricting everything all at once. A step by step, week by week, process can make it easy.”

Nutritionists like Turner agree that a slow transformation is the best approach to eating clean.

“Everyone should have a starting point. It should be practiced everyday. Nutrition isn’t perfect and nobody is [perfect]. Taking one aspect of it and building upon it is better than doing all or nothing,” adds Turner.

Oftentimes, people turn to diet changes as a drastic response to unwanted weight gain; however, completely changing the way you eat in an abrupt manner is the quickest way to guarantee it won’t stick. Gradual transitions into clean eating are a more reliable way to adjust to the lifestyle rather than a temporary diet.

Like Flemming, Turner and clean eating experts everywhere suggest, suddenly giving up every indulgence or bad calorie isn’t the best way to start. Instead, incorporate clean eating first into every week, then every day and every meal. The results will surely follow.

Have advice on how to eat clean? Want to share your own clean-eating journey? Comment below.