I am NOT a clean eater, and here’s why…

Your account is so clean! Wow, so inspired by such clean eating! You’re so disciplined/have so much willpower! I have had comments left like this on my Instagram account sometimes, and though I know those leaving the comments are being kind, I think I need to clear something up… Unless its a product I’ve bought, which markets itself as clean, I don’t use the hashtags #cleaneats or #eatclean. But…isn’t my IG account all clean food?? No, it isn’t, and no, I am not a clean eater. Yes, I eat a balanced diet, yes I avoid super-processed food and try to buy sustainably- but no, I don’t exclusively “clean eat”.  
So, what is my beef with clean eating? Well. Lets take a look:
  1. It’s so fucking expensive (depending what you buy). If you go and browse a big health food shop, then you will see ingredients so expensive, that they cost around 1/4 of my food bill for a week at uni. Packets of seeds, gluten free muffins, sprouted/activated/ holy water bread…You can eat healthily without buying these expensive ingredients. People think that eating healthily is expensive because they are looking exclusively at products like this. If you want to dapple in fancier ingredients- I do actually love chia seeds, when I can buy them on offer- then fine. Go wild. But you can buy loads of fruit, veggies, brown rice, wholemeal or sourdough bread, dark chocolate…for much less money. I’m not saying all clean eaters buy these mega expensive versions of products- but the clean eaters at the top do seem to advocate buying ingredients that are more expensive than they have to be. Why buy coconut sugar, when honey or dates are cheaper and serve the same purpose? The idea people have about healthy eating being expensive could stem, in some sense, from the idea that they have to buy these products to eat clean. Admittedly, this is only an issue depending who you are listening to when it comes to food shopping. I know some clean eaters who encourage you to buy gluten free/ organic everything, and some who just say eat wholefoods and basically get a balanced diet. But this confuses me: what actually are the requirements to eat clean? Because I’ve heard several different versions.
  2. It can feel exclusive- This comes back to price of food and who you’re listening to. I feel as if saying you can only eat organic/expensive products feels as if its geared at those higher up the social scale. The ones with a private chef to cook their fancy meals. Unless you live somewhere where locally produced organic veg is going cheap, then it isn’t such a realistic option. You can buy free range eggs, get fruit and veg at a market, and buy wild caught fish in packs (then freeze it to save some money)- but if a fully organic shopping list is out of your reach, as it is mine, then don’t feel bad about it! Again, some clean eaters push you to buy organic and avoid “the dirty dozen”- but is this requirement of clean eating? 
  3. It’s not sustainable in the long term- I try to ask myself: can I see myself doing this in 10 years? Five years? Five months? If I can’t then I no longer do it. Because I want to just enjoy my food and my life. Try to imagine buying uber expensive ingredients if you lose your job. Try to imagine passing up on your own 90th birthday cake. Not putting ketchup or salt and vinegar on your fish and chips- no you can’t use pink Himalayan salt. You probably won’t even be eating fish and chips if you’re clean eating and you’ve already had “cheat” day. Basic principles of clean eating seem to include: eating whole foods, avoiding processed foods, eliminating refined sugar, eating 5-6 meals per day, cooking your own meals, and combining protein with carbs. Sounds easy enough. But then again…I don’t think I can realistically avoid refined sugar in everything for the rest of my life. I can minimise it, but not eliminate it. What if 5-6 meals doesn’t work for you in day-to-day life? And I am sure that most of the “clean eaters” who have cook books out have more finicky rule than that… What’s more sustainable is finding out what works for you, what keeps you healthy, and running with it.
  4. It can become obsessive- Granted, some people have that wonderful mind-set where they manage to not become obsessive over anything. But, I know there are other people like me, people who have very obsessive personalities. I went through a stage where I wouldn’t add salt to my food, drink coffee, eat dates…foods I had read/convinced myself weren’t good for my body. Ironically, clean eating brings to mind the phrase “preaching to the converted”: people who tend to hanker after it are always looking for the perfect diet. In telling yourself you can’t eat something, believe me, you will end up thinking about it more than anything else. I tend to find that when I let myself have what I’m craving, in the context of an overall balanced diet, I stop obsessing over it. Which leads me to my next point…
  5. Cheat days/meals- I get the impression that not all clean eaters do this, preferring to just let themselves do the above, and enjoy small treats or meals out now and again, in a balanced way. But, the idea of a cheat meal/day isn’t something that sits well with me. Coming from some experience of restricting and binging the idea of denying yourself all week, to let loose for one day or one meal, seems incredibly unhealthy for your mind set. You have one day (or meal) to stuff yourself with “forbidden” foods, and once the clock strikes midnight on your cheat day- its back to restricting. And personally, I found myself feeling so bad for having a cheat meal that I would skip it altogether.
  6. Mental health And that leads nicely onto this point. Is having a body that is a perfectly formed product of clean eating, really worth not being able to do anything with it? Is it worth looking good on the outside, but letting your mental health slowly swirl down the plug hole, when you have to check every label and avoid meals out with friends? When you put foods into “clean” and “unclean”, weird things start to happen in your head. Food shouldn’t have that power. It shouldn’t make you feel like a good or a bad person. Yes, clearly you should be eating some foods more often than others- but foods that make you smile, though they may not be something you’d eat every day, shouldn’t be sent packing altogether.
  7. People are cutting food groups out without any evidence it is good for them as an individual. We all know that bread is Satan incarnate. And gluten will turn you into a hot air balloon. And one grain of sugar will kill you. We also all know I love sarcasm. Numerous clean eaters I see advocate cutting out food groups altogether. Without medical tests for intolerance. One of my closest friends is allergic to dairy, and carries an epipen: it isn’t fun. It isn’t cool to have an allergy. It isn’t something that means you can have a badge or a gold star. It’s serious: it means ringing ahead in restaurants to see if they can cater to it, or will let her bring her own food, keeping her cooking equipment separate to her flatmates… People who cut out groups without tests mean that some people roll their eyes when those like my friend say they are allergic to dairy (incidentally, she writes a blog about managing her allergy. You’ll find her blog here: http://studentwithallergy.blogspot.co.uk/). Yes, some foods might bloat you- but that’s what happens to you. Not every single person who bought your book on amazon. Figure out what works for you personally. Go with that. There is nothing wrong with some courgetti now and again- but there is equally nothing wrong with wholemeal pasta, or brown rice, or potato. I see clean eaters cutting out carbs, though I’m not even sure if this is a requirement of clean eating. I would like to put this out there: the only time I’ve had cauliflower rice, it tasted like absolute shite- “clean” or not
  8. These people AREN’T QUALIFIED. To go back to people saying we should cut out gluten. How many of these people are qualified? Unless you have spoken to a dietician or a doctor about cutting out food groups- then don’t do it.  
So, what am I, and what is my IG account about?
Well, I am a student who loves food and cooking and colourful stuff on my plate. I also love carbs. I love fish. I love porridge. I love sourdough with butter, dark chocolate, good quality ice cream and fro-yo.

But my way of eating isn’t all I am (queue mega- cheesy inspirational background music): I am writer, a poet, a reader, a rock climber and weights lifter and I sometimes sing (very badly) when I’m walking around the house by myself. I like to take pictures (hence my IG account for food, and my private account, and my photo album I keep by my bed). I like to wear cat eye sunglasses. Freesias are my favourite flowers. I can’t stand James Joyce. I love the smell of wood-smoke. Bonfire night is one of my favourite nights of the year. I hate getting my face wet when it rains. Blue or green is my favourite colour… Any diet that runs the risk of focusing all of who you are into what you eat- instead of all this other stuff- doesn’t have my support.

The basic principles of eating good, wholesome food and avoiding heavily processed foods is great. The lack of balance, or making yourself feel “clean” or “dirty” due to what you eat- isn’t.  And although clean eating, at its core, is a diet that has the best intentions at heart, I feel like for me this was the biggest issue: as someone who likes things black and white I personally couldn’t find a healthy balance with clean eating. I had a “good” or a “bad”, a “clean” or a “cheat” day. I don’t like to apply labels to my diet anymore,  though I understand that clean eating does really work for some. 

What do I believe when it comes to food then? How do I eat?
I eat a balanced diet: veggies and chocolate.
I don’t have a sweet tooth usually, but when I want something sweet I’ll eat it. 
I don’t cut out condiments or gluten or dairy.
I do keep highly processed foods to a minimum
I keep foods that I know make me feel sluggish to a minimum
I’m not a fan of red meat or many alcoholic drinks because I don’t like the taste. I go through phases of liking chicken, and phases of hating it.
Maybe my tastes will change again in another ten years.
The only thing I will never allow to be part of my diet?

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