This could very well be an unpopular opinion of mine, but I’m going to share it anyways. I have a huge problem with the term “clean eating.” Now I can guess at what you’re thinking, “What could possibly be wrong with healthy eating?” I don’t have a problem with healthy eating, I think that eating balanced meals while still eating what you want (intuitive eating is my jam) is amazing. What I have a problem with is the other negativity that comes with identifying some types of eating as clean. The problem with this is that the flip side of having some types of eating or some types of food being viewed as “clean” is that others are then “dirty.”
Let’s look at some other things in life that are sorted into categories of clean or dirty.
When you look at these things and you think about the connotation that these things are labelled with when they are dirty, it’s not very pretty. If you see a person who for whatever reason has poor hygiene, what would you think? Would you look down on this person because they are less clean than you? Would you wonder what is wrong with them that causes them to be dirty?
Let’s look at a home. When you were growing up, did your mom or dad ever get really stressed before having company over? By this I mean did they ever run around trying to clean every part of the house because they couldn’t seem to stand the thought of their company seeing them living in anything but a clean home?
What do these things tell us about how we view things that are dirty? It shows that we think they are bad, not worthy of being seen. This is exactly what “clean eating” is doing to certain foods. It is saying that there are some foods that are worthy and that are right, while there are others that are dirty and deserve to be eaten with feelings of shame or guilt.
When my eating disorder was at its peak, I masked my symptoms with exercising and “clean eating.” I could not tell you the amount of times I posted on Instagram or Facebook about a workout I had done or a meal I had just eaten, looking for some kind of validation that I was doing something right. When in reality, I was exercising to the point of passing out most days, and I was purging almost all of the “clean” food I ate. I remember feeling that if I was eating food that was not socially viewed as “clean” then I would have to work out longer, deny myself of my next meal, or ensure I purged until there was nothing but bile left in my stomach.
This is what diet culture is doing to our society. It is creating the belief that some foods warrant the eater to feel shame and guilt. It is telling people that certain meals are “cheating,” NEWSFLASH: eating is not a game. It is something we need to do in order to fuel our bodies and live. Diet culture tells us that food = shame. But what I wish I had known is that food = life. I wish I had known that there can be moderation with food and that food does not have to be shrouded in shame and guilt. I wish that I had known more, and known better. I wish that we did not live in a world that pushes these beliefs down our throats, beliefs that contribute to a culture promoting disordered eating.
I wish I knew so many things that I know now. But I cannot go back and change what I didn’t know then. So I am telling you all in the hopes that the mistakes that I made could potentially be avoided by another.