I love Nigella Lawson, don’t get me wrong. For starters, Nigella loves Whittaker’s dark chocolate AND she has amazing hair. How does she get her hair so glossy? Is it a special conditioner? But I digress… my point is, I never thought Nigella and I would be on the same page when it comes healthy eating advice – what with Nigella’s tendency to get all ‘dirty’ and ladle spoonfuls of sugar and cream into her delicious creations. But Nigella’s tear down of ‘clean eating’, around a year ago, had me quietly high-fiving myself (I work alone, there was no-one else to high-five).
‘Clean eating’, depending on who you ask, is a diet based on eating whole foods or ‘real’ foods.
All well and good, eating whole foods is basically what main-stream nutritionists and dietitians spend their whole lives trying to convince people to do – so its good news on that front.
However, some ‘clean eating’ gurus take it a step further, encouraging followers to ditch dairy, gluten and grains (don’t get me started on critiquing this restrictive advice, argh!), or to detox and cleanse their body with the magnificent smoothie recipes they sell in their books.
Speaking of books, I could write one about what is wrong with this advice – but I’ll save you the $20 and sum it up in one sentence:
Don’t take nutrition advice from unqualified people. Simple. Really.
Still, that’s not my main point, rather it’s the whole ‘clean’ criteria of their ‘clean eating’ regime that I’m interested in.
And I need to point out here that I love cleanliness! Especially when someone else is doing the cleaning of my house.
I love it when my children are clean. I love it when the dishes are clean. I love it when my car is clean – heck, I even got the old garden hose out and washed my car the other day – it looked amaaaazing for about one day.
But I do NOT love it when food is referred to as ‘clean’.
According to my online dictionary, clean means:
1. Free from dirt, marks, or stains.
2. Morally uncontaminated; pure; innocent.
I am over-the-moon happy when my food is free from dirt, marks and stains.
My standards are fairly low to be honest, I have two young boys, so I know all about food picked up off the floor, food smeared on inappropriate body surfaces and the like.
But I’m hazarding a guess this is not what ‘clean eating’ gurus mean when they refer to ‘clean eating’. Which really only leaves the other definition of clean eating:
I’ve read and heard many a ‘clean eater’ saying they’re not ascribing moralistic values to eating, that the whole ‘clean eating’ thing has been taken the wrong way. But I think I know a Pinocchio when I see one.
Maybe they’re back-peddling now because they’ve finally understood how destructive it can be to ascribe moralistic and emotive values to food. Because honestly…
If food is not pure, is it then impure or dirty food?
If food is not innocent, is it then guilty food?
And if food is not morally uncontaminated, is it then contaminated food?!
To be fair, food guilt in small doses is quite natural – I guess most of us sometimes feel a bit guilty about food choices we’ve made. But when food guilt, and the process of trying to avoid it (by eating ‘clean’ foods) begins to interfere with your daily life there is a distinct possibility you could develop disordered eating, or worse.
Talk to any eating disorder clinic and they’ll tell you all about the stream of women that end up there with a binge-eating disorder after attempting to follow overly-restrictive diets.
Still, there is a silver lining to every cloud. And the valuable lesson we learn from the ‘clean eating’ cloud is to remember that:
Honestly, sometimes the healthy eating rhetoric gets too much even for me, a qualified nutritionist.
The fact is, food is central to our lives and many of our celebrations – Christmas, birthdays, barbecues. And sharing a meal is a beautiful way to share our lives with the people who matter to us.
So enjoy the food you are eating – be in the moment with your food and your dining companions, chew every mouthful and savour the taste, whether it’s healthier food you can eat everyday or a less healthy, occasional food.
Eat until you’re comfortably full, then leave the table knowing you are doing your best for your body on that day.
P.S. If you haven’t already worked it out, my headline question “are they better than us?” was a play on the moralistic approach of the ‘clean eating’ diet. My final thoughts then? Comparison is the death of joy! Never compare yourself to anyone else – you rock just the way you are!