The Ever Changing Definition of Clean Eating

The topic of clean eating comes up all the time. I invariable find myself discussing clean eating whether I am talking to friends over dinner or speaking in front of a group of people.

french market

I realize that eating clean may mean different things to different people and that’s okay. You may find that your concept of clean eating changes over time. Mine sure did. In the early days of my weight loss efforts, eating clean meant:

♦ No chocolate before getting out of bed.

♦ The bag of chips for the football party stayed unopened until the party.

♦ Ordering a salad at a fast food restaurant instead of large fries.

♦ Diet Coke rather than regular Coke.

That was eating clean to me back then. As the years have gone by, my interpretation and execution of clean eating has evolved and changed. A few years into my weight maintenance experience, eating clean might have meant:

♦ Buying organic produce.

♦ Not making many casseroles.

♦ No soft drinks.

♦ Whole wheat bread instead of “honey wheat.”

♦ Baked chips rather than fried.

For the past few years, eating clean has changed yet again and become more nuanced.

♦ Homemade foods whenever possible including grinding my own wheat and making tortillas, soups, and other foods from scratch.

♦ Being hyper vigilant about reading labels for excessive sodium, high fructose corn syrup, and chemical additives.

♦ Being aware of where my food is sourced.

You can see that my definition of clean eating has evolved over the 16 years that I have maintained my weight.

I believe that it is not the term “clean eating” that is important, but rather the intent behind the term. What matters to me is not whether your definition of clean eating is the same as mine, but rather that we are all striving to eat a diet that is good for us, good for our children, and good for the environment.

My family has rolled with the changes in our diet over the years. My older kids remember eating Pop Tarts for breakfast and Kids Cuisine frozen dinners on Friday nights. Now they hate store bought bread and know the difference between polenta, couscous, and quinoa.

I’d encourage you to not get hung up on the term clean eating or compare your diet to someone else’s diet. Work consistently toward making healthy choices that will help you lose the weight you desire and give your body the best food possible. Clean eating isn’t a one-size-fits-all term. It’s a way of life that will change, evolve, and develop over time.

For my family, clean eating is healthier eating. I can tell a difference in how I feel. I’ve been this weight (minus pregnancies) for a long time, but even as I’ve gotten older I feel better and have more energy. Why? Because I always try to put better foods into my body and my body is responding positively.

After all, you might be able to maintain a weight loss (or lose weight) by eating the “right” amount of junky calories a day, but you won’t be able to maintain your health very long with a diet of fried foods, cokes, and sodium filled processed foods.

For me, eating clean has changed over the years and will likely change more as time goes by.

So what’s your definition of Eating Clean? Are you where you want to be, or do you see yourself transitioning into other directions as time goes on?  Diane

7 thoughts on “The Ever Changing Definition of Clean Eating

  1. Tracy L says:

    I have to say this term has always bothered me. I feel like it’s a buzz word and people like to brag about how they eat clean. I never have really understood what it meant and when I have read clean recipes they aren’t any different from what I cook (or sometimes they are worse). What I am getting from your post is that clean eating means different things to different people. If this is the case, why do we use the term at all! 🙂 But enough with my rant-ha! I tend to believe it means what you are saying, healthier eating. For me that means trying to eat unprocessed foods (fresh fruit and veggies) as well as lean proteins and whole grains and lower my sugar intake. I feel like the road to health is similar to the road to faith, we are all in different places when we start and we are all just trying to improve, no matter what we call it!

  2. Janis says:

    What I got from your post is that it’s the commitment to continual improvement that matters, and that it’s a lifelong thing. A lot of people are bothered that it is a lifelong thing, and that what worked when they were six months into their loss or maintenance doesn’t work later on — that they have to change things up. Your example shows that changing things up is the normal state of things, and actually ideal as long as the changes are improvements.

    You know that I don’t have a weight problem and that I read some weight-related blogs for the lessons I can learn to apply in other life challenges. But I also have been gradually changing how I eat. I’ve always been a cleaner-than-usual eater just because I seem to have a natural dislike for too much junk. I really would reach first for the cauliflower florets in the veggie tray before the potato chips at a party. (Veggies are daily food for me, chips are special occasion party food that I never have in my home.)

    But I like junk sometimes — I like ice cream, and there was a sandwich shop near my workplace that made fantastic french fries. However, I’ve been moving more and more in the direction of not eating anything that would make my grandparents look at me funny or my great-grandparents go green around the gills. (I draw the line at scungilli, though.) For me, I’m connecting it not so much to clean eating as to a sort of heritage thing: eating as my grands and greats did before they got on the boat. Ultimately, it is clean eating although I’m unwilling to turn into a Food Snob over it. 🙂

    I guess the takeaways are that clean eating is more an attitude of continual improvement than one goal that you either do perfectly or fail completely at. Also, everyone, including people without weight concerns, needs to pay attention to this. One can’t complain that it’s “not fair” that people who struggle with weight have to do this — everyone has to.

    • Diane Carbonell says:

      I look at it as a continual journey as well. It is also one that changes over time as you described. I wish I did not have a sweet tooth! It is something that I have to continually be on guard against.

      Your last sentence is so true. I try and look at improving our diet as a privilege rather than a problem and realize that it is not a weight thing but a life decision.

  3. Natalie says:

    Some people are annoyingly “holier-than-thou” about clean eating: if you didn’t milk your own mountain-reared goat and grow your own biodynamic vegetables then it just doesn’t count. It is a very gradual journey for me. I’ve always cooked at home but when I left my mother’s house at the age of 24 I had no idea how to cook and I relied a lot on jars and packets. Over the years I’ve learned to flavour taco meat with spices rather than a packet of “taco seasoning” that is mainly salt and sugar, drink water with a squeeze of lemon instead of lemon cordial, make my own yoghurt with real fruit in it. But I still eat bread (from a bakery not a supermarket), I still have half a teaspoon of white sugar in my tea, I buy fruit and vegetables that were almost certainly sprayed with pesticides. So there is no way a purist would call me a clean eater! It’s a work in progress.

    • Diane Carbonell says:

      I agree. I call that attitude food snobbery.

      For many people, it is unrealistic to buy all organic foods or eat a perfectly clean diet. For me, it is a work in progress and I am enjoying the journey rather than worrying about the mistakes I may be making.

  4. Jenea Mason says:

    I actually have a question for you. I was just wondering, when you finally succeeded at your weight loss efforts, what was different this time around? Did you just change what you ate, how you prepared your food, and what kind of foods you were eating? Did you add in exercise? Right now I’m trying to do everything at once and I think I’m just getting overwhelmed. It’s interesting to see different perspectives.

    • Diane Carbonell says:

      What was different for me was that I got to the point where I knew I had to make that ultimate choice. Would I keep gaining weight or would I make the hard choices necessary to change my life? Once I made that decision, there were some things I did differently. I began an exercise program, which was primarily just walking. I watched my portion sizes like a hawk, and I dealt with the emotional issues that caused me to become 305 pounds. You can do it too!

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