Clean Eating: How Far is Too Far?

Exploring the issues with the term "clean eating"

 

By Logan Cross Contributor

The concept of clean eating is bullshit. As someone who’s dealt with issues involving body image, restrictive eating and the like, it’s unnerving to see how quickly people will adopt these so-called healthy lifestyles by cutting out more than half of what makes up their diet for the sake of losing weight.

To clarify, I don’t consider cutting out certain foods due to allergies or disease to fall under the umbrella term of clean eating. When you have celiac disease or an allergy to nuts, or when you’re lactose intolerant or diabetic, not eating the foods that induce these allergic reactions is life-saving. Cutting out bread because you think it makes you fat and expecting to suddenly have all your problems fixed is not only groundless and illogical, but can also be the first nudge in a domino effect of disordered eating patterns.

My personal experience with eating disorders is what provokes me to always say something about this subject.

As a young dancer, the ideal body type was something that was constantly on my mind. I can clearly remember one of my teachers asking a girl how much she weighed and when she responded, the teacher congratulated her because she was under 40 kilograms, or 87 pounds. I have memories of being chosen last to be partnered and having difficulty fitting into costumes made for girls four inches shorter than me. I had many of these experiences before I was 15.

I abused diet pills, cut calories and got rid of any excess food in whatever way I could — and I binge-ate whenever I messed up. It was an unhealthy and toxic cycle, and I did it all with a clean conscience because I told myself that this was clean eating. Clean out your eating patterns the same way you clean out a closet, right? Purge all the unnecessary and only put stuff in there that’s worth saving.

But what do you consider worth putting in your body? As with any extreme behavior, it got out of my control. When you’re constantly de-cluttering, sterilizing and scrubbing out a closet, and you’re continually getting rid of things you think you don’t need, anything that gets put in there starts to look like it needs to go.

It’s an incredibly negative, extreme scenario — but not one that doesn’t happen often. There’s even a term for the “clean eating” disorder. It’s called orthorexia, according to the National Eating Disorder Association. While not exactly classified as an eating disorder, it is considered to be an incredibly unhealthy obsession that requires professional help in order to recover.

Clean eating does not equate to health for me anymore. At one point in my life, I really thought that removing certain things from my diet would solve my every issue, and this sentiment is reflected in our pop culture today. (Anyone else see those memes that say something along the lines of, “If I were 20 pounds lighter, everything in my life would be solved,” accompanied by some pop culture reference?)

I think that many people use the crutch of clean eating to deal with other issues in their life, and it’s really easy to get lost in this health-obsessed rabbit hole. If you think that you or someone you know is struggling with eating disorders, please call the NEDA helpline at 1 (800) 931-2237.