“Clean eating” is being thought of as a vital part of developing a lean, muscular body. It shouldn’t be though, and here’s why.
From diet books to your Instagram feed, this culinary cult seems to be everywhere lately. There are more than 32 million images on Instagram alone tagged #eatclean, enticing followers with black bean fudge cakes and spiralizers. The trend extends to supermarkets, where gluten-free food is soaring and sales of avocados, once a rare treat, have quadrupled since the year 2000.
WHAT IS CLEAN EATING, REALLY?
There are many definitions of clean eating. Put simply, “clean eating” is about eating whole foods, or “real” foods — those that are un- or minimally processed, refined, and handled, making them as close to their natural form as possible. Among Clean Eating recipes, you’ll find a lot of whole grains, fruits & vegetables, lean protein and a low amount of fat & oils.
To be clear, the eating clean lifestyle has many good points. No doubt, any diet that encourages you to eat real, unprocessed food is a step in the right direction. As I write this I’m sitting here sipping on a banana-mango smoothie I made in my beloved blender. While I’m a big advocate of eating nutritious food, solely eating “clean” will not guarantee weight loss.
THE MYTH OF CLEAN EATING
A common misconception is that “clean food” cannot make you fat and calories do not matter as long as you eat healthy. The truth is any kind of food, no matter how “clean”, can cause weight gain. You ask why?
The answer is fairly simple: calories. In terms of body composition, changes occur as a result of total calorie, protein, carb and fat intake. Fat loss is ultimately about calories in versus calories out. Therefore reaching your goals not only depends on what you eat but also on how much you eat.
When it comes to smoothie bowls, I often go overboard with my toppings adding everything I can possibly find in my kitchen. Granola, coconut flakes, goji berries, chia seeds… The list goes on. What is important to realize is that those are not “free” calories. A whole avocado, for example, has about 320 calories, making it one of the most calorie-rich choices you can get. Even though healthy, if consumed in excess, can cause you to experience a weight loss plateau or even weight gain. So remember that next time you start to load your Buddha bowl.
Many people on raw food diets report an increase in their weight. Because this new “healthy” lifestyle doesn’t come with any restrictions on portion sizes, many claim it made them overeat. Smoothies are an easy way to overshoot your daily calorie need. Once everything is whizzed up in your blender, it’s difficult to know how many calories there are in your smoothie.
So how sugary is your favorite fruit?
All values are for one piece of fruit unless specified, and the figures in brackets show the equivalent amount of sugar.
Orange: 3.6g (over 1/2 tsp)
Five strawberries: 4g (1 tsp)
Banana: 5.5g (1 tsp)
Small mango: 6g (1 tsp)
Kiwifruit: 3g (over 1/2 tsp)
Granny Smith apple: 8g (11/2 tsp)
Large bunch (500g) grapes: 39g (nearly 8 tsp)
As you see, it’s good to be mindful of why you might not want to make smoothies as part of your daily diet.
THE GOOD SIDE OF EATING CLEAN
While eating clean could still cause you to gain weight, going over your daily calorie intake is less likely than if you were eating highly processed food. This is because fresh, natural foods tend to be more satisfying than processed ones and so help to prevent hunger that leaves you reaching for another snack. And that means more calories and less weight loss.
The way foods are processed in our bodies affect how hungry we feel and therefore have a potential indirect side effect on our calorie intake. Clean foods are rich in nutrients such as protein and fiber. These slow the breakdown of sugar into the bloodstream, keeping you fuller for longer. In contrast, highly processed foods contain very few nutrients, lots of fat and added sugars. These are absorbed rapidly providing a short-lived burst of energy, followed by a sudden drop in your blood sugar level. This, in turn, leaves you hungry and tempted to snack.
LEARN TO LOVE LEGUMES
An example of clean food that is incredibly filling includes legumes. The legume class is very broad, encompassing about 13,000 varieties of beans, peas, and lentils. Legumes are an excellent source of complex carbohydrates, protein, and fiber. This makes them a highly satisfying food, making you feel fuller for longer. Legumes are relatively cheap and adding them to your healthy eating plan is super easy.
SO WHAT’S THE KEY TO NOT GAINING WEIGHT ON “CLEAN FOODS”?
Although clean eating can help you choose healthy foods, you still need to pay attention to your portion sizes to create a deficit. Deprivation is not our thing. Losing weight over the long-term is all about balance and moderation. Those on restrictive plans find it more difficult to maintain a healthy weight and are more likely to overeat. When planning a healthy diet, balance, moderation, and variety are key!
Remember, life is too short not to treat yourself once in a while!