Why “clean eating” helps you lose weight

Fitness communities love this idea of “clean eating” at the moment. The premise is simple: eat often, don’t eat processed foods, consume plenty of protein and vegetables, and find anything and everything high in antioxidants. People rave on about how amazing they feel when they’re “clean eating” and how it helps them lose weight and tone up. Raw vegan restaurants are popping up left, right and centre and people are drinking coconut water by the litre.

I have no doubt that “clean eating” helps you lose weight, but it’s not a new concept and it’s certainly not a miracle cure – it’s just a fashion trend, a catchy slogan, and an anamorphic version of the fad diet.


…yes, I did.

“Clean eating” doesn’t actually help you lose weight

Clean eatingGenetics and lifestyle factors play into helping you lose weight, but at the very crux of it, it’s calories in vs. calories out. Eat more than your body needs and you will put on weight, eat less and you will lose weight. Clean eating is seemingly a miracle: you eat, eat, and eat and you still lose weight. You tone up. You feel great, and you can see your abs! You’re nourishing yourself. This must be the most amazing thing ever.

Here’s the reason you’re really losing weight: you’re eating less than your body needs. 

Clean eating purports that you have fruit and veggie smoothies, tons of kale. quinoa, more kale, grass-fed beef and organic chicken, cacao balls and almond milk. How much do you think you’re really consuming in a day on a diet like this? Smoothies or oats for breakfast, salads for lunch and zucchini noodles for dinner. I’m no dietitian, but I know enough to be able to calculate approximate daily intakes and I can say that these diets would most likely sit at around 300-400 calories per meal, totaling at around 1200-1500 calories per day.

It’s pretty much a low-calorie diet in camouflage – and really, “clean eating” is just a paraphrase for what we have been told all our lives: eat healthy and follow the food pyramid. It just sounds prettier. It makes you feel better. Why wouldn’t you feel better? You’re eating clean. You’re “nourishing” your body from the inside out.

Step back for a second: I’m not preaching against the principles of clean eating

You probably think I despise quinoa. I don’t. In fact, I just finished a tabbouleh, red quinoa and tomato salad after a morning session at the gym. I love carrot and celery juices and will happily eat oats for breakfast every morning if I could.

And I don’t hate the message behind this clean eating, move-nourish-believe ideal – anything that can get people to eat healthily and move more is great. But I have a problem with the fact that people think “clean eating” is some sort of miracle cure. I have a problem with the fact that people think it’s more than what it really is.

Clean eating is just healthy eating at a calorie-deficit. 

Sorry to make it sound less pretty. Sorry to make it sound like you’re on a diet. I know this is a ‘lifestyle’. But it is: you’re just eating low-calorie foods and exercising, which is creating an energy deficit in your body and causing you to lose weight.

Vegetables are basically negligible in calories. Quinoa is exceptionally low in calories. So is fruit, so is almond milk and so is a tiny cacao ball made from sprinkles of cacao and dates. Oats are low-GI, low-calorie, and kale is just another veggie. Antioxidants are a marketing scheme to sell something your body can already do by itself.

Also, you can see your muscles and more definition in your body because you are eating less and exercising more. Clean eating is not the cause of this. At the crux, it’s the calorie deficit that is doing this. If you ate nothing but one burger every day and went to the gym, you’d start to see more muscles too.

On the note of exercise…

FitspirationYes, you need motivation to go to the gym. I understand that. You need to know that no matter how slowly you are going, you are still lapping everyone on the couch. You need to be told that sweat is fat crying. Anything to get you up and moving, right?

Fitspiration has its place, and like a motivational quote, it’s useful from time to time when you need to have a little boost. But these images are still purporting a relatively unattainable body. Strong may be the new skinny, but who is truly training to be strong? Women are just training to look strong: to look like they have defined muscles with a single digit percentage of body fat (slight exaggeration: if you are on a single digit, I am scared). And to get to the level of leanness that those fitness models and athletes are at, you have to go to some extremes

Fitspiration is thinspiration reborn for a new, clean eating audience. It’s a different form of unattainable, yet equally as dangerous and toxic if taken seriously by the vast majority of the public. You’ll exercise and eat clean and wonder why you still don’t look like these girls, so you exercise more. Then you eat less. It’s a vicious cycle.

Just make it easy for yourself

Eat healthy, eat enough, sleep more, and move your body by finding something you love to do. Eat quinoa if you like it and drink smoothies if you want, but don’t place clean eating on a pedestal. Recognise the true reason why your body is changing. It’s not really that miraculous. It’s just the basic science of our bodies that we’ve known for years, repackaged and re-marketed for a generation that no longer wants to be associated with the stigma of being on a diet.

And you know what? It’s okay to eat something that isn’t organic every now and then. And it’s okay to not like kale – I don’t.

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