The term clean eating has become pretty popular over the last couple of years, mostly among people with the goal of weight loss, or maybe building muscle without gaining fat.
For the most part, clean eating means the same thing as healthy eating, only to a somewhat higher degree and for a somewhat different purpose. If you want to look at it another way, it’s the complete opposite of “dirty eating.”
What any of that truly means mostly depends on the opinion of the person saying it. In most cases though, clean eating is the idea of eating only natural healthy foods 100% of the time. That usually means 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. No “dirty” foods ever.
This means no typical junk food (candy, chips, cookies, desserts, fast food, etc.) of any kind ever, plus none of the many other foods certain people consider “dirty.” For example, no white rice, no white potatoes, no white bread (maybe even no bread of any kind), no pasta, no cereal, etc.. Basically… clean eating means avoiding all of the yummy foods that most people really enjoy eating.
And, in place of all of those supposed “dirty” foods would be the cleanest of clean foods on the planet. Vegetables, fish, walnuts, sweet potatoes, etc.. You know, the typical natural healthy stuff.
Now, I must admit, so far this doesn’t sound too bad to me. A little unnecessarily extreme (seriously, 100% of the time?!?!), but based on sound principles. I mean, eating junk food is bad, eating healthy food is good. I can’t really disagree with any of this clean eating stuff so far.
But give me a second. 🙂
The Problem With Clean Eating
You see, where this whole healthy and clean eating thing gets a little disagreeable is when you realize WHY many people eat like this or think they MUST eat like this.
The typical reasons are:
- doing so helps with weight loss
- doing so prevents fat gain
- doing so does all sorts of wonderful things related to the improvement of their body composition.
And here’s the point where I disagree. And it’s not just me either, science disagrees too.
Why? Because clean eating and only eating healthy foods and blah blah blah has no significant effect whatsoever on weight loss, building muscle, preventing fat gain, or anything similar.
Surprised? You shouldn’t be.
As I mention throughout various parts of this site (like here: How To Lose Weight), controlling your weight requires one thing and one thing only… eating the right total number of calories per day.
That’s it. It’s not carbs. It’s not fat. It’s not protein. It’s not what kind of foods you’re eating. In terms of weight loss, weight gain, and weight maintenance, the only thing that truly matters is calorie intake. This is a scientifically proven fact.
Do you know what that means? It means that while the concept of clean eating is fantastic and I fully recommend it (to a sane degree only), in terms of weight loss and weight gain, it’s complete bullshit.
Clean or dirty, at the end of the day, calories are calories. Too many of them will always cause weight gain and too few will always cause weight loss no matter how clean and healthy the foods they came from were.
And again, this isn’t just my opinion… it’s proven science. I’ve read the studies. People ate the number of calories they needed to eat for weight loss to take place, and they tested what would happen if those calories then came from different types of sources. More carbs one time, more fat another, more protein another. Clean and healthy foods one time, dirty and unhealthy foods another time. In the end, they all lost weight just the same. Why? Because the calorie intake was what it needed to be for weight loss to happen, and that’s all that matters in terms of weight control.
And if this makes you wonder: “So does that mean that as long as my daily calorie intake is what it needs to be for my body to do what I want it to do (lose fat, gain muscle, whatever), I can still eat some of my favorite not-so-clean foods that I really love and enjoy eating?”
The answer is a huge YES.
But wait. Hold on. Stop right there. I have 2 important points to make in this article, and so far you’ve only heard 1 of them. Here’s the other…
Everything you just read about clean eating/healthy eating was written from the perspective of weight control only. And as I explained, from that perspective, the type of foods you eat really don’t matter at all as long as your calorie intake is right.
However, health-wise it’s a completely different story. From the perspective of improving or just maintaining your overall health… the type of foods you eat most definitely do matter. So, while eating junk on a fairly regular basis won’t have any significant effect on your weight or body composition, it can and will have a significant effect on your health. That’s my very important second point.
Does this second point mean you SHOULD in fact adopt the extreme philosophy of clean eating and eat that way 100% of the time (24/7/365) like most of the overly obsessed clean eating people do? Hell no. It just means that, most of the time, yeah… you should be eating pretty damn clean and healthy.
And, you should do it because of the right reasons (overall health, getting important nutrients, etc.) and not the wrong/dumb ones (magical weight loss and fat prevention voodoo).
And, if you want to eat some of those not-so-clean favorite foods of yours from time to time, go for it. As long as your total calorie intake remains what it should be, it won’t hurt your weight loss or body composition in any way (and it may even help your sanity). And, as long as you are “eating clean” the rest of the time, it won’t hurt your health, either.
I believe they call that the best of both worlds, and that sounds like clean eating done right.
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