What does it mean to “eat clean?”

What does it mean to “eat clean?” I saw that on the cover of a magazine at the orthodontist’s office the other day, and when I flipped to the article it was just a collection of some vegetarian dishes from Mark Bittman’s new cookbook, with no word on how this was eating clean – just an assumption, I suppose, that this was how you do it. (But more likely, given how magazines seem to operate these days, a disconnect between the cover presentation and the article inside. And disconnect is the most charitable assessment; too often there’s a bait-and-switch mentality in play.)

This has been on my mind as I seek to figure out what my particular “fuel blend” is going to be as I wean myself off the Slow Carb Diet. Nuts and cheese, for example, are a no-no on that diet, but are allowed on “The Perfect Health Diet” and are the new favorite lunch on my weekday regimen. Is cheese “clean?” I must admit I haven’t looked at its ingredient list thoroughly.

We’ve got this yearslong tradition of a weekly “cereal allowance” at our house, where every Friday since the kids were little I set out four fresh boxes, one per kid, and a supply of Raisin Bran for my husband. It was an attempt to put some kind of limit on their voracious cereal consumption and give me a chance to look for bargains. Over the last few years we’ve moved away from most of the junkier cereals, but it’s amazing how even the purportedly healthier varieties now strike me as overly processed. A couple of Weight Watcher cereals I picked up last week, for instance, a chocolate shredded wheat and a dried fruit and oat flakes variety, felt like factory food to me.

Weight Watchers products in general now strike me that way. That organization played a key role in my weight loss, helping me set up a framework and accountability system to keep me on track. But now, four years out, it strikes me as a first-phase program geared toward out-of-control carb junkies (which is what I was). You’re encouraged to eat lean meats and fruits and veggies, but there’s always a product table full of synthetic looking “treats.”

It’s not like Weight Watchers is so incompatible with how I eat now. (Though I haven’t been there all year, so I’m not even sure how the program might’ve morphed.) I’m tired of tracking everything I eat and counting points, not because it’s such a hassle but because it’s a system designed to handle temptations — and I don’t like to be in a position where I wonder what I’ll be tempted by on any given day. I now prefer a more structured eating regimen that I don’t have to think or obsess about during the week, followed by some kind of structured weekend  leniency.

I’d like to think I could stick to whole foods, for the most part, steer clear of chemicals. I’m not so wound up about dairy and gluten, but I do want to minimize carb consumption, knowing how easy it is for me to inhale flour-based foods.

But for now, at least, I think I still need one day off per week. Not to go crazy, ideally, but just a way to sample some old favorites within a very defined time boundary. “A containment policy,” you could say. (Never mind the fact that every time I think this I’m reminded of a party conversation years ago about limiting dog poop  to one restricted zone in a yard. If something works, it works – and if it translates to multiple applications, that’s a good sign it’s effective.)


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8 Responses to What does it mean to “eat clean?”

  1. Yeah, don’t you hate these buzz words? It’s like I want to scream at them, “What does this mean to me in dog years???” Keep life simple, eat sensibly and balanced.

  2. bgddyjim says:

    Your frustration is, believe it or not, politics 101. At one time, left-wing extremist Democrats preferred “Liberal”. Once the world had a chance to see Liberalism in action, well let us just say the word is forever tainted. Damaged goods. The extremists languished trying to save the word but the damage was done. Now the prefer “Progressive” when their policies only get progressively worse. Global cooling? Too ’70’s. Global warming? Too ’00’s and the globe hasn’t warmed measurably in 17 years. “Hey, we’ll call it global climate change!”

    Vegans are complete freakin’ whack-jobs for the most part (not all of course). Vegetarians are only slightly less nutty and most people run the other way when they announce their protein deficiency. They’ve ruined the word so now it’s “eating clean”.

    Politics: you think you can escape them but you were mistaken. Eat well and eat bacon. 😎

    • tischcaylor says:

      I don’t think it was a conspiracy so much as just lazy editing on the part of the magazine — wish I could remember which one it was so I could criticize them properly, but then the fact that I can’t remember maybe speaks for itself.

      I don’t have a problem with vegetarians, since two of my kids are. But I just think it’s overly simplistic to say that vegetarians or even vegans “eat clean,” because there’s still a lot of processed crap that fits under that umbrella. (And just speaking for myself, I don’t even want to ban processed crap, just keep it under control and in perspective.)

      • bgddyjim says:

        It’s not a conspiracy, it’s a narrative. Look, for years the “clean” people have been touting their awesomeness because they have compost piles in their backyards, right? What is produced when that waste decomposes? Greenhouse gasses. A landfill traps those gasses and burns them to make energy. Burning the gas is something like 90% better for the environment but landfills are hated and hippies are lauded for their backyard garbage dumps. It doesn’t matter that it makes no sense, it follows the narrative so they get a pass. Same thing with clean eating. Doesn’t matter if it’s actually clean or not, it’s the new buzzword and fits the narrative – and it separates the self-anointed intellectuals from us normal folk… And people eat that BS so they can fit in and be special smart people too. Sitting back and watching the whole thing is actually comical when you can follow the idiocy.

        How do you think gluten-free everything became so popular? It fits the narrative, and believe me, that mess is definitely comical. That fad will die quickly now that it’s been exposed though.

      • tischcaylor says:

        Hadn’t occurred to me that compost generates methane. I guess it must, though not as much as your average cow. Wish all landfills converted gas to energy. That’s not the standard around here but it seems like that makes good business sense so maybe we’ll see more of that in the future.

  3. Hi there! I came across your blog today through the article in the News Sentinel about post-running fuel. I’m a ‘real food’ blogger living here in Fort Wayne and thought I would say hi. 🙂 I’d love for you to check out my blog/website. I focus on eating real, whole foods (nothing processed) at home, but then will occasionally enjoy something ‘junky and processed’ from time to time if we’re out traveling or at a grandparents’ house with the kids. I feel like this is the best way to ‘enjoy life,’ not over-think our food, or feel deprived in any way. We eat real over 90% of the time and then just relax and have a little fun the other 10%. I started this journey when my kids were just 4 and 2 and it took them no time at all to adapt. They think nothing of it when I make our own sandwich bread, ice cream, or granola. To them, it’s just completely normal. And I’m so happy about that! Good finding you!

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