It’s time for “clean eating” to die.
Actually, it was time for it to die many years ago. Yet for some reason, it still perpetuates today.
This makes me sad. And it irks me.
But the truth is, it’s not that “clean eaters” are out to deceive the rest of the world. In fact, I’d argue that most simply don’t know.
If you’re a “clean eater,” you may have made some snarky remark a time or two about us flexible dieters being unhealthy. Perhaps you’ve even commented on our moral character – we’re bad people, we’re going to hell for eating pretzels, we should be ashamed of ourselves because we eat our baked potatoes with butter. The gall!
My job is to spread the gospel of flexible dieting. Let me show you the truth and the way and the light to food freedom.
Below, I address some of the most common myths about this way of eating.
[Tweet “MYTH: Flexible dieters eat a bunch of crap all day long.”]
Here’s a newsflash: that’s impossible.
Flexible dieting is distinct from “eating a bunch of crap”. Eating a bunch of crap is… well, crap. That’s the typical average American diet and far from what constitutes flexible dieting.
Some key components of flexible dieting include:
- Mindfulness of macronutrient and micronutrient intake, whether you’re counting macros or not. This means that you’re aware of approximately how much protein you’re consuming and you consume your carbs and fats at strategic times, and you also get in sufficient fiber.
- Understanding that treats or “junk food” are completely allowed, but in carefully controlled quantities. I like to recommend an 80/20 rule.
- Portion control. This is absolutely vital. There’s a difference between one donut and twelve, and you don’t abuse this.
If the typical American is going to eat a croissant and a glass of orange juice for breakfast, he is not a flexible dieter. What a flexible dieter might do instead, however, is throw in an omelet with that meal, keep the croissant, and then choose better carb sources for the rest of the day. Why? Because a croissant is considered a treat.
Believe me, I’ve definitely tried to get in my protein and fiber through junk food alone, and it simply can’t be done. There’s no realistic way to meet your daily nutrient needs through chocolate and gummy bears.
Besides, who really wants to survive on a steady diet of nothing but sugar and high fat? That would make anyone sick.
What flexible dieters do eat, then, is a diet composed primarily of whole food sources with a sprinkling of fun indulgences on the side.
A handful of gummy bears rather than a whole bag.
A small serving of sweet potato fries with a chicken salad.
A glass of wine to complement a T-bone steak.
And if you do end up having a particularly treat-heavy day, then the next day, you rein it in a little more. You don’t obsess over it, you don’t worry about it; you just move on.
It’s all about checks and balances.
MYTH: Flexible dieting is unhealthy and worse for you than “clean eating.” Conversely, clean eating is akin to healthy eating.
Let’s address the second statement first: clean eating is akin to healthy eating.
No. Just no.
What is healthy about a restricted food list? About black-and-white good food vs. bad food thinking?
There is nothing positive that can come out of putting a whole slew of foods off-limits and shackling yourself to very specific food items.
Oats and egg whites for breakfast.
Chicken, white rice, and almonds for lunch.
Protein shake with a banana for post-workout.
Lean beef and green beans for dinner.
Cottage cheese with peanut butter before bed.
Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.
[Side rant: What is clean eating, anyway? There’s no real, clear-cut definition of the term. Some might tell you that clean eating is the consumption of only unprocessed foods. Okay, but what about cottage cheese and Greek yogurt? Guess you can’t eat those, then. And fruit? One “clean eating” camp will tell you that fruit is perfectly fine because it’s “one ingredient,” yet the next camp will proclaim that fruit is also bad because it contains sugar. Right. And how about dairy? Milk is bad for you because it’ll make you bloat? But the next person will tell you that it’s “clean”? What about egg yolks – are they okay? It depends on who you ask. Come on, now. The only universal response I’ve ever gotten to these points is, “…well, you know what I mean.” Well, no, I don’t know what you mean. If “you know what I mean” is the best way to define the term, then hell no, I’m not sold. Where’s the logic there? Read Alan Aragon’s article for more: “The Dirt on Clean Eating”.]
Yes, I understand that consuming a nutrient-dense diet is incredibly healthy. But that’s not what clean eating is.
There is an incredibly high correlation between exclusive eating (ie. limiting food choices) and binge eating. This is no coincidence. Study after study has shown that as soon as you deem a food forbidden, your desire for it increases even more – even if you may have never really wanted it in the first place.
Not allowed to eat chocolate? All of a sudden, that’s all you can think about.
On the flipside, having the option to consume a treat doesn’t mean that you will necessarily chow down on it. Rather, it means that you won’t be using up your willpower to have to actively resist the food.
Now back to the first statement: flexible dieting is unhealthy.
You tell me what’s worse for your health: eating a square of chocolate every evening (for a weekly consumption of seven total squares), savoring every bit of it, and then moving on with your life, OR hurriedly scarfing down not one, not two, but three whole chocolate bars in one sitting with no self control whatsoever and then feeling guilty and bloated for days after (totaling probably, oh, 60+ squares).
I think the answer is obvious.
Here’s a newsflash: during the weekdays, it’s entirely possible for a flexible dieter to eat the same way as a “clean eater.” Yet come Saturday night, the “clean eater” may go out to dinner for his weekly cheat meal and have a burger, French fries, and milk shake, followed by cheesecake for dessert, and then come home and eat everything but the kitchen sink. The flexible dieter, on the other hand, can have the same burger and French fries and have no problem stopping there. Hell, he may not even finish his fries because he’s reasonably full and feeling satisfied.
Do you see the difference here? What’s important to note that throughout the week, the flexible dieter stuck to whole food sources not because he had no other choice, but because that’s what he decided he wanted to eat. He therefore wasn’t depleting his willpower storage at all (a finite source, mind you) and had zero problems whatsoever with controlling his food intake on the weekend.
“But sugar is bad for me because it always makes me so bloated,” a “clean eater” might proclaim.
Well, sure, you may think that. But did it ever occur to you that the only times you ever allowed yourself to consume sugar was when you were, ah, binging?
It’s not sugar that’s the culprit; it’s the massive, unfathomable quantity of sugar you consume in one sitting that’s making you sick.
MYTH: Flexible dieters believe that eating a cheeseburger is the same as eating a lean cut of steak.
In no way, shape, or form do flexible dieters think this.
I understand how the rest of the world may have an inaccurate understanding of flexible dieting, though.
Just look up #flexibledieting hashtags on Instagram and all you’ll see is the ice cream, Poptarts, and burgers that we consume.
What the pictures don’t tell you, however, is that those foods actually make up a very small portion of our daily food.
We typically don’t show off the chicken breast, sweet potatoes, and veggies we consume. Why? Because it’s way more fun to talk about our treats.
So no, a cheeseburger is not the same thing as eating a high-quality cut of protein. But if we do decide to order that burger, it’s because we’ve weighed out our options, we’ve probably been eating really well for the whole day, and maybe we’ve factored the meal into our macros. We’ve decided that that’s what we truly wanted to eat, and we have no qualms about indulging our taste buds for a night.
Again, flexible dieters prescribe to a 80/20 rule (or some variation thereof). We care about our health just as much as a “clean eater” does, but we also understand that in order to make a lasting lifestyle change, we need to create habits that are sustainable.
We have no timeline to get to where we want to be, and we’re all about enjoying the ride.
To summarize, then…
Flexible dieters DO:
- eat what they truly want, albeit in controlled quantities
- understand that the food will always be there
- have other hobbies outside of living in the kitchen
- have complete freedom over their food choices
- practice the same eating behaviors on the weekends as they do during the weekdays
- honor their personal food preferences
Flexible dieters DON’T:
- experience any kind of anxiety about going to a social event that will be serving food
- miss out on family outings or vacations out of fear of eating “off plan”
- obsess over food (in fact, they hardly think about food at all)
- actively resist a craving
- harbor some kind of moral compass surrounding food choices
- conform to guru eating rules simply because that’s what everyone else is doing
Are you a flexible dieter?
If not, what are you waiting for?
Freedom awaits you.