I haven’t been in the dieting world very long from an industry standpoint (only about 13 years) . In that time it has been amazing the amount of diets that have come along and failed people.
So clean eating is not unique in that regard and before I get really into things I just want to say I run a nutrition company. We preach every day about the value of whole and nutrient dense foods.
But what we don’t do is give those foods MAGICAL powers and sadly that was the hope of the clean eating movement. (also, for the purpose of this article let’s not pretend like we don’t know what clean eating means, it means mostly whole foods)
So let’s talk about why diets work and why they stop working.
Most clean eaters prefer to eat in an intuitive way meaning they don’t really know how many calories they are eating and as a default it tends to be less and not more. That’s mostly because the nutrient density of something like broccoli is just more than something like a cupcake.
It simply fills your stomach better. So when you have been over consuming this is SUPER useful to get to a calorie deficit.
Calorie deficits however have a lifeline as your body adjusts and ultimately plateaus. So this is when specifics matter and clean eating fails people. So let me summarize that point:
1. If you were over consuming poor quality and ENERGY DENSE foods (think Mountain Dew) when you take away those foods or drinks you are eating fewer calories. In theory you could replace sugared Mountain Dew with diet Mountain Dew and that would be slightly better. Usually if someone is drinking sugary soda however they have other leaks that can easily be filled with whole foods.
2. While whole foods are great they often keep you full, which is great in a deficit. But if you are plateaued, at a certain point, you need to eat more to go the rest of the way to re-establish your metabolism. This is where clean eating fails because no one wants to eat more broccoli. Obviously I am using some extreme examples to hammer home a point but often “clean eaters” struggle adding foods back in that actually aren’t bad for them, like fruit or if you are a meat eater, meats with more fat. This is referred to as a diet break and often the longer the diet break the more likely your metabolism can recover. So keep that in mind.
And just to be clear we have people that do Eat To Perform eating mostly whole foods and adding in some ENERGY DENSE foods when they aren’t in a deficit (which should be most of the time).
The problem, in general, with a naughty and nice approach to food is that it almost imprisons your way of thinking and ultimately your options. So clean eating with specifics matters quite a bit.
Someone once said this to me and I think it’s helpful. “You can use food lists to help the way you eat but instead of ruling foods out think of them as “mostly do” lists”.
When you add specific calories, where you aren’t dieting most of the time and only occasionally eating less. Eating MOSTLY nutrient dense foods is helpful during that short period of time.
The rest of the time you really want to up your calorie intake back to normal, building in some foods you like and prioritize starches along the way which feed your brain and muscles. That said, even potatoes can get a little boring after a while. So really mix it up.
PS Something new is coming and it will be even more rigid than what came last. Isn’t it time to quit believing in fairy tales? There really aren't many diet mysteries at this point. What we know to be true is this, the less you can eat less the better it will be for your metabolism and overall health. So when you combine that with activity you can do great things, your brain loves it and so does your body.
When someone says the way they eat is not a “diet it’s a lifestyle” ask them how many calories they eat most of the time and if they don't know the answer. Their “lifestyle” is that of an under eater. Which may seem better than over consuming but there are a lot of problems that arise with mental health when someone under-eats all of the time. So you really have to be careful.
Food is not religion, no one goes to food hell because they eat a pastry. And while a pastry might not be useful it can contribute an element of joy to your life in moderation. Like say a birthday party.
Lastly let me say that if you feel trapped with how you eat mentally that can often lead to a disordered way of thinking about food. So whatever you choose, I am all for healthy but the health benefits are a bit over rated and the risks of an eating disorder is often under rated.
So choose wisely.
Even the programs that reverse don’t do a good job because they cave to the fear of their clients or they let AI (artificial intelligence) do the work.