Clean Eating Can Be Bad For You

While there’s no strict definition of ‘clean-eating,’ it always promotes whole foods and demonizes processed options and added sugars. Now, at this point, you must be thinking: ‘Isn’t that healthy for you?’ Clean-eating – sounds benign enough, right? Well, no.

Clean Eating Can Be Bad For You

You must be familiar with the ‘clean-eating’ concept ???

it is, after all, a much-used hashtag on Instagram and a hot topic on Twitter and Reddit. While there’s no strict definition of ‘clean-eating,’ it always promotes whole foods and demonizes processed options and added sugars. Now, at this point, you must be thinking: ‘Isn’t that healthy for you?’ Clean-eating – sounds benign enough, right? Well, no.

Here are all the reasons you should be wary of jumping onto the ‘eating-clean’ movement, and the better way to approach your foods.

Nobody knows what ‘eating clean’ entails

As mentioned earlier, there’s no agreed-upon definition of clean eating. In general, though, it’s about only consuming foods that are less or not at all processed. Somehow or another, it’s always a form of restrictive eating. Maybe you need to avoid refined sugars. Or – you need to cut out dairy.

And unfortunately, for some people, the flexibility of what constitutes clean eating can lead them down a path of increasing restriction. That's because many 'clean diets,' like the paleo diet, promise to be the cure for all kinds of ailments. Bloating, acne, fatigue, weight gain–you name it, you can be sure it’ll be listed.

So if someone adopts a couple of rules (like cutting out sugar and dairy) and doesn't see benefits, it's likely they'll keep adding rules and cutting out foods until they do see benefits. It's a slippery slope — a dangerous one.

Restrictive eating creates nutrient deficiencies

Eliminating entire food groups from your diet can do a number to your health. See – there are loads of nutrients that your body needs to function at an optimal level. Plenty of the 'off-limits' foods outlined in clean diets are actually good for you.

Dairy gives you calcium and vitamin D, which are your best bets for good bone health. Whole grains also provide essential micronutrients, including vitamin E and various vitamins that are necessary for supporting good health. If you're not replacing your consumption of these food groups with something else that contains equivalent amounts of micronutrients, you can be sure you'll end up deficient.

And don’t count on getting your nutrients and vitamins from supplements – research has consistently shown that naturally-occurring micronutrients found in your foods still offer the best results.

Always remember: if you’re cutting something out of your diet, you need to know why, what the impact will be, and how you can get the nutrients in other ways. For example, if you're into the idea of going gluten-free, be honest with yourself. Do you have a real sensitivity – or are you only doing it because all your friends are? Going gluten-free means you may miss out on essential nutrients like iron, fiber, and B vitamins. Weigh the pros and cons carefully.

The need to ‘eat clean’ damages your relationship with food

‘Clean eating’ often leads to a punishing, obsessive relationship with food. Putting these kinds of self-imposed restrictions in place can set you up to feel guilty or ashamed if (and when) you break a rule.

Unfortunately, by putting so much pressure on yourself, you’re counteracting part of the reason why you’re eating well in the first place: to be healthier. Research shows that people who associate guilt with what they eat are less likely to maintain their weight over a year-and-a-half or have control over their eating!

Worse still, these 'food rules' of yours can quickly become a guise for restricting food intake – paving the way to a full-blown eating disorder.


Related to that idea is that of orthorexia, a condition that includes symptoms of obsessive behaviour in pursuit of a healthy diet. A person with orthorexia is fixated on eating foods that give him or her a feeling of being 'pure and healthy.' Sadly, the social and psychological implications of the condition are significant and devastating.

Individuals suffering from orthorexia may withdraw from their social life and all meaningful relationships in their pursuit to eat ‘healthy’ and ‘clean,’ thereby forsaking many of the things in their life.

Worried that you may be suffering from this ‘clean eating’ disorder? Check against the warning signs below:

1.      Compulsive checking of ingredient lists and nutritional labels

2.      Cutting out an increasing number of food groups

3.      Showing high levels of distress when ‘safe’ or ‘healthy’ foods aren’t available

4.      Obsessive following of food and ‘healthy lifestyle’ content on social media

5.      Severe emotional turmoil if ‘rules’ are broken

If you relate to any of the symptoms highlighted above, it may be worth visiting a health professional just to be sure.

Stop thinking of foods as ‘good’ or ‘bad’

Ultimately, clean eating paints food as being either good or bad. For example, chicken breast is good, while sweets are bad. But this then creates a sense of morality around food, which then transfers to your feelings about yourself whenever you eat a ‘bad food.’ And that eventually sets you up for failure. Rather than seeing foods in such clear black-and-white separation, you should remind yourself that no food is forbidden. Unless, of course, you’re allergic to it.

Foods are not intrinsically ‘good’ or ‘bad.’ French fries are just French fries. Diet soda is just diet soda. Broccoli is just broccoli.  There are only more nutritionally-dense and less nutritionally-dense foods. And all of them have a part to play in your diet. If you need to be reminded of what 'normal eating' looks like, here's a list:

·         Eating when you’re hungry and stopping when you’re full, most of the times

·         Not beating yourself up about eating in a way that diet culture says is too much or bad

·         Understanding that you are not what you eat

·         Understanding that food isn’t the enemy or something to be feared or controlled

Trust us – you’ll find that life and mental health are better when you can enjoy food and eating, and the social and emotional aspects around these things. Oh, and regularly working out and tracking your progress on the GymStreak app, too, of course!

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Kuijer, R. G., & Boyce, J. A. (2014). Chocolate cake. Guilt or celebration? Associations with healthy eating attitudes, perceived behavioural control, intentions, and weight-loss. Appetite, 74, 48–54.

Publishing, H. H. (n.d.). Dietary supplements: Do they help or hurt? Harvard Health. Retrieved February 14, 2020, from

Scarff, J. R. (2017). Orthorexia Nervosa: An Obsession With Healthy Eating. Federal Practitioner, 34(6), 36–39.