Fitness blogger Lauren Tickner shares her experience of ‘clean eating’. Connect with Lauren via Youtube or Instagram.

How do you define ‘clean eating’…?

Think about it for a minute. Stop. Take your eyes off the page, and really think about what it means to you.

Now, you have your definition? Right? Yet, I can guarantee that every single person reading this article has a different interpretation of the term, which it at least slightly different to yours.

To me, the biggest issue with ‘clean eating’ is that is it simply impossible to define.

However, there is a recurring theme of restriction in some way or another. Deprivation of chocolate, caffeine, cakes, or even carbs! But WHY is this ‘clean’?! Why can chocolate not be enjoyed in MODERATION?! Why do you have to draw a big black line through the word ‘chocolate’ and define it as ‘dirty’?

Okay, so I understand the rationale. Eating wholesome, micronutrient dense foods DOES make sense in order to allow the body to function optimally. If you are consuming the perfect amount of vitamins, minerals, fibre, etc, your body will function at its best.
You will be full of energy and able to conquer (almost) anything life throws at you. However, when eating ‘clean’, many do not feel this way. They feel sluggish, lethargic and groggy. Why? Because they are restricting either specific foods, entire food groups, or calories. But eating in such a restrictive way can lead to deficiencies, poor health, and extremely serious consequences in the future. I have been a victim of restricting myself. I feared carbohydrates (sugar in particular) and I sure as hell would NOT touch a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup! I thought ‘clean eating’ meant steamed vegetables, plain chicken breast, almonds and 0% fat Greek yogurt …And I wondered why I was making no progress in the gym.

What I was unaware of was that I was seriously depriving myself. And this led to a whole new issue in itself: binge eating.

But I didn’t binge on so called ‘unhealthy’ foods. Oh no! I binged on foods which I labelled as ‘clean’ and ate them to a degree that made me feel food guilt. And sadly, I know that binging is an issue that oh so many people who ‘eat clean’ suffer from. I get messages upon messages (mainly) from girls of all ages crying out to me for help, telling me that they stick to their ‘clean eating’ during the week, yet end up gorging on a variety of foods and drinks during the weekend. Yet, this is the sad truth of ‘clean eating’. When you stray from your definition of ‘clean’, you think to yourself ‘YOLO’, and end up going crazy, eating everything in sight.

If you’re reading this and thinking, ‘wow, I can relate’, PLEASE know that it is because eating ‘clean’ is not maintainable. Think about it… between now and the day you die, you ARE going to eat a pizza or a bag of skittles. It’s life.kaboompics.com_Woman preparing a lunch on the kitchen table…Which brings me onto my next point: eating out.

It breaks my heart that so many people in this world cannot go out for a meal with their loved ones, without feelings of guilt and anxiety. So many memories are made, and relationships strengthened, through going out to eat. Again, I have been there. I would avoid going out to eat at ALL costs: I’d make excuses, or I’d say I’d already eaten. And I even lost friends due to my ways. If I did go out to eat, I’d order a salad, ‘with the dressing on the side, please’ – or the most plain and bland chicken I could spot. 99% of the time, I didn’t even enjoy it. The amount of money I wasted makes me sick! I could have had a delicious meal and enjoyed it at peace, yet the belief that even one ‘unhealthy’ meal would set me so incredibly off track was so deeply ingrained into my brain that I would sit there slowly nibbling at my salad, with the feelings of guilt flooding my thoughts.

Fast forward a couple of years, and it is a totally different story. I LOVE going out to eat, spending time with my friends and family, and enjoying my food. So you may be wondering what changed..

Well, I’ll tell you guys what I have learned through endless hours of research (yep, I am a major geek), as well as education from my coaches.

The biggest realisation, that flicked a switch in my brain, is the concept of a calorie being a calorie. Of course, there are separate macronutrients (carbohydrates, fats and proteins), however in order to really gain an understanding of this, let’s keep it simple. Let’s say we have the option of two foods to eat. Both contain 100 calories (we will be referring to kilocalories as ‘calories’ in this article, dropping the ‘k’). One of the foods is 100 calories worth of broccoli. The other is a 100 calorie chocolate cake. Those who eat clean would NEVER touch the chocolate cake, due to their beliefs that is it not a ‘clean’ food, and that it should never be consumed, other than during a ‘cheat’ meal (we will get to the term ‘cheat’ later).

However, when ingested, the chocolate cake will NOT cause you to become ‘fat’ or whatever belief you may have. It will have the same effect that the 100 calories worth of broccoli will. They are both 100 calories. It doesn’t matter where the calories come from, a calorie is a calorie, and labelling these calories as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ causes serious mental health issues. So if your goal is weight loss, you may struggle even if you do ‘eat clean’, given that you may be overeating, even on ‘clean’ foods.

Now, of course it is SO important to eat foods such as broccoli and other vegetables, as they are SO important for health! Eating micronutrients and fibre is vital for your body to function correctly. But through eating ‘clean’, you are ignoring your mental health.

Mental health is equally as important as physical health.

By depriving yourself of the foods you love, you feel restricted, which puts a lot of stress on the brain. You are restricting yourself from things that you enjoy. Thinking of your diet as INCLUSIVE, rather than EXCLUSIVE, will help you to combat a negative relationship with food: you include all the good stuff (the fruits, veggies and whole grains), but also things such as pizza and cake a couple of times per week! Consuming these things should NOT be labelled as a ‘cheat’, as that continues the idea that certain foods are good, and others are bad. This is not the case. Some are more micronutrient dense than others. That is all.

Once you accept this idea, you will honestly feel so much more free. Yes, transitioning from this ‘black’ and ‘white’ mentality of ‘clean’ vs ‘dirty’ takes a while. But it is SO worth it.

You will learn that progress can be made at a rate equally as fast, if not faster, when you allow yourself to consume foods that you did not allow yourself to have before. You will learn that there is so much more to life than having abs, and that memories made are so incredibly much more important than losing weight.

Yet, you will also realise that losing weight IS possible while consuming the foods you love, and you can eat out and spend time with the people closest to you, without feeling guilty. Clean eating is all well and good, but it is not sustainable in the long term. Being happy is what matters the most, and depriving yourself will not lead you to feelings of fulfilment, only misery and sorrow. Including small bits of choccy and sweets will help you to stay on track in the long run, and actually ENJOY living the lifestyle you live.