Coming Clean About Eating Clean

This is one of the posts that I am writing as if no one is reading. There are things I want to get off my chest, for my own sake. I hope that they will resonate with some of you and not offend any of you. 

Coming Clean

First, some context.

I don’t usually talk about my weight loss journey here. It started so long ago (late 1999) and it didn’t take me all that long to reach my goal weight (early 2001). What did take a long time (ten years?) was normalizing my relationship with food. I don’t even like that phrase–“relationship with food”–because I’m not sure that food is something I should even have a relationship with, but I can’t think of a better way to put it.

In December 2010, I wrote this post for Fitblogger, celebrating my “new-found freedom from food struggles.” I think most of what I wrote then is true for me today, but I recognize that I still have some food issues that I want to come clean about.

You can see from my posts that I don’t follow a strict diet. I eat bread, burgers, fries, and chocolate on a regular basis. I have a beer or a glass of wine almost every day. But I’m not completely carefree about my food. There are certain things that make me feel guilty–that induce an adrenaline rush of shame that reminds me that I still bear scars from my dieting days.

  • Eating a whole deli sandwich. I usually only eat half, pull off some of of the meat and cheese, or only eat one piece of bread.
  • Eating a whole bagel. Again, I usually only eat half. 
  • Eating a whole bakery brownie. I love the Starbucks brownies, but cut one into thirds and eat it over three days.
  • Drinking a whole can of Coke. I was a Coca-Cola junkie in college, with a 6-pack a day habit that I could not afford. I switched to Diet Coke in law school, but now I’d rather go thirsty than drink that. Every once in a while I crave a Coke, but I usually pour into a small glass with ice so I only drink about half of a can.
  • Eating a whole burger and fries. I usually eat my burger with a fork, so I don’t eat the bun, and then enjoy the fries. 
  • Eating a whole ice cream cone. If I eat the whole thing–cone and all–I feel gross. If I throw away the cone (with some ice cream still inside) I feel better. Not sure how much of that is physical and how much is psychological.

Writing this out, the pattern is obvious. I generally live by the saying “everything in moderation,” but my definition of “moderation” seems to be “half.”

There’s nothing wrong with that. I know portion sizes are too big. I know half of a restaurant serving probably is about right for a normal serving. But what I wanted to come clean about is the feelings I have when I eat more than my mind tells me I should, even if my body is hungry for more, or the food is really delicious, or I’m stuck in a meeting, or stressed, or just plain bored, or any of all those other reasons that I might keep noshing. If I had a healthy relationship with food (or a non-relationship with food?) eating too much might make me feel physically sluggish, but it wouldn’t make me feel emotionally vulnerable. 

Maybe all this is why the recent trend of “eating clean” gets under my skin. I generally understand what people mean when they say that they are “eating clean” or following a “clean” diet, and I’m sure that they don’t mean any harm by using those words, but when you classify certain types of food as “clean” what does that make all the other foods–dirty? If I were trying to following a clean diet, and ate something that didn’t make the cut, I think those labels would make me feel even worse. (If I were in a relationship with Food, Food probably would tell me that I am too sensitive.) 

So if you write, post, or tweet about your “clean” diet, and notice that I’ve unfollowed you, don’t take it personally. I am just protecting myself from the disordered eating demons that I have worked so hard to leave behind.  

Is there a “healthy” trend that you just can’t get on board with?

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24 Responses to Coming Clean About Eating Clean

  1. Loved the post! Not sure I understand the whole clean eating thing myself? I try to eat natural food everyday- but I do eat out quite a bit with the hubby so moderation is good. We are usually on the split diet- we generally sit at the bar and split a meal- sides are definitely a veggie- this works on the waistline and the wallet! Enjoy the rest of the week Coco!
    Mary Beth Jackson recently posted…My First Stitch Fix!My Profile

  2. Karen says:

    Coco, I am so sorry if I’ve made you uncomfortable by using the term “eating clean.” I do use that term often lately, and always to mean I am eating whole foods with no additives, no high fructose corn syrup or artificial ingredients. One of my clients (and best friends) — Ginny Wright of BBG Fitness — does “clean eating challenges” as a way to get people to think about what they eat — about what’s in the food, what’s sustainable, what’s good for our bodies, how it’s grown, and where it comes from. I never dreamed this could be difficult for someone with food issues but what you say makes total sense. Of course, the opposite of eating clean must be “eating dirty.” That’s horrible! I’m going to share your post with Ginny and we will address this in our upcoming fall challenge, which starts next week (see here: http://www.bodybyginny.com/fall-total-wellness-challenge/). Thanks for sharing this important insight.
    Karen recently posted…Summer Primer: Using Social Media to Build Your BrandMy Profile

  3. Thanks for being so open. I can understand where you are coming from, but what is YOUR definition of clean? Because to me, it only means no artificial ingredients, colors or fructose corn syrups and eating lots of fruits and veggies and whole grains. Isn’t that just eating healthy? We don’t all eat healthy all of the time and I am extremely guilty of that and have an emotional bond with food for some reason. I too fight food demons! You aren’t alone!

  4. Love this post and I can’t wait to talk to you in person about it one day. I have lots of the same feelings. Your “relationship” with food sounds very healthy and works long term. What bothers me are fad “diets” bc it seems like they are quick fixes and not sustainable for most people. Nutrition and healthy eating are a way of life and not a fad. Finding something that works for you long term is a healthy relationship with food.

  5. gotta do what’s best for you. i think you’re taking an important step!
    Lindsay @ The Lean Green Bean recently posted…Sausage and Vegetable Egg BakeMy Profile

  6. Anything that eliminates things for random reasons (there is nothing wrong about a banana) or makes you feel bad ( i.e restricted, guilty, shamed). Thanks for coming clean. I suspect you aren’t the only person to feel this way.

  7. Yum Yucky says:

    As a kid, I remember being allowed to order a way-too-large plate of pancakes, which I couldn’t finish, of course. I was then told “your eyes are bigger than your stomach”. This was my very first lesson in moderation. For me, moderation is not something I’ve mastered. Rather, it’s something I carefully (attempt) to manage.

    Hugs and love to you, my little Coco Puff!
    Yum Yucky recently posted…Lower Body BOOM! Legs and Booty CircuitMy Profile

    • Coco says:

      Ugh. This brings back other memories! I remember being told that if I didn’t finish a banana split I would never be able to order the regular sized one again (maybe my parents didn’t put it that way, but that’s how I remember it!), so of course I gorged myself! With my kids, I could see when they started slowing down, and reminded them they that did NOT have to finish, although I probably did say something to the effect that “maybe next time we can order the small instead” because I am so darn frugal!
      Coco recently posted…Coming Clean About Eating CleanMy Profile

  8. Tamara says:

    I find it interesting how some words have such power over us. While I don’t mind the term clean eating (I have used that hashtag and hope you don’t unfriend me) the work skinny pushes my buttons. I can buy anything with the word skinny on it’s cover or label. Thanks for sharing!
    Tamara recently posted…Get a grip | 5 ways to improve grip strengthMy Profile

  9. Great post – I agree that when we start focussing on “clean” then some things suddenly become off limits, dirty. I think it’s kind of the same for me thinking about a cheat meal or cheat day. Why “cheat?” It has negative connotations to me so it’s like yeah I’m eating something I don’t normally eat and I’m cheating, being bad. And usually when we do something we think we shouldn’t we end up feeling guilty.
    Heather (Where’s the Beach) recently posted…Boston Part 1 – The FoodMy Profile

  10. Kim says:

    I love reading this – I never felt like I had a “bad” diet until I started reading healthy living blogs. At first it bugged me a lot but then I realized that it didn’t really change who I was so I have just realized that the way I eat might not be like all the other bloggers and that is OK – it works (for the most part:) for me!!!
    Kim recently posted…30 Years Ago I Started Running and just Never Stopped!!My Profile

  11. Great post Coco – I really appreciate your being so open. I’ve never been much for restricting anything from your diet (barring food allergies of course) and really try not to pay too much attention to the food fad of the moment. I strive for whole foods but I also indulge – am I’m ok with that 🙂
    Michelle @ Running with Attitude recently posted…Training Week 6: Remembering WhyMy Profile

  12. Dagmara says:

    Thank you for sharing Coco. I appreciate you honesty and actually took some of your bullets as good tips. What triggers me is the no-xxx diet, or only xxx diet. that’s exactly what it is a short lasting diet that creates an “unhealthy relationship” with food.
    Dagmara recently posted…Easy Finger Food Recipes for Your Next PartyMy Profile

  13. I love this post!! I feel honored that encouraged you to put this out there. I was really nervous to publish my own post with my thoughts about the clean eating and the raw food diet. I can see how the diet may work for some people and how it could work but thing is there’s just so much room for error that it seems like it sets you up for failure more than anything.

    Oh! A tip I learned about restaurants to avoid overeating on their large portions is to have them box half of the meal up. That way you’re not as tempted to eat everything on the plate. Plus you don’t feel like you’re wasting anything because you take the rest of it home with so lunch can become dinner so no cooking!

    I just want to pull my hair out every time I read or hear about a person that has tried to clean eating without success. You can see the guilt on their face because they didn’t follow it to the T. I don’t think its right for any diet out there and its rules and ‘support systems’ make you feel bad if you don’t follow them. I guess I just seen more people abusing with title ‘clean eating’ to the point where they just dangle it over everybody else’s head. You should be eating to nourish your body and that includes various types of foods and not deprivation.
    Niquole Abram recently posted…Why You Won’t See Me Eat Raw or CleanMy Profile

  14. I’m with Tamara – so interesting what words could be a trigger. I do some of the same things that you do – the half – skipping bread on most items. Although I never throw away ice cream. 🙂 And I do have wine most nights as well.

    I had a donut this morning – Haven’t had one in years. And I totally feel the need to confess it to someone. AND, I felt icky all morning. Was it guilt? Or just that ‘heavy, I didn’t need to eat that’ feeling? Not sure.

    I do like the phrase “whole foods” or “eat real food”. I’m not sure I’ve used the clean eating phrase, because I know I don’t eat really ‘clean’, but I do try to stay away from Frankenfood. One of my favorite words 🙂

    GREAT post. I love Real conversations – life isn’t a Pinterest poster.
    Carrie@familyfitnessfood.com recently posted…Blogfest and IDEA Fit – Inspiration and FunMy Profile

  15. Found you on VA Bloggers. I can get behind clean eating, but I can also get behind an 80/20 rule and could never do it full time. So many people relate to ‘food issues’ and struggle with their own versions of what you describe. I’m glad you came clean!
    Susan Maccarelli recently posted…8 Reasons Little Girls Make Great FBI RecruitsMy Profile

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