What “Clean Eating” means to me…

by Khushboo on September 23, 2013

“Gluten-free”, “Organic”, “Low Carb”, “Fat-free”…the list of buzzwords trending only keeps getting larger.  I’m sure most of you have heard of the increasingly popular term “Clean Eating”. What the heck does that even mean?  Depending on whom you ask, the term “clean” is so subjective.  For example many people would view wholegrains as “clean” whereas followers of the Paleo diet would argue otherwise.  Bodybuilders eating clean may amp up their protein intake through shakes whereas purists would shudder at the amount of chemicals in protein powders. Ultimately clean eating is dubious and contrived to mean whatever the “clean eater” wants it to mean at that given time.

Clean eating

While I think labeling foods as “good” or “bad” can fuel disordered eating behavior, I am a huge fan of “clean eating” to an extent.  Rather than the premise behind it, my issue with the whole movement is the approach some people take towards it i.e. eating rigidly to the point of obsession.  While everyone has his or her own definition of clean eating, I wanted to share mine.   For me, it means…

Enhancing my diet rather than depriving myself

 Nourishing my body with quality ingredients rather than focusing solely on calories.  

 Opting for foods with short & pronounceable ingredient lists

Mushroom & Cheddar Frittata

Mushroom & Cheddar Frittata

Choosing whole unrefined foods over chemically-enhanced processed foods.  

Meeting my macros through real food rather than supplements.  

Eating foods I want to eat rather than foods I need to eat.   

Choosing foods that provide me with results beyond the scale

Crispy Chicken Nuggets

Crispy Chicken Nuggets

Although at one stage I know I probably got obsessed with my diet and trying to eat as “clean” as possible, I’ve finally reached a middle ground.  Clean eating is one part of my life but not my entire life.  Clean eating is flexible in that it allows me to occasionally enjoy foods which lack nutritional value.  In short, clean eating for me is a lifestyle...not a temporary fix or a seasonal trend.  My food choices may change along the way, but my framework of clean eating will always remain i.e. choosing whole foods which bring out the best in me given my current goals, lifestyle & health status.

What does “clean eating” mean to you?

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{ 58 comments… read them below or add one }

Miss Polkadot September 23, 2013 at 2:41 pm

Yes to all of this!
While I like the idea of eating whole and the least processed foods as possible most of the time I’m all for a flexible approach. From what I’ve seen on some blogs there definitely are people taking it too far, being overly strict and refusing themselves foods they’d actually enjoy – just because they’re not ‘clean’ enough. It might be hard to see for an outsider at which point ‘clean’ becomes ‘disordered’ for somebody else. But labeling foods as unhealthy or healthy, bad or good is an indicator I find critical.
To me, clean eating means opting for the healthiest options that I still enjoy a lot and don’t make me feel deprived. However healthy they might be I’m not going to swap green smoothies for my chocolate any time soon – simply because I wouldn’t feel satisfied that way though others might feel differently. As long as there’s a balance and the idea of clean eating doesn’t become obsessive influencing other parts of life (socializing, overall health, …) it sounds good to me.

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Khushboo September 23, 2013 at 7:30 pm

As much as I love traditional healthy foods like spinach, there’s a time and place…some occasions call for green smoothies whereas only a generous slice of chocolate cake will do!

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Shashi September 23, 2013 at 3:17 pm

Haha – love the cupcake/clean eating art!!!!
Lately the word “cupcake” to me is like “squirrel to a dog” -I get so distracted!
Khushboo – I think my idea of clean eating mirrors yours a good bit – I try my best to put foods in ma belly that do not contain ingredients that I cannot pronounce (with the exception of Reeses), try and eat a whole bunch of veggies/whole foods and foods that keep me happy AND healthy 🙂

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Khushboo September 23, 2013 at 7:31 pm

Sometimes ignorance is bliss…Reeses falls under ‘sometimes’ 😉

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z@ kickingkilos September 23, 2013 at 3:34 pm

I think like you do.
I do eat some non clean stuff but that is because I dont want to make my diet overly clean 😉
Love the look of nuggets.

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Khushboo September 23, 2013 at 7:31 pm

The nuggets were yummy 😀

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Arman @ thebigmansworld September 23, 2013 at 3:36 pm

I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again- you are an absolute credit to your K Weigh clientele- I love this.

This post resonates with me well, as I follow all the principles you listed there for what ‘clean eating’ means for you- but at the same time, its just a genre- and one without strict limits. But most importantly- not defined by one person for one person.

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Khushboo September 23, 2013 at 7:32 pm

And I’ll say it again Arman- thank you so much for always leaving such nice comments :)! One’s person idea of clean eating could be another person’s nightmare!

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Amanda @ .running with spoons. September 23, 2013 at 4:47 pm

I really love this post, Khushboo… probably because you pretty much summed up exactly what clean eating is to me as well. I love nourishing my body with whole, minimally processed foods because that’s when I find that I feel my best. BUT… at the same time, I need room for flexibility and treats — when I was following a really strict, 100% clean eating diet, my health actually suffered because of the stress that came with denying myself the foods I wanted and always forcing myself to eat the things I didn’t. Our bodies need love for sure, but so do our minds… it’s all about finding the balance that works in favour of both.

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Khushboo September 23, 2013 at 7:33 pm

Ohh yes and yes about nourishing our minds- it’s definitely about striking the balance between foods that nourish you both physically and emotionally 🙂

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Ksenija @ Health Ninja September 23, 2013 at 4:59 pm

Love your definition. That is how I mostly describe the way I eat nowadays to others. After restricting myself to various diets, a few of them mostly consisted of highly-processed-stuff to opt the protein intake, other consisted of merely anything else but fruit and veg, I am happy to say that I found a balanced middle ground. I still struggle with being to snacky or gorging out on sweets, but hey, nowadays I shrug and see the bigger picture. I am not perfect and eating isn’t only a thing the body does, but does also affect our mind and emotions and to me that is all right. I tend to eat clean as you described it most of the time and enjoy a treat here and there when I want to.

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Khushboo September 23, 2013 at 7:34 pm

I love that you mentioned looking at the big picture. One of the biggest ‘mistakes’ I used to do was micromanaging my diet i.e. making sure every single meal was perfect!

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Alex @ therunwithin September 23, 2013 at 5:10 pm

I couldn’t agree more than this. I actually shudder when i see the constant hashtag of #cleaneating. I just don’t get it. Why clean? it has never really made sense to me, I understand everyone eats differently from how their body reacts to the food but clean means that things outside of that are dirty which just rubs me the wrong way. great post per usual!

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Khushboo September 23, 2013 at 7:35 pm

The implication that some foods are dirty rub me in the wrong way too! I like to think that all foods are good but some are just better for our bodies 🙂

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Chelsea @ Chelsea's Healthy Kitchen September 23, 2013 at 5:33 pm

Love this – you and I share such a similar outlook on food! I actually don’t really love the term “clean eating” because it’s another way of labeling diets and placing them on a hierarchy. I prefer to just focus on eating minimally processed, whole foods with room for treats, including some processed foods. Maybe my way of eating does fit somewhere into the definition of “clean eating”, but I’d rather just call it “eating”.

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Khushboo September 23, 2013 at 7:35 pm

“I’d rather just call it’eating'”—> you nailed it right there, Chelsea! 🙂

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Davida @ The Healthy Maven September 23, 2013 at 5:51 pm

Clean eating means balance. I eat whole, real foods (no artificial stuff) most of the time but I don’t deprive myself if I want the occasional cupcake. Like you I see it as a lifestyle and not a diet.

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Khushboo September 23, 2013 at 7:36 pm

It kills me when people saying “I’m clean eating for now”…er what about later??

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Tara @ Sweat like a Pig September 23, 2013 at 6:02 pm

I seriously need those crispy chicken nuggets in my life! They look so yummy!!

I’m totally with you. When I first started blogging, I was clean eating-obsessed lol. It makes me shudder to look back now! That’s what happens when you get trained by a hardcore bodybuilder. I once asked him what he did for fun and he said: “Well I spend about 2 hours a day prepping food, and 90 minutes a day walking for cardio, so that’s kind of fun… OH and sometimes I walk while I eat!” haha!! Thankfully I saw the light fairly quickly and now take a much more balanced approach to eating. I eat whole foods the majority of the time and never eat protein powder anymore! Funny how things change 🙂

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Khushboo September 23, 2013 at 7:39 pm

OMG I feel kinda bad for that trainer- it sounds like a miserable kind of life to lead! As much as I love lean protein and salads, sometimes you just want a freakin’ burger! I’m totally off protein powder too and believe it or not, my muscles are doing juuuust fine 🙂

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Parita @ myinnershakti September 23, 2013 at 6:15 pm

LOVE this post, K! You took the words right out of the mouth! Words like “healthy” and “clean” are so subjective, and it’s up to us as individuals to define what works for us. Clean eating for me means eating foods that make me feel good, physically as well as mentally – unprocessed, minimal ingredients, fresh are all words that come to mind!

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Khushboo September 23, 2013 at 7:39 pm

It sounds like our definition of “clean” is right on par…reason 1004 why we need to catch a meal together one day 🙂

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Sam @ Better With Sprinkles September 23, 2013 at 6:50 pm

Adore this post lady! I definitely have the same feelings that you do – I try to focus on keeping my body fueled on high-quality ingredients, but I definitely don’t deny myself treats when I want them. I definitely agree with the idea that it’s a lifestyle and not a ‘diet’ or a ‘plan’ or anything – I just eat in a way that makes me happy.

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Khushboo September 23, 2013 at 7:40 pm

Thanks so much Sam :)! While food choices might evolve over the years, I definitely don’t place an expiry date on “clean eating” either!

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Angela @ Health's Angel September 23, 2013 at 7:39 pm

I love this post! To me- eating clean means focusing on whole, real foods vs. the processed stuff the majority of the time. Knowing where you food comes from is always nice when possible (shopping local) and short ingredient lists are very important to me.
Of course, there’s always room for a treat every now and again…as long as they don’t make up the majority of your diet. I know that too much sugar makes me feel sluggish and…blah!

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Khushboo September 23, 2013 at 7:42 pm

You and me both! As much as I have a sweet tooth, there’s only so much my body can handle before it starts to protest!

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P September 23, 2013 at 7:56 pm

I love your definition and take on clean eating K! “Clean” eating should very much be adaptable and more focused on what your body needs rather than what you think it needs.

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Khushboo September 23, 2013 at 11:52 pm

Our bodies are smart – if only we were smart enough to listen to them 😀

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Lisa September 23, 2013 at 8:24 pm

Absolutely love, love, love this post! I was actually writing about this subject in a later post. It’s something that has severely changed for me even over the past year. While I used to be obsessed with “eating clean” I have started to see that the obsession isn’t as healthy as I once assumed it was. Being able to break away from that label and actually have a little freedom and fun in my life is SO much better than eating healthy 100% of the time.
Awesome post!

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Khushboo September 23, 2013 at 11:53 pm

I am looking forward to reading your post on this matter! After a certain point, being “healthy” starts to backfire!!

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dixya| food, pleasure, and health September 23, 2013 at 8:30 pm

like all the other comments – its a great post and I (as always) agree with each of your point because clean eating is such a vague word and depends how you want to interpret. For me, clean eating is trying to eat as much unprocessed, fresh food as possible but at the same I dont obsess too much on having everything from scratch route because its not practical for me and sometimes turns out to be very time consuming and expensive.

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Khushboo September 23, 2013 at 11:54 pm

You’re so right about taking into account time..it’s all about making healthy work for you and your life rather than vice versa!

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Alexis @ Hummusapien September 23, 2013 at 9:06 pm

Don’t derive, enhance! Love it. I’m still laughing over that e-card!

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Khushboo September 23, 2013 at 11:54 pm

E-cards are the best 😀

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Ashley @ My Food N Fitness Diaries September 24, 2013 at 3:12 am

Yes, yes, yes! Great post, Khushboo! I couldn’t agree more. When I place TOO much restriction and rules on my food, I tend to get obsessive and it only backfires. I like to enjoy food that is REAL and minimally processed, but the occasional “treat” or non-“clean food” is good for the soul and is so necessary!

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Khushboo September 24, 2013 at 8:48 am

Thanks, Ashley :)! I’m with you on being obsessive- the more “focused” I get on being healthy, the further I tend to get!

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Ameena September 24, 2013 at 5:42 am

99% of what I eat comes fresh so I don’t have to worry about additives, etc. I just can’t eat things with too many ingredients, especially unprounceable ones. And nothing I eat is related to calories in any way.

This way of eating really works for me! And I totally agree on the supplements by the way…

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Khushboo September 24, 2013 at 8:57 am

It sounds like you have a great approach, Ameena 😀

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Honey What's Cooking September 24, 2013 at 8:12 am

For me, it’s not counting the calories and eating stuff that is good for me … avocados, nuts, etc, eventhough they are fattening.
Of course, I negate that with my desserts – but I honestly only eat them a couple times a week.

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Khushboo September 24, 2013 at 8:57 am

Dessert a couple of times a week does a mind good 😀

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Nikhita September 24, 2013 at 8:12 am

LOVE THIS! What I find most often is people look at calories only, and this makes them deprive themselves of certain foods, like avocados for instance, or feta cheese. For me, clean eating = nutrition, and I always try to pick foods with more nutrients in them – like grilled chicken instead of fried, or spinach instead of iceberg in my salads..and then sometimes of course, the occasional cupcake! Clean eating should be focusing on foods that make you look and feel good, be it a green juice or a chocolate milkshake 🙂

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Khushboo September 24, 2013 at 8:58 am

Oooh I was one of those people who once avoided avocados & cheese because of calories…thank the lord the opposite stands today 🙂

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Charlotte @ Commitness to Fitness September 24, 2013 at 7:18 pm

ohh this is fantastic!! i completely agree that clean eating is different for everyone. for me, its about cutting out the processed foods, and the restaurant foods that are loaded with sodium. i guess its a simple definition and i probably wouldnt be able to defend it as “clean” to people who follow real eating plans, but, it works for me 🙂

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Khushboo September 25, 2013 at 8:48 am

I’m in the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” camp…so keep doing YOU :)!

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Meghan@Clean Eat Fast Feets September 25, 2013 at 2:29 am

Great post. I’m a huge fan and know we see things very similarly.
Clean eating is such a subjective food path (believe me, I know), and it all really goes back to each person’s personal beliefs. What I consider clean, a vegan might not call clean and certainly someone who follows a Paleo diet wouldn’t consider clean.

For me, clean eating is using whole food-only ingredients. Eat lots of fruits, veggies, grains, healthy fats and a moderate dose of the other things. I have no problem eating a cookie, a slice of cake, etc so long as the ingredients are all things I can pronounce. For example, if I were to drink a soda, I’m going for the real deal with sugar as opposed to a diet soda. I’d much rather have sugar than a bunch of chemicals. I also never look at calories or macros. I just try to eat whatever my body is craving whether it’s a bowl of potato soup, a giant salad or a peach cobbler. This usually means I do most of my own cooking, although I have found some restaurants where I feel comfortable. All that being said, if a bunch of my friends are going out to eat at some chain restaurant where I know the ingredients are less than quality, I bite my tongue, make the best of the food and have a good time with my friends. An occasional less than stellar meal isn’t going to do me in.

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Khushboo September 25, 2013 at 8:49 am

Great comment, Meghan! I especially liked your point about regular soda over diet! After years of drinking Diet Coke, I would only ever pop open a can of the real deal if the craving should ever hit!

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Meghan@CleanEatsFastFeets September 25, 2013 at 4:17 pm

Yeah I still don’t get the diet soda thing. Whenever I see people post, it usually along the lines of sometimes you gotta treat yourself etc., to which I so badly want to say, then have a regular soda. The sugar won’t kill you, but the chemicals in the diet could. Or at the very least, it’ll turn into formaldehyde in your body, which is about as appealing as it sounds.

Have a good one, and thanks for the great post.

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Khushboo September 26, 2013 at 10:05 am

Oh man if the day ever comes where a Diet drink is a treat for me, please slap me straight ;)!

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Laura @ Sprint 2 the Table September 25, 2013 at 7:39 pm

I just want to take this and repost it all over my blog. I keep saying that diet is personal. You have to define clean for yourself, and stick with it as a lifestyle rather than a diet. The less processed the better, but it’s silly for people to get caught up in/stumble on these extreme notions of what that “should” looks like.

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Khushboo September 26, 2013 at 10:06 am

True story! One of the reasons why so many people fail at “healthy living” is because of their attempts to burn the candle at ALL ends…it’s never gonna work in the long-term!

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Liz @ I Heart Vegetables September 26, 2013 at 2:20 am

LOVE This post! I think it is a little different for everyone. (To be honest, when I started seeing the hashtag all over instagram I was trying to figure out what the heck it meant! haha) For me, it’s eating mostly non-processed foods, with ingredients I can pronounce, and I have an idea where they came from! 🙂

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Khushboo September 27, 2013 at 12:04 am

I like your definition of clean eating 🙂

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Lisa September 26, 2013 at 5:07 am

Great post! 🙂

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Khushboo September 26, 2013 at 10:06 am

Thanks Lisa 🙂

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Anita Menon September 26, 2013 at 5:04 pm

Excellent post. i have reached my middle ground too. Depriving myself of the foods that I have grown up eating has only harmed me. Getting back to my roots and sticking to the fundamentals gives me more fulfillment and joy. My body has been responding well too, I have observed.

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Khushboo September 27, 2013 at 12:03 am

Ah this comment made my day! Glad you have found a happy medium, Anita 😀

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Heather @ Kiss My Broccoli September 30, 2013 at 2:03 am

Omg, Khusboo! I agree with you one HUNDRED percent!! I think way too many people get restrictive about clean eating and turn everything into a world of black and white and it’s just not like that. I see it on Instagram SO much…people always quick to judge someone based on their food choices because they don’t fit their obsessive definition of clean, but it’s such a subjective topic! Like you said, clean eating is different for everyone! For me, it’s eating a balanced diet of {mostly} whole foods and limiting my intake of processed ingredients and refined sugar. But if I’m in the middle of my busy day and I want to have a cookie, and a Keebler is the only choice, then by God, hand over that ELF! 😉

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Khushboo September 30, 2013 at 9:13 am

I think our definitions of “clean eating” are on par…we should eat cookies together 😉

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