Image Credit: • Happy Batatinha •
It’s been an entire month since I posted the much hated-on article on Clean Eating. I’m hardly amazed at what people say or do anymore on the internet. The riot this one caused on the bodybuilding.com forums was nothing short of hilarious.
Thanks to the readers here who continue to share my work with others.
However, with all due respect to the narrow-minded, neurotic elitists in the health and fitness world, I felt it was quite pertinent to put the nail in the coffin so to speak.
You see, as a writer and fellow fitness enthusiast, I feel it’s my calling to share with you what I feel is relevant, practical and useful for your personal fitness journey – whether you’re competitive or merely a weekend warrior.
Some call me the consumers advocate for all things fitness-related. I say I’m just telling it like it is.
Your personal decisions to lead a healthy, fit lifestyle and to focus on continual improvement are very important to me, even though most of us will never cross paths in real life.
If there’s anything I’ve noticed over and over again, it’s the preoccupations people develop regarding their daily diet. A current client struggles heartily with her old habits related to binge eating. A past client I talk to almost daily has completely broken free from his anxieties and neuroses. He actually traded them for his girlfriend’s cheesecake and homebrew (high Joe!).
So, instead of just listening to another guru (something I am NOT) tell you whether or not something is good or bad, clean or unclean, I’m going to shut up for this one and let my readers and friends speak for me.
For the last month’s newsletter, I submitted a request for my readers to share their personal testimonies – how they’ve either broken free from the clean/unclean mindset or if my e-book has helped them transition to a more relaxed, more enjoyable approach to the fitness lifestyle.
Here is my exact message from the email.
Ideally, for the final clean eating article, I’d love to include your feedback and how you’ve changed your mindset/beliefs about food.
If you’ve adopted a relaxed approach with your diet, I’d like to hear about it.
If my e-book helped you worry less about meal timing and eating your favorite meals more often, please tell me how.
Therefore, if you wish to participate, just respond to this email. Tell me anything you want to about how the book, my articles, or our casual email conversations have helped you develop a better, more relaxed relationship with your food and fitness regimen.
Without further proselytizing, I present to you my awesome friends and readers. The emphasis (mine) will be in bold with a few comments following each one.
I actually used to be one that was very obsessive about counting calories and such. I wanted to be lean and strut around having a 6 pack all the time. Then, I realized how weak I was in the gym in relation to all my peers. I finally made the decision back in June to look at food as a simply “fuel” to make me big/strong. I make sure I don’t overdo the calories, but I definitely got back into some good old fashioned southern BBQ! Compared to the boneless, skinless chicken breast and OATS that I used to eat. I feel like my life is more satisfying now, I can reach my goals and still keep my sanity!!!
I can relate to the awesomeness that is southern cooking having grown up in the South. There’s NOTHING like Memphis BBQ.
JC, I think your clean eating articles (and subsequent responses to the onslaught of hysteria) are absolutely awesome. My personal philosophy about food has evolved quite a bit thanks to your articles as well as your kind responses to my comments and emails.
In brief, thanks to your writing, I now view food as… well, food. It’s no longer make-or-break, black or white, good or bad, clean or dirty. It’s just food, and it either makes me feel good or it doesn’t, and it tastes good or it doesn’t.
In the last 2 months I have lost 18 pounds by doing 30 minutes of interval cardio training a day and eating three “wholesome” meals a day. By wholesome, I mean I am eating foods that contain ingredients I recognize; I completely ignore fat, protein, and carbohydrate content. My one “rule” is that I only eat desserts (cookies, ice cream, cake, etc.) after dinner, because for me personally, eating sweets during the day makes me crave them for the rest of the day and I find it uncomfortable. I do sometimes eat sweetened cereals for breakfast, because I like ’em and their ingredients are a lot more recognizable than those in protein powders and bars, which I think are a ridiculous rip-off.
I eat whole eggs scrambled or fried in olive oil; I eat lots of healthy greens with full fat dressing; I eat cold cuts with mayonnaise; I put a little butter on my broccoli; and I eat (heaven forbid) WHITE BREAD, WHITE RICE, and WHITE PASTA. I get plenty of fiber in the 5-9 servings of fruits and veggies I eat every day with my meals, so I see no need to bloat my belly with a bunch if indigestible whole grains.
I’m losing weight, I feel energetic during my workouts, and I have STOPPED BINGEING. If I want a couple of Double-Stuff Oreo or a bowl of ice cream or a big handful of M&Ms, I eat them after dinner, which is when most people around the world eat their sweets. Each day, I know that I can have anything I want for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and I have begun to trust that my body knows what it needs. I get cravings for steak and french fries a couple of times a month, and when I do, I eat it. I also get cravings for veggie burgers, broccoli, salmon, sweet potatoes, and yogurt, and I eat all of those things too. Once in a blue moon I get a craving for bologna & cheese, and– you guessed it– I eat it. I don’t snack because I’m getting all the calories and nutrition I need at mealtime, and I feel much better letting my stomach rest for several hours before I eat again.
By working hard to eliminate the clean food/dirty food mindset, I have finally begun to fix my broken relationship with food, and I feel so, so, so much better. I’m excited about how easily my extra weight has fallen off and am amazed that I can sit here typing without thinking about my next meal.
I think your message is vitally important for everyone, but especially those of us who have cultivated disordered eating patterns over the years. I’m sick of the fitness dogma concerning frequent eating, protein, and laboratory foods like proteins and bars. It’s time to get back to basics and stop the fear-mongering, and that’s exactly what you’ve been working so hard to do.
Thanx for everything JC!
~Maureen (Montclair, NJ)
I can’t really add much to this one except that it means so much to me that my work is actually making a difference. Words cannot express the joy it brings.
Finding your blog was part of an ongoing process during which I gradually transitioned away from anecdotal, bro-tastic fitness information to sources that relied on well vetted research and proper logic. This transition has been incredibly liberating, and while I still harbor some of my clean eating OCD tendencies, I feel that I’m moving in the right direction. Thank you for contributing to this process!
Liberation is what I live for.
Very simple: It is a religion.
The very phrase “Clean eating” just drips virtuosity. When eating clean, one feels above the mass of humanity, having found the true way.
That explains why you got so many angry responses. You criticized someone’s faith.
This is not totally a bad thing. I use it myself to reinforce eating in a way that moves me toward my goals. (Notice I didn’t say eating “healthy”, another religious word.)
Feeling good after eating in a way that moves me toward my goals leads me to want to do it again.
However, as the saying goes, “The tree that bends, never breaks.” Sometimes enjoying a meal of un-clean food can also move me towards my goals by allowing better long term compliance. This is what the clean eating fundamentalists (who are like any religious fundamentalists) miss.
Hmm, this reminds me of that article I wrote a long while back – Fitness Fundamentalists.
When I read your e-book, I felt like I could relate so much to what you said. Avoiding social functions because of the food, ocd about having 6 meals a day, only clean foods etc. It’s been less than a month since I have been abandoning these “healthy” habits that frankly were controlling my life.
I used to be so ocd about eating every 3hrs (you know, yoru metabolism slows down and muscle will be burned blahblahblah…). I was often eating my “clean” foods during lessons because it had to be exactly 3hrs before i ate again and breaks were either too early or too late to eat.
I was constantly watching the clock like a hawk and it definitely shifted my concentration in class. My bag looked as if I was prepared to go for a picnic with all the containers. Even worse was on weekends where I could not allow myself to sleep in late because I had to wake up to eat so that I can ensure that I have 6 small meals. If I overslept, I freaked and would contemplate if I should increase the food in the next meal of eating too much as once would make me gain fat.
Also, eating clean became inexcusable. No white rice, white potatoes, no sugar, no saturated fat and all that shit. So going out was a problem. I would either not go or if I didn’t have a choice, I would become so anxious and could not socialise w others.
But THANK GOODNESS I happened to discover some blogs and sites (including JCDFitness) that demolish these myths with solid research. Seriously, life becomes so much more relaxed when you discover the truth.
I just try to hit the day’s kcals and macros by the end of the day. It doesn’t matter if it was accomplished in 10 meals or 2 meals. Carbs are carbs and sweet potatoes are not superior to white ones. White potatoes are FREAKIN AWESOME! I’m not saying it’s totally okay to eat all the junk you want to hit your macros, but having “unclean” food in your diet won’t ruin your body.
I mean, your body ain’t gonna magically digest starch any differently whether it comes from white or brown rice. Your body doesn’t go: “let’s store starches from unclean source in the adipose tissue and only use starch from clean source as fuel! yeah!”
I’m still working on allowing more “unclean” food into my diet, but it definitely is getting better. Really, being too militant about how one eats is a pain in the ass.
Hmm, I pretty much live for these comments, too. I’m glad she made the point in which it’s not okay to only eat junk as many people somehow gathered from my original article.
Glad to see you’re stirring the pot a little bit in the fitness world. It’s been awhile since we spoke on the phone about me launching a website and I’ve been immensely busy with my day job ever since. However, I keep up to date on things fitness/nutrition, which includes reading your posts.
Regarding clean eating being a scam, I couldn’t agree more. The best analogy you used was breaking down a pizza into its basic “clean” parts and then, magically, if we are to combine these parts into a pizza, the fat is supposed to expand our waistlines at the speed of light. Are we so naïve to believe the most complex and efficient machine on the planet (the Human body) is simply a zero sum linear calculator when it comes to energy sourcing, metabolism, and storage? The body doesn’t detect cereal vs. potato, it detects a carbohydrate (glucose) source. The body doesn’t detect steak vs. salmon, it detects a fat and protein source. To the extent these sources add up to too much energy needed for that day, or not enough, “the machine” will store the excess or seek energy elsewhere (through fat mobilization/utilization). If you take in too much (or not enough) energy than your body needs, it will not matter if that energy came from a potato or a piece of cheesecake. Assuming adequate protein, so “the machine” doesn’t have to feed off its own muscle for energy, the result will be positive or negative fat balance.
Some of the arguments I noticed repeatedly tried hitting on the fact that when you went on your “clean eating” tear, you got into pretty good shape. Thus, clean eating works and is no scam at all. These people are missing the forest for the trees, so to speak. If the clean eating mentality is no consequence of a misshapen neurosis toward food/dieting, then why do so many people regain what they lose after the “diet”? Your argument centers on the misconception “clean eating” represents, which is a person can only eat a certain subset of foods to lose body fat/gain muscle.
Sure, “clean eating” works, on Monday eat nothing but broccoli, and Tuesday eat nothing but cheesecake. The difference will come in your ability to stay below your energy needs, not from the inherent evil of the cheesecake nor the inherent divinity of the broccoli floret. I think what you’re hitting on, but what most people (all who are way too highly wound up, no doubt) miss is that a guy/gal will be a hell of a lot more happy they got to eat a piece of cheesecake than a plate full of broccoli.
We humans forget the power of the mind. If you can take care of the mind via a relaxed eating approach and some ice cream every now and again, you’ll be much better off in the long run. You will not get instantly fat from the evil foods, just as you will not get instantly skinny on the “clean foods”. Food is food, energy is energy. This is what the human body dissects. It cares not if it’s coming from Captain Crunch or Green Giant.
Adam Casper (born and raised Illinois, currently in Lincoln, NE)
Boy oh boy – we’ve got another live one! You should write a book on the content of the last paragraph alone.
Both articles and the report confirmed something that I have been thinking for a while now. I have been on a bit of a rollercoaster both from a weight loss perspective and now in the personal training field. I tended to get in the habit of trying everything that I read about nutrition and exercise no matter how it made me feel. The clean eating debate for me started when I read about primal and paleo eating.
I immediately switched to this type of diet and got great results, I lost a lot of weight and body fat by cutting out grains and dairy. This was ok until my results hit a plateau and it started to make me miserable, I mean seriously, you can’t eat anything except meat, fruits and vegetables. You can eat nuts but not too many because of the calories and so on.
Over the last few weeks after reading the articles, I have decided that I would re-introduce sweet potato, brown rice and little bits of dairy back into my diet and to be honest, I have seen no difference in my energy levels or weight. I also now have a full on cheat day when I go crazy! I don’t believe you can get your calories from just meat, fish, fruits and vegetables and nuts. I was probably getting about 1500 calories a day eating a truck load of fruit and training my ass off, you can’t get a decent metabolic rate doing that stuff and you are going to be miserable.
Here’s my take in “clean eating”. To start off, I’m a “hard gainer” with borderline low metabolism and I’ve never been able to get down past 20% except when I did a grueling hard CKD a few years back. Since this is not something you can do 24/7/365, I’ve never really been able to stay at lower body fat percentages, and the so-called clean eating has never helped me.
I’ve done The Zone, I’ve done normal low carb, oh what the hell – I’ve done pretty much everything except VLCD powder diets. I’ve never gotten exceptional results, even when doing weights, judo and cardio. Then, a while back, I first read about Intermittent Fasting, which tied up real good with how my body reacts to food.
Sometimes I can go for a whole day without being hungry, and when I eat my body screams for red meat tuna, poultry, fish, and even pink meat are entrees. They never made me full. Now, a normal day’s diet consists of a pound of meat (as tacos or lasagna), a couple of triple cheese burgers, and I might even throw in a bottle of coke.
On training days, I add a few raisin buns for carbs and pleasure and a Pepsi raw. I don’t eat anything before 7pm, except for training days when I start eating about an hour before doing my BJJ (Brazilian Jiu Jitsu).
So, what’s happening to my body? Am I getting fatter? Am I losing muscle? Nah…My body fat is slowly and comfortably melting away and my body weight is slowly climbing. While I’ve been off for a year, I’m hardly a beginner with about 85kg lbm on my 170cm frame, but my body’s shifting and I love it.
Bear in mind, however, that nobody’s equal, and it might not work for everybody, but as far as I can tell, “clean eating” is a myth. A calorie is a calorie, and as long as you get essential amino acids and fatty acids, the rest really don’t matter all the much. It’s just fuel, and different engines react best to different fuels. Find the fuel for your body – anything else would be like trying to pour diesel into every engine. It just doesn’t work.
Good points all around. I see it this way too. As far as energy is concerned, a calorie is just a calorie. Hit your protein, get some fruit and veggies into the diet and the rest is merely details.
I read a lot of your stuff and have been a long time Lyle McDonald reader and forum lurker, so I’ve seen a lot of your posts in general too. I don’t really post on forums or send emails or stuff, but I felt I kinda had to with this email.
Pretty much, because your book was real insightful and pretty helpful in terms of realising that my mad thinking could become normal again, I was already in the process of trying to normalise my views, especially with regards to nutrition and training.
Your book showed how someone such as yourself had also become a bit out of touch with a relaxed attitude, but managed to become really moderate.
Long story short, I’ve changed from having quite a damaged relationship with food to one now where food is simply nourishment and celebration. I’m not one to shy away from a piece cake or wings, etc.
But I’m also not a fat bastard either, so I kind of grasped that once calories are roughly controlled, protein adequate, you’re chillin’. Just to give you some perspective, I ballpark guess my calories, incorporate IF when useful, and eat less when I need to compensate from munching hard at restaurants and stuff. So far no damage to my physique nor performance.
I’m truly happy you’ve begun repairing that relationship. Life’s too short to worry about the small stuff.
Ok. So I’ve been thinking about this subject of clean eating for awhile now. I too feel that it’s just too “scheduled” and strict. My body responds to eating when I’m hungry, not when the clock says it’s time.
I eat fruit, veggies, whole grains, lean meats, but then if I want a Big Mac, then I will certainly have one. I eat out at restaurants about twice per week and the rest of the time, I eat pretty well. I work out about 5 days per week and I have never been more than 10 pounds overweight.
I am a certified personal trainer and while I don’t claim to know everything about fitness, I tell my clients to listen to their bodies and go with what feels right. There’s so much hype on how to eat and what to eat, that people just get so confused they screw up daily and aren’t losing weight. It’s not rocket science! Just eat well most of the time and move your body. Well thats my two cents worth.
I love it when we personal trainers get our grub on at McDonalds.
Since your article I have kind of taken a new outlook on nutrition, not that I was OCD about “clean” eating to begin with, but much of the time I thought I had a fair grasp on what was unhealthy/healthy and I tried to stay on the healthy side.
I live with 3 roommates and we all work out; we’ve actually built a pretty nice garage gym recently, and I am considered to be the nutrition “expert” in the house. Really, “expert” just means I know a fraction more about nutrient timing and pre/post workout meals than they do.
This expertise is not a self proclaimed title either, they see what I cook, when I eat, and how my physique has changed over the years so naturally they have questions about things. Not saying that I have some bodybuilder physique either, but when you live with 3 guys ranging from 22-25 years old who all enjoy fast food, pizza, beer, eating out, and snacking when a person is able to add muscle and maintain a lean look throughout all of the mindless eating it becomes clear that they might be doing something right.
I have gone through periods where I felt gross if I would put some BBQ sauce on my grilled chicken breast, and refrained from putting cheese on my already bunless hamburger. I think the concept I have struggled with the most is carbs. I was always in the mindset that unless I was eating before or after my workout my body didn’t need carbs and the more of them I ate away from workout time the more fat I would accumulate.
Recently I have just been going on what by body feels. If I’m at the store planning to make some grilled chicken and asparagus and my body is literally craving bread then I say “who gives a shit” and I grab a loaf of premade garlic bread and eat as much as my body desires. Since my change in mindset I haven’t noticed any more fat on my body.
Actually I have been “bulking” recently and the added weight has actually given my body the appearance of being more lean, but that’s just because I lacked muscle in areas before and they are starting to fill out. Especially my abs which is quite funny.
Everyone always says abs are made in the kitchen; well recently I’ve discovered that my abs really are made in the kitchen, the kitchen of eating 1000+ calorie meals and hitting my abs hard after my main lifts are done. This whole time I was concerned with fat accumulation and then when I decide forget fat %’s I’m going to eat to gain, I look more lean than ever haha.
Another perfect example of a young guy taking action and changing his mindset for the better. I’ve enjoyed the email exchange I’ve had the last month or so with Scott.
Thanks to everyone who participated; it’s been a pleasure reading all of your responses.
Oh yea, October is the 2 year mark for JCDFitness. He turned 2!
When I say I don’t do cardio, I’m really just kidding myself because I spend at least 6 hrs a day scrubbing my food.
Here’s your proof from the man himself that eating clean is essential to your survival, in the hunter-gatherer sense of the word.