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Lauren Cahn

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"Eating Clean": the Latest Evil Diet Craze

Posted: 12/12/08 11:17 AM ET

In my opinion, ALL diet crazes are inherently evil. Basically, I don't believe in dieting at all. I believe in eating right for your body, which includes eating no more than your body needs to maintain a healthy weight. At the age of 43, I've pretty much figured out what feels right for my body, and I am pretty well aware of how much I can eat in order to stay at the weight at which I am most comfortable (at five feet and barely an inch, with a small to medium build, that equals 100 to 103 pounds), which is not a heck of a lot (thank you, early menopause).

Most days, I eat a modest breakfast that won't weigh me down when I practice my yoga - perhaps an energy bar or a banana with almond butter. After yoga practice, I eat whatever I crave, which usually is something solid and carbohydrate-rich, like "Manna Bread" (a dense, sweet bread made with crushed sprouted grains, nuts and cooked at a very low temperature in order to keep the sprouts as "live" as possible) plus some sort of nut butter, or perhaps ghee (clarified butter) plus some apricot jam. If I'm seeing friends for lunch, I'll have a vegetarian stir-fry, or perhaps a hearty soup. I don't enjoy eating salads for lunch, particularly in the winter, because I've noticed that when I fill my stomach up with cold veggies, I feel vaguely cold and unsatisfied all day long afterward. Dinner is usually on the early side and consisting of a meat subsitute like "Quorn" or seitan plus vegetables and a sauce.

Some might call that "eating clean", although I have yet to find an actual definition of "eating clean", and lord knows, I spent about five minutes Googling it (seriously, if you can't come up with SOMETHING in five minutes on Google, it's pretty much a lost cause). Mostly, I think "eating clean" is whatever "virtuous eating" is to you, if by "virtuous eating" you mean that inside your head, you have a mean old parochial school teacher standing over you with a ruler, ready to smack you on the back of your hand if you DON'T meet your own eating criteria, whatever that happens to be.

The truth is, I don't always "eat clean", nor do I strive to do so. I simply listen to my body and strive to eat what it craves. Not what my head craves. What my body craves, which is a pretty good indicator of what my body needs. And some days that means that after yoga, I drive to Dunkin Donuts and eat a big ole muffin the size of my head. Not organic. Not vegan. Plenty of sugar and fat and all of it washed down with a big black coffee. If I did that every day, I wouldn't feel good. But some days, it's a necessity, according to my body, to which I listen attentively.

Also, another truth: I don't force my own arguably spartan eating habits on my kids. I want them to make their own decisions about food, just like I did. Since my kids are two active boys under the age of 12, that decision-making might often seem questionable, at least to an adult. On the other hand, the needs of active boys are different from the needs of middle-aged women. And so, while I strive to eat no meat (because meat makes me feel sluggish in every way), I allow my kids to enjoy such "unclean" fare as hotdogs:

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I addition, my house tends to be stocked with Pop-Tarts, Devil Dogs and Newman-O's. With all that deliciously indulgent sweet stuff around me, there are, of course, days in which I will indulge in a Pop-Tart, a Devil Dog, or a Newman-O, or three. On Saturday nights, my social life often demands that I eat dinner at 8 p.m. or later. The wine flows, and sometimes the mojitos. Or the margaritas. Or the Whatever-tinis. And I don't say no. That would just make me feel frustrated and deprived. Instead, I try to minimize the next day's pain by drinking lots of water. And Diet Coke.

Some might go so far as to call this: "the opposite of eating clean". And isn't the opposite of "eating clean"...."eating dirty"?

But isn't it kind of mean to say to yourself, "I've been eating dirty." After saying "I've been eating dirty", isn't the only logical next thought after that: "my eating habits suck" and then, "I suck"?

If enjoying an indulgence here and there as part of a fairly balanced diet and lifestyle is what you would call "eating dirty", then, by God, I don't want to "eat clean". The whole notion of "eating clean" is just so judgemental. And why be judgemental?

Why attach pejoratives to what we put in our mouths? Especially when failing to eat a "perfect" (whatever that means to you) diet is not only likely at times, but destined to happen at times. Why set yourself up for failure and then say mean things about yourself when you fail?

Why not approach eating with a joyful heart....like this child?

2008-12-10-cleanfood2.jpg

Yeah, yeah, childhood obesity, blah blah blah. How about this: Let's stop judging our eating in terms of "clean" versus "dirty" and just eat the best we can and enjoy ourselves even after we've had a Devil Dog at midnight washed down with a glass of cheap vodka? Beating ourselves up and calling it eating "dirty" isn't going to take it away. And it's only going to intensify the need to do penance the next day. Which only intensifies the desire to stuff our faces with foods that are going to make us feel guilty later. Until that desire is a need. And then, whoa. Watch out, Devil Dogs.

Let's just all agree to eat in a way that helps us feel the best that we can. And enough of calling it names.

 

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