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Body Image and Why I Won’t Participate in ‘Clean Eating’

Body Image and Why I Won’t Participate in ‘Clean Eating’

There has been a lot of buzz online with the clean eating movement – Pictures and blog posts circulating, sharing pictures of beautifully laid out plates of fruits and vegetables, stories of weight loss and pictures showing off perfectly sculpted bodies, all credited to their new ‘clean eating’ plan.

For those that are currently living under a rock, or have somehow miraculously missed the massive trend towards ‘clean eating’, it generally refers to a diet in which one restricts that which they are eating to just ‘whole’, minimally-processed foods.


Sounds simple, right?


What this fails to look at is the mental side of a movement like this. It fails to take into account the subliminal message that much of this trend’s promotion is inadvertently pushing. I mean, I’m all for eating healthy, and in fact, as I have shared on here with previous food related posts like my zucchini ‘meat’ balls, I am rather focused on ensuring that I continue to eat healthy, but the idea of ‘eating clean’ comes with a host of additional problems.

Now, to fully understand where I stand on all this, I need to do something that I don’t do all that often on here when it comes to subjects like this, and allow myself to be vulnerable. I am going to share things about me, my past and my present that I haven’t previously discussed.

I have spent much of my life in and out of treatment for an eating disorder. More specifically, I have an eating disorder. Now, at this stage in my life my eating habits are on point, my exercise schedule is relatively normal, my body weight is healthy and life is going well. Some may go as far as saying I have recovered. I won’t make that statement, however, because it’s a daily battle. The voices are still in the back of my head. I still wake up each and every morning and make the decision that today is going to be a positive, healthy day.


How does this tie into the cleaning eating movement, and my frustrations with it? Well, in order for there to be ‘clean foods’ that inherently implies that there are also ‘dirty foods’. This idea of good and bad foods is one that is often discussed in eating disorder treatment – because it involves applying a moral value to food.

This turns what was once a set of eating guidelines into restrictive rules due to the mental and emotional implications when you ‘cheat’ or ‘stray’.  So, you’re out with friends, and they are all enjoying a birthday cake for your friend’s birthday. You allow yourself a small piece, knowing that you have been eating well and this one small piece of cake isn’t going to destroy the work you have done all week to ensure that you are healthy… When you are operating in a mental state that applies moral value, this will in turn leave you feeling as though you failed, and potentially cause you to spiral into a cycle of unhealthy eating simply because what you did is ‘wrong’ because it didn’t fit the rules you have put in place.


Do you see how this can be dangerous?


Now take it a step further, and think outside of your own personal mental health. Let’s say that you started an Instagram account in which you shared your journey of clean eating, and you found that the more you post making it look like you’re a pro at following this, the more followers flock to your account. You now have thousands of followers, who see you posting as if you have never one faltered. You are the perfect example of all things clean eating.

You probably think that you’re doing a good thing, setting that example that you can do this, and not cheat on your self enforced rules. You’re showing that anyone can do this. You’re sharing all of your great accomplishments to motivate others and keep your account positive.


The truth is that you’re actually creating a possible dangerous space for people who struggle. People with a history of disordered eating are highly vulnerable when it comes to restrictive diets. These people may not be able to step back and acknowledge that you’re only sharing your highlights. You didn’t post the day you skipped your workout, or the chocolate bar you treated yourself too while at the movies with friends. This starts them back into a super strict pattern of eating, which can become stricter and stricter in time, leading them back to the very path of disordered eating they had been trying to leave behind.

This isn’t even touching on whether or not your own clean eating habits are walking that fine line between healthy eating an unhealthy obsession… Are you familiar with Orthorexia? Its an eating disorder characterized by an obsessive compulsive need to eat only healthy, pure or clean foods. While its still not listed as an official diagnosis, it is becoming increasingly popular in today’s society.

These aren’t usually people who set out to create diets so restrictive that they end up negatively impacting their physical health. These are people who started just as you did, with a focus on eating healthy, and as it became stricter and stricter it eventually ended up controlling them instead of the other way around.


So, after all that, what does this mean for me? I’m not going to stop sharing healthy recipes, or leave any reference to eating/exercise off my social media accounts, after all it is part of who I am! What I am going to do is focus on body positivity. I am going to keep trying to focus my own thoughts and energy on staying body positive, eating healthy and not allowing myself to venture back down that dark, negative road that occupied so many years of my life.

The National Eating Disorder Association released what they called ’10 Steps to Positive Body Image’, and I want to share that here. It has some great ideas, and makes some seriously valid points!


One list cannot automatically tell you how to turn negative body thoughts into positive body image, but it can introduce you to healthier ways of looking at yourself and your body.  The more you practice these new thought patterns, the better you will feel about who you are and the body you naturally have.

  1. Appreciate all that your body can do.  Every day your body carries you closer to your dreams.  Celebrate all of the amazing things your body does for you—running, dancing, breathing, laughing, dreaming, etc.
  2. Keep a top-ten list of things you like about yourself—things that aren’t related to how much you weigh or what you look like.  Read your list often.  Add to it as you become aware of more things to like about yourself.
  3. Remind yourself that “true beauty” is not simply skin deep.  When you feel good about yourself and who you are, you carry yourself with a sense of confidence, self-acceptance, and openness that makes you beautiful regardless of whether you physically look like a supermodel.  Beauty is a state of mind, not a state of your body.
  4. Look at yourself as a whole person.  When you see yourself in a mirror or in your mind, choose not to focus on specific body parts.  See yourself as you want others to see you–as a whole person.
  5. Surround yourself with positive people.  It is easier to feel good about yourself and your body when you are around others who are supportive and who recognize the importance of liking yourself just as you naturally are.
  6. Shut down those voices in your head that tell you your body is not “right” or that you are a “bad” person.  You can overpower those negative thoughts with positive ones.  The next time you start to tear yourself down, build yourself back up with a few quick affirmations that work for you.
  7. Wear clothes that are comfortable and that make you feel good about your body.  Work with your body, not against it.
  8. Become a critical viewer of social and media messages.  Pay attention to images, slogans, or attitudes that make you feel bad about yourself or your body.  Protest these messages:  write a letter to the advertiser or talk back to the image or message
  9. Do something nice for yourself–something that lets your body know you appreciate it.  Take a bubble bath, make time for a nap, find a peaceful place outside to relax.
  10. Use the time and energy that you might have spent worrying about food, calories, and your weight to do something to help others.  Sometimes reaching out to other people can help you feel better about yourself and can make a positive change in our world.”


What steps do you take to work towards maintaining a positive body image? What is one (or more) aspect of your body that you genuinely love?

26 thoughts on “Body Image and Why I Won’t Participate in ‘Clean Eating’”

  • I can relate to what you say about the dangers of applying moral values to food, I tried calorie counting for a couple of years, never lost anything but started to hate myself for my “weaknesses.” Now I just try to est what makes me feel good after I’ve eaten it, not just when I put it in my mouth. Keep fighting the battle re eating disorder. My sister has had anorexia since she was 15 or 16. She’s almost 41. It has ruined her life in so many ways.

    • It can be SO negative to your mental and emotional health simply by flipping that switch in regards to how you view food! Thank you for reading, and I am sending all my best vibes to your sister in her battle. It’s not an easy one!

  • Thank you for writing this. Anything that says “clean” in reference to eating just seems extremely restrictive and I cannot live that way. I’ve always had a weird relationship with food and totally did the whole good food/bad food thing and still do sometimes but I also try to be healthy by getting in those types of foods and working out when I can. You are right on when it comes to the whole mental side of it- for someone who has had a certain history with food, promoting certain ideas is detrimental. Body positivity and balance are so important. Thanks again for this.
    XX Jen

    • Thank you for the kind comment, and thanks for reading! We need to do what we can to protect ourselves mentally and emotionally, and that means looking at things like this critically.

  • It is so important not to let the internet define beauty EVER. We have too many beauty and health gurus that claim to know what’s best for all of us. There’s no way we all fit into that box they claim is best for us. Let’s all make the decision to listen to our own bodies instead everything online;)

    Love always,


    • I completely agree! There is no ‘right box’ and the sooner we stop pretending that there is, the better! Thanks for reading!

  • I love the idea of keeping a list of the things you love about yourself. It’s so easy to get down on ourselves these days with so many people appearing “perfect” online and in social media. We all need to remind ourselves that we’re good enough.

    • We do! Each and every one of us has so much to love and be proud of we just need a reminder from time to time

  • Great article. Thanks for sharing. While I definitely eat non processed foods I don’t limit myself or put a certain moral value on food. It’s just food and we should just eat it. You’re right about the first accepting and working with your body. That’s the single most important thing. I love that I am comfortable with my body even though it’s not society’s version of perfect nor do I want it to be.

    • Thank you, and thank you for reading! I love hearing people share who are genuinely comfortable with their body!

  • I 100% agree that clean eating can be super dangerous. I myself am always conscious about if I’m eating the right way, is my dinner healthy enough and I always find myself browsing the ‘clean eating’ tag on Pinterest. I really think it is a danger to people who are vulnerable and/or have a mental illness. I really enjoyed reading this post – it needed speaking about for sure!..
    Charlie xx

    • Thank you! I have nothing against healthy eating for sure, I think we just need to be aware of the terms we are using, and what those connotations are.

  • I think it’s great that you’re pointing out the dangers around clean eating. I personally try to eat healthily as much as I possibly can but I enjoy eating meals out and treating myself to ‘junk food’ every now and then (probably more often than I care to admit – lol) But my logic is that I am a foodie, I LOVE food so why limit myself? I have accepted my body for what it is – a curvy size 14 (UK) and am happy in my own skin 🙂

    Love Amber x

    • I think it’s so important to allow ourselves to have a treat that we can enjoy at times! Enjoy that ‘junk food’!

  • Great read, Britt and I can see where you’re coming from and it being a dangerous trap. I love food and I try to eat as healthy as possible, eating the same things daily because I actually enjoy it. Now I work my a$$ off at the gym and I’m proud of my muscle, but I never deprive myself or say no to anything. Moderation and meal planning work for me. What motivates me to work my tail off is my paternal grandparents extreme obesity and deciding I’d never let myself get to that size and be so unhealthy. Plus, is like to live a long and happy life, so treating my body with respect is absolutely essential. 🙂
    And having come from a place years ago where I obsessively tracked calories and was at the gym four hours a day? I’d say I’ve come a long way. I never ever care about the number on the scale (in fact I don’t even own one) but it’s how I feel. 🙂

    • Moderation I think is a huge key to being healthy when it comes to your eating habits. Let yourself enjoy a treat once in awhile, have a cheat day, find foods that taste good and are still healthier… the second someone starts eliminating things entirely they are setting themselves up for failure

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