The Death of Clean Eating?

Bullterrier in a suit. Home dog. Leigh Peele.
Article Last Updated: Sept 2019

To be truthful, I shouldn’t title an article like that. By doing so, I could easily perpetuate the thought that there aren’t nutritionally superior foods because there are. Still, I wanted to make a bold statement about the extreme nature of clean eating.

I want to eliminate outdated ideas about the food we eat and my hope is to enlighten you with a simple approach to nutrition and eating by the end of this article.

What Does Clean Mean?

Simply put, clean eating means to eat foods that are as close to the earth as possible or made with whole ingredients. This can reach extreme limits. For example, some people may think that whole grain pasta is eating clean, but others scoff at that and believe any pasta is bad. Some people believe only a pasta made from quinoa or rice is suitable, etc.

This notion comes from the idea of nutritional superiority. People compare and contrast nutritional content and then select the winner. The winners overall are usually items that cause the least “problems” for people. “Problems” can be allergies, weight gain, general health issues, carbphobia, gastrointestinal issues, and ethical distaste. They can range from anything to celiac disease or veganism.

The “Dangers” of Dirty Eating

I want to make it very clear that not caring at all about your nutritional intake is the wrong way to go. Numerous studies have shown that it is possible to be overfed and undernourished. You can make the wrong food decisions and not get adequate dietary nutritional intake. Reading this article and thinking, “Great, now I can eat doughnuts all day long!” is not what I am saying. As I discuss in Body By Eats, there are essential nutrients you need on a daily basis, and the point is to find a balance in this.

Determining What Is Nutritionally Superior

Recently, I read a report from a “health expert” that said you should rid all potatoes from your diet especially white ones because they will cause you to gain fat. This same person said that their favorite superfood was quinoa.

Well, let’s stack them up and see.

Statistics of Potatoes
Statistics of Quinoa

Overall, the potato wins by a landslide. Yes, the white baking potato; it has more bang for its calorie buck in almost every area. You also have to take into account gram amount per nutrient base as quinoa is more calorically dense. So why on earth would anyone suggest that this food is of lower value? You are going to be hard-pressed to find a lot of food items that will beat a potato.

A lot of the arguments toward potatoes come from the debate over the importance of the glycemic index. This has long been refuted, but a white potato stands little chance to overthrow a sugar cookie.

Does this mean because quinoa lost it is a bad food? No, of course not. No one food is king. It is the combination of those foods coming together that will lift you to a higher level of performance and health. Different foods provide different nutrients, and they exist so you can build up a nutritional profile. It’s the variety that allows you to have some “not so clean” items to enjoy. It isn’t all about balance; it is also about need.

Variety Should Also Be Dependent On Need

The truth is that your dietary variety should depend on need. Your daily life, health, training, and ethical habits should be what determines what you eat, not phobias.

For example, a person who is very active and trains can process a lot more sugar in their diet because they put it to use compared to a sedentary person with diabetes. We as a people have a habit of treating ourselves as if we have illnesses we do not. Sure, those suffering from extreme arthritis or epilepsy may do well with a ketogenic diet, but it certainly isn’t for everyone and could severely decrease health and performance in some people.

A couch potato desk worker doesn’t need a diet consisting of 80% carbohydrates.

Another example would be how vegetarians focus their intake to maximize vegetable and dairy protein to assure those nutrients are included in their diet.

The Difference Between Need and Phobia

There is often a fine line when you are on a journey to change your body composition. You want to make sure that your nutritional bases are covered without developing a phobia or a disorder. Recently, there has been some great conversation regarding this topic, especially from Tom Venuto.

Be careful in your journey and don’t take things too far.


  1. Jennifer
    October 14, 2009 at 12:49 am

    Amen to that.  Thank you so much for that truth.  I have had my suspicions over the years about meal timing and “clean” eating and FINALLY these topics are getting recognition from respected people in the fitness and nutrition industry.
    I am an American living in Europe and I can see for myself that sugar and *gasp* fat are not villians.  Enjoying food is relished in most European countries and they have far less fat people.  Overeating and sitting around is what makes people fat. 
    Thanks for that post.  I wanted to write something similar on my own blog, but now I can just post your link. 

  2. Jason Chiero
    October 14, 2009 at 7:18 am

    You make some great points.  Like you I am a CPT, and am in the gym everyday.

    Way too may times I am asked wheteher a certain food or a certain exercise is good/bad.  Normally this comes from someone who just came from a conversation with the guy who runs around the gym talking too much about some obscure fact that he looked up on the net.

    Anyone, what I am trying to say is most of the time it is our perspective/approach that needs to change, not one food item that we might enjoy once a week.

    Sometimes we need to get out of the weeds so that we can  take a look at the whole picture.

    This is the reason I enjoy your site.  You have a way of  saying to people, Stop, Take a deep breath, Let’s take a look at the whole picture and lets remember what we are trying to Acheive.

    Keep doing a great job!

    Jason Chiero

  3. krispy1138
    October 14, 2009 at 7:41 am

    Gee, thanks for the video, Leigh. Now I’ll feel guilty every time I eat an orange! 😛

  4. Ketan Patel
    October 14, 2009 at 9:09 am

    Hey Leigh,
    I’d love to hear more about the potato issue. I hear so many people say that a potato is just a ball of sugar because it is apparently converted to glucose quite fast. So many people say this that I’ve believed it for a long time.
    Can I eat foods like potatoes and still keep my body in a fat burning mode?

  5. Jeremy Stone
    October 14, 2009 at 10:27 am

    Great Post, I wish people could see that they dont have to limit themselves to non satifying foods, that they can still eat foods they like.

  6. patty
    October 14, 2009 at 11:31 am

    I love it. Thanks for your rational approach to food and for presenting a calm and thoughtful perspective.

  7. Jen
    October 14, 2009 at 11:47 am

    I just saw that post from Tom and was wondering if you were going to say anything on the issue. I can’t lie I once thought a potato was useless as a food item. NEVER AGAIN!

    Krispy – I know I felt so bad for the orange!

  8. julie
    October 14, 2009 at 2:16 pm

    I agree 100% with your video.  I eat clean enough, but I’m not giving up white sugar, white flour, pizza, etc. and so on.  I used to think that to lose weight, I had to eat nothing but healthy food.  This would lead to me packing lunches that I couldn’t stand to eat, so they’d get composted, and I would get a big greasy restaurant lunch.  Now I eat things that I like, and are tasty, and yes, I consider nutrition, and weight, as I’ve lost 40 of 50 extra pounds, 10 still to go.  But I no longer overeat, and I consider my diet overall healthy, if sometimes erratic.
    And I have acquaintences who avoid gluten, cooked food, meat, dairy, foods that cause “acidity”, fruit, carbs, but I eat whatever.  No allergies, no sensitivies, no fear.    It took a lot of learning and retraining to get here, because the common message is so different.

  9. Karen
    October 14, 2009 at 2:22 pm

    “The Difference between need and phobia”


    ^^^Julie I know the same people and they make me feel like a freak for eating the food I eat. Then the people who don’t care what they eat make me feel like I am crazy. You can’t win! Glad to know we have a voice on our side.

  10. Keith
    October 14, 2009 at 3:21 pm

    I remember when I would touch most of the foods I eat now. I am glad I found your material Leigh. Video was awesome.

  11. RedOne
    October 14, 2009 at 4:29 pm

    Someone needs to spam Tosca Reno with this

  12. Jack
    October 14, 2009 at 4:37 pm

    Hi, Leigh.
    I’ve never subscribed to the philosophy that certain foods are the reason people become fat, since I’ve gotten lean and still consumed fruit and dairy and even some potatoes from t ime to time.  A lot of your angle seems to be informing people that there are no (or at least very few) inherently “good” or “bad” foods.  The areas where I always find myself scratching my head is when you get people talking about things like damage to nutrients and oxidation of cholesterol in the yolk if you cook an egg over something like 105 degrees or whether commercially available dairy can be health-promoting in moderation or is deleterious in a number of ways as some claim (I don’t feel any need to drink milk and stopped long ago, but I frequently consume Greek yogurt, which is why I find myself wondering about the dairy issue sometimes).
    Basically my area of curiosity when it comes to food is what types of health-promoting benefits or health-sapping (for lack of a better term) qualities any given food may possess.  I’ve never wondered about food in relation to body composition, because I have always found that if you don’t go overboard and stay active, than just about anything can find its way into your diet at one time or another and keep you on course for lifelong success.
    As such my question is if Body By Eats will cover things from an angle mostly slanted towards dispelling dogma about what people think keeps them overweight or if it will also cover issues related to other ways food may positively impact upon or detract from achieving optimal health. (such as the 2 examples I mentioned above)
    In any even, thank you for always sharing your knowledge, and I hope this project turns out to be a whopping success for you, from both a financial and personal satisfaction standpoint. You’re a straight shooter who has her heart in the right place, so I only wish the best for you.

  13. jamie hale
    October 14, 2009 at 5:23 pm

    No one food is king.”  Exactly.  This idea of a supreme being also applies to exercise.  “Squats are the Kings of Exercise” or “If your not squatting your not exercising” , says the Hardcore Trainer.  As with exercise there in no king of exercises; many roads lead to the same place.  

    Acually, an emphasis on super clean eating is one of the key reasons diets fail.  It is important to include some favorites, that is if the individual can control their consumption, to increase the chances of adherence.  We can once again draw an analogy with exercise e.g. super intense exercises that you hate often lead to dropout, or termination of training.  It is imporant to find some  exercises that trainees enjoy, although with some that is impossible.  And if your an athlete their are some activities you need to do, like or dislike. 

    Super Clean Eating camp much like the Metabolic Advantage Camp will believe what they would like, evidence means little.  I know trainers who still insist that eating healthy all the time is a must.  Even though the phrase eating healthy is a misnomer, and what’s healthy for one many not be healthy for another, and being healthy depends on numerous facotrs, oh well time to move on. 
    In conclusion, “There is a fine line you can draw sometimes when you are on your journey to changing your body composition. You want to make sure you cover all your nutritional bases but you don’t want to develop a phobia or a disorder.” One more thing you can throw the “90% rule” out the door it’s no longer in style.  

  14. Anna K
    October 14, 2009 at 10:24 pm

    GREAT post. I am getting so tired of the mantra of “clean eating.” Yawn. Aren’t certain things just common sense? Generally avoid twinkies, enjoy potatoes–doesn’t that just make sense? I’ve done the whole gluten-free / dairy-free / white-free thing and I was running myself into the ground because it was so freakin’ stressful. It is sooo nice to just let that all go and focus on the basics of what makes sense.

  15. Incindium
    October 15, 2009 at 11:01 am

    Nice video… Its so true that you don’t have to totally deprive yourself to lose weight. I’ve lost 85lbs over the last year while still eating out for lunch most days during the workweek. Granted I do eat just chicken breast and broccoli for dinner most every day of the week.

  16. Fitfinch
    October 15, 2009 at 8:00 pm

    Great article Leigh. It drives me crazy when people talk about eating “healthy” and don’t know what the hell they are talking about.
    Love the video too.

  17. Amber
    October 15, 2009 at 8:39 pm

    I am so excited about body by eats! Great vid!

  18. Emily
    October 16, 2009 at 11:00 am

    The funniest part is these “clean eaters” who eat so close to nature and would never let a processed food cross their lips can often be found sucking down protein shakes, fat burners, and Mass X-plod 3000 or whatever else is hawking these days.

  19. Mike
    October 16, 2009 at 5:01 pm

    Emily, that, or they still smoke or drink or take any myriad of prescription pain killers.

  20. Leigh Peele
    October 19, 2009 at 11:00 pm

    Sorry for the absence on comments but I WILL get to this in a few days.

  21. Paul H
    October 22, 2009 at 9:40 am

    “It is important to include some favorites, that is if the individual can control their consumption, to increase the chances of adherence”

    But it that optimal?  I find I get better results and feel better from cutting out pizza, ice cream or candy completely.  Having a couple of slices of pizza once a month is to me like telling a heroin addict to have a hit once a month then expecting them to stick to it. 😉

  22. Emily
    October 23, 2009 at 4:16 pm

    Paul, I think it totally depends on the individual.  If you told me I had to cut out pizza and ice cream I’d go on a “last supper binge” the night before I officially started my diet and then within a week I’d have “just a little bit this once,” tell myself I’m starting over again tomorrow, and then eat myself into a sugar stupor.  If I can have whole-wheat pita pizzas and half-cup servings of ice cream on a regular basis, I’m good.

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