By: Britt Maughan, RD, CPT, CPPC
The term clean eating can mean a lot of different things. For most, it means eating whole foods that are minimally processed. It can also be referring to the manufacturing process - avoiding foods made with antibiotics, pesticides, and/or hormones. It’s not an official term, meaning, there’s no certification process or private entity that’s been accredited by the USDA. It’s really up for interpretation.
That being said – when someone is told to “eat clean,” the endless list of questions about each food inevitably follows. Is this clean? Is this okay to eat? Is this bad? What if it’s a processed food, but the ingredient list looks “clean?” How can I eat out, and still eat clean? As you can see, it gets complicated.
Obviously all food is not created equal. Some foods have more benefits and nutrients than others. And while I’m 100% in support of choosing whole, real foods (with ingredients you can pronounce) most of the time, trying to simply adhere to “clean” eating comes with a few challenges that might be getting in the way of your progress.
It creates an unhealthy relationship with food.
It can create social anxiety.
It can make it harder to hit your calorie and macro targets.
It can hinder your performance for strength & endurance athletes.
It’s simply not sustainable. The best diet is one you can stick to.
While I’m all for eating colorful fruits and vegetables, pasture raised eggs, organic chicken and healthy fats, I aim to eat these foods 80% of the time. I make sure I hit my protein, fat, and carb targets – and I make room for the foods I love…like DONUTS. I go and get a burger with my kids, I eat birthday cake at parties if I feel like it, and I go out on dates with my husband and enjoy a pint and pizza (and sometimes, I intentionally don’t track. Crazy, I know).
My definition of clean eating has changed over the years. I realized that my performance and my ability to diet successfully (and keep the weight off) was hindered by too strict of a diet. I didn’t have powerful workouts, I didn’t have great recovery, I felt super limited with my food choices, and I had guilt when I couldn’t be consistent. Shifting to a more flexible diet and allowing myself the freedom to choose how I allocated my calorie / macronutrient “budget” was liberating. I could navigate social situations better, I built more muscle in a diet phase, and looked leaner in a cut phase, and above all else, it was sustainable.
Coaching my clients this way has made such an impact on their adherence and overall success – and it’s become a part of their lifestyle, beyond a month-long challenge or weight loss goal. They feel empowered and have learned to become aware of what foods make them feel good and what foods help them perform better. They are more mindful of what they eat – based on their individual preferences, not a food list of what to eat / what not to eat.
Check out this related article on 4 reasons you are eating clean and not losing weight.
About the Author: Britt Maughan
As a collegiate rower, Britt learned the importance of proper training and nutrition. Not only did this play a major role in her performance on the crew team, but became her passion as she studied to become a registered dietitian at NYU. After working at Los Angeles County Hospital as an R.D., Britt soon realized her goal was to work in the field of sports dietetics, helping athletes and weekend warriors program their nutrition for performance.
Over the past few years, she’s worked with professional and collegiate athletes competing in CrossFit, Paddle Boarding, and Triathlons. In addition to pro athletes, Britt works with clients looking to create better lifestyle habits that help them become stronger, healthier and happier! She values the one-on-one coaching connection and puts a focus on full mind and body wellness - helping her clients manage stress, set a solid foundation, and learn how to properly gain muscle and lose weight in a way that is enjoyable and sustainable.
She lives in Tennessee with her husband and three kids. She loves protein shakes, donuts, and lifting heavy weights! You can follow her @brittmaughanrd on instagram.