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Why I Don’t Promote “Clean Eating”


I am going to preface this article by stating that this opinion is not necessarily the opinion of all members of the LBEB team, this is my own opinion, backed up with philosophy and scientific research.


“Shop the perimeter of the grocery store”, “Eat clean, whole, unprocessed foods”, “You can’t out-train a bad diet”: These are mantras that you can see repeated over and over on nearly every corner of the fitness interwebs. They serve to inspire people to make healthy living and eating choices, but the problem with mantras like this is people tend to repeat them over and over, without knowing what exactly they are saying when questioned about them. I am going to discuss the issues I find with these mantras, and the lack of applicability they have to new clients and athletes.


The first issue I find with “clean eating” is the definition of “clean” itself. If you were to ask someone in the 70s and 80s what clean eating was, they would probably tell you that a diet low in MSG was clean. In the 90s, they would tell you that a low fat/cholesterol diet was clean. Now, a “clean diet” is one that is low in sugar and carbohydrates. What does this evolution of thought mean? It means that every so often, we need to find a food to demonize and blame for obesity, sickness, headaches, lethargy, and even autism. Unfortunately, MSG was shown to not present the adverse effects it was claimed to (Chinese Restaurant Syndrome), fat and cholesterol has repeatedly been shown as vital for normal body and brain function, yet proponents of a low carb or clean diet still operate under the pretense that THIS time, “dirty” foods really are the enemy, and are the reason for the obesity and sickness of the modern industrial world.


If you were to ask the average fitness enthusiast what a “dirty” food was, you would probably get a small selection of answers, one of them being “any food that has been processed and/or is devoid of nutrients.” A couple of obvious problems I see with this statement is the knee-jerk reaction to say that something processed is therefore unhealthy. They say to avoid processed foods, yet purchase things like butter in blocks from the dairy section, or coconut oil off the shelf in the middle of the store. Coconut oil doesn’t grow in a jar off a tree, freshly picked and shipped to you, and butter doesn’t come out of a cow in square blocks. They have both gone through a process of extraction and packaging to get to you, yet these are OK things to eat? I would like to meet the committee that decides what level of processing is acceptable and what level is not. Simply offering the blanket statement of “avoid processed foods” doesn’t do much to help someone that already has a poor understanding of nutrition.
On to the second point: avoiding foods that are “devoid of nutrients”. Now correct me if I am wrong, but I don’t think there are many foods out there that are devoid of nutrients, except water. Every food has some sort of nutrient to offer, that is why it is called food. Sure, a bowl of cinnamon toast crunch may contain mostly carbs but guess what? Carbs are a macronutrient, and we humans tend to need macronutrients to survive. This doesn’t mean C.T. crunch needs to be your only calorie source, but for someone like myself (I should be taking in 700+ grams of carbs a day), a bowl of C.T. crunch sounds pretty appetizing right about now.


Undoubtedly, there will be those that say “well I personally like to eat clean because it has helped me lose weight“, that is fine, I don’t have an issue with that. What I do have an issue with is those that choose to demonize certain foods as being unhealthy, and chastise others for deviating from a “clean eating” lifestyle.

I worked with Michelle while she lost her first 90lbs over the course of a year. She lost those 90lbs by eating what many paleo enthusiasts would call a “dirty” diet. Clearly it has worked out well for her. 


When I start working with a new client or athlete, one of the first things we discuss is nutrition. I make a point to avoid saying things like “eat clean” because that is a meaningless phrase to them. Instead, I like to talk about what foods would be optimal for their type of training.
 Excluding food allergies, I don’t have a list of bad foods that I tell them to avoid. Rather, I like to focus on total macronutrient goals for the day. If someone needs to have 250 grams of carbs a day, we discuss all the different ways they can reach that number: oats, rice, sweet potatoes, you name it. While I would prefer if the meal did not come in a pre-packaged box, is it the end of the world? Not in the slightest. As I have progressed, I have learned that macros are macros and however they want to reach those goals is up to them.

I have found that this approach makes for an athlete that is much less stressed about what they eat vs. some of their counterpoints repeatedly tell everyone how much they don’t care that they just ate a cupcake (HINT: telling everyone you repeatedly do not care means you probably care very much). I have no issue with someone promoting or eating a clean diet, but I would like to see those individuals come up with clear defining terms on what is clean, what is dirty, and why something processed is inherently bad for you. This goes back to my naturalistic fallacy article here. I would like to see what your thoughts on the subject are, post them to the LBEB Facebook.


Fulgoni VL 3rd, et al. Development and validation of the nutrient-rich foods index: a tool to measure nutritional quality of foods. J Nutr. 2009 Aug;139(8):1549-54.

Mozaffarian D, Clarke R. Quantitative effects on cardiovascular risk factors and coronary heart disease risk of replacing partially hydrogenated vegetable oils with other fats and oils. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2009 May;63 Suppl 2:S22-33.

Leenen R, et al. Relative effects of weight loss and dietary fat modification on serum lipid levels in the dietary treatment of obesity. J Lipid Res. 1993 Dec;34(12):2183-91.


38 thoughts on “Why I Don’t Promote “Clean Eating”

  1. I’m so fucking hungry now…

  2. Waiting for the Paleo Police to show up…

    One thing I have against many Paleo enthusiasts is that they break rule #1 of nutrition: ONE diet does not work for EVERY person.

    Yeah if you’ve got an autoimmune disorder, I’m sure you’ve never felt better eliminating many things out of your diet and adhering to a strict diet. The problem is, most of us don’t. Most Europeans can process milk just fine. Most Hispanics can process legumes just fine. Etc. etc. Yet people are told not to eat either of them despite the health benefits associated with them.

    About the butter…you’re supposed to buy cream from a local farmer and churn the butter yourself. Duh. You have time for that, right?

  3. Love this post! I think all the “clean eating” bs has given me an eating disorder and made me fat (when I’d fall off the wagon).

  4. To attack Paleo here is unfair, as Paleo doesn’t claim to be a diet for any sort of weight loss/weight gain/strength gain/athletic gain/etc. Paleo is essentially about eating food in it’s purist form, the way it was in the Paleolithic era. Pre-agriculture, farming, food processing, pasteurization, or even cooking or baking for that matter. The thought behind Paleo isn’t that if you eat this way you will have XXXXX results, or will lose so much weight, but more that you are no taking in products that are linked to diabetes, cancer, heart problems, ADD, and most other disease that exist now that we think didn’t exist during the paleolithic times (or so we think with out really much evidence). Do I agree that Paleo nazis are annoying? 100%! But no more annoying than Vegan Nazi’s, Straight Edge Nazi’s, and Gluten Intolerant people. At the end of the day, if you really have a philosophy of letting your lifters get all their protein and carb sources from hot dogs and buns, that’s on you, but I think deep down inside you do care some about the source of the macros taken in.

  5. You just proved the authors point.

  6. This problem results from somewhat irresponsible researchers and totally irresponsible science journalists, that grasp at overreaching conclusions with experimental data. This information filters down to doctors to dietitians to trainers to professors; people who the public see as trustworthy and knowledgeable on these matters. No one in the chain will bother to consult with the primary literature(the actual experimental report) itself to determine how sound the conclusions were, and unsupported claims get touted as well-established knowledge. It’s all fucking s’dumb.

    Not to say mistrust advice given by doctors or trainers but make sure it’s supported by evidence before you make a significant change in your diet.

  7. “They have both gone through a process of extraction and packaging to get to you, yet these are OK things to eat?” Dude…you’re not supposed to eat the packaging…duh…:-) Unless you just completed some heavy squats…nom nom…

  8. Good article, I’m a “clean eating” paleo zone / promoter and you make some great points. I also don’t obsess or eliminate anything. My own journey continues, I always tweak and look for results. Everyone is different, including how their diet impacts their goals. 100 calories of spinach still beats a 100 snack pack cookie.

  9. I think that it depends on each individual himself:
    For me every processed food is dirty because of my massive histamine intolerance and atopia as well as many food allergies. There are not many things left for me to eat, but all of them have to be as fresh as possible

  10. Kirk, please provide actual scientific sources linking to the fact that certain foods are related to cancer, diabetes, ADD, etc. Eliminating entire food groups based on fear by some guru’s advice and “research” is in my opinion irrational. Not everything on the internet is true. Honestly the only thing I have seen paleo do is create acceptance for eating disorders. People become afraid of eating fruit because it has “sugar”

  11. Paleo enthusiast also believe that humans evolved from primates. I rest my case.

  12. I’m a little confused by this article.

    Your title “why I don’t promote Clean Eating;” is a little misleading. I think your more talking about Paleo but I’m not sure. You try to explain processed foods but do a terrible job and explaining them. Just because foods are in a box doesn’t necessarily mean they are processed in my opinion. I’m sure people who are more hardcore than me would have a different opinion. To me you can tell how processed a food is by the ingredient list; the longer the list the more processed. If I can’t pronounce or know what an ingredient is then its not “clean.” So lets look at coconut oil. According to my coconut oil it has one ingredient. COCONUT OIL. It’s cold pressed and doesn’t go through the bleaching and other processing steps. BUT at the end of your article you say you prescribe rice, oats, sweet potatoes for your clients to get their carbs. That seems pretty clean to me. So your article went from health to body recomposition which are completely different. I have seen people lose weight on a shake diet, eating only corn, eating only meat. Are those healthy? Absolutely not.

    On a side not. I think eliminating artificial sweeteners/artificial sugar and also foods high in GMO will greatly help someones health. There are many articles linking sugar to cancer. GMO’s are banned in almost every other country besides the US. We have over a thousand GMO’s in our foods when Europe only allows a couple in their foods. Whole foods is ALWAYS a better option!

  13. You know how many calories I eat? All of them.

  14. Good Article! I think the focus should be non GMO, foods and avoiding anything with added chemicals and preservatives. The paleo diet is just another fad like the south beach and atkins!

  15. those who paleo, they “eat clean”, but consume Progenex, Muscle Pharm etc…
    i`ve never stopped eating carbs. rice, bread, pasta u name it, lack of carbs is an idiotic thing to do if you are trying to get big or simply follow a healthy life style. at school, i learned that humans need carbs, proteins and fat every day, it seems that we forgot what we have learned years ago. I try to promote a balanced nutrition with my clients, im not a nutricionist, but i do know what`s healthy and what`s not. and what`s neccesary to eat if you are trying to reach a goal, meaning by this, get some musculuar mass, drop a few pounds, get stronger, whatever it is, at the end, the good source of meals you consume, will be the gas for you body and will let you perform and feel good during your work outs or competitions.

  16. The thing is the eating style you choose has to keep your intrest. You have to fully commit so iifym works for me because I can keep iy simple I wont do paleo because i dont want. It does work because you can commit if thats your thing. The problem is that what I do works for me, but when I read I can find 1000 articles that will tell me it will not. 100 calories is 100 calories no matter what it is. 1 lb of gold is the same as 1 lb of feathers. Its your mind set and your goals that matter. 100 cals of snack pak will not make you any fatter than 100 cals of spinach the nutrient benefits are the only thing different.

  17. I have done Paleo for almost 4 years. As far as weight loss and fitness, sure, it’s fine. The main reason I find it to be go FOR ME, is that my allergies have dramatically reduced, and the inflammation in my joints has all but disappeared. So, it’s not just about weight loss or “clean” eating, as much as it is more about natural medicine and avoiding foods that cause me problems. I still promote Paleo to those that ask, but to each their own.

  18. Where the fuck do you silly hippies get your information? Just because something is natural does not make it the more favorable and vice versa. Before you post something about nutrition or exercise on the internet where other people can read it, ask yourself, “is this information true?” If you can’t be sure if it is, then Google it thoroughly before posting it.

    You say artificial sweeteners are bad, how so? Sure some sweeteners can cause detrimental effects in rats at very large doses. Do these same effects definitively occur in humans in dosages found in a couple of cans of Diet Coke? No. Will eliminating artificial sweeteners improve the health of an average person “greatly?” No, this has not been demonstrated in any way anywhere.

    Eliminating GMOs will greatly help someones health? Seems like nonsense. We’ve been genetically modifying grains and vegetables since we’ve domesticating crops, a good many thousands of years ago. Now, instead of cultivating favorable genes through breeding lineages, we can get favorable traits by inserting specific genes into DNA. What is the difference? Both end up with DNA that code for proteins that can be helpful or harmful. Let’s say you eat grains that have been modified to be resistant to pesticides v grains that have not been modified. Will you be losing weight any faster or be getting any stronger or not be getting sick as often or be feeling less tired? No.

    Not to say that artificial sweeteners or some GMOs can’t cause harmful chronicacute diseases, but they haven’t been demonstrated to do so judging from the research I’ve read.

  19. I have been eating mostly paleo low carb style for a few years, I got leaner and built muscles. I was sold. Then I discovered about carb back loading and I introduced carbs again, the dreaded high glycemic carbs. I got even leaner and stronger then ever. I think there’s somethign great about eating paleo for me. I have auto-immune skin problems, psoriasis and dermatitis to the scalp ad feel like I might need to get strict paleo for a while to test if it can help, I will try to implement this while still carb back loadin so I would get my carbs from paleo-ish sources (sweet potatoes, white rice, honey, ripe bananas) . Bottom line is we all need to experiment with different approaches until we find what matches our unique needs and our goals.

  20. I was looking over your athlete page and it looks like most of them for their biggest meal it is mainly meat and veegies, i.e. paleo.. can you explani this?

  21. I don’t think Barry Sears would agree with your attitude. Not eating clean but eating a low caloric ‘what ever the heck you want” diet and burning what little you eat with exerise would get you a slim line body but the bottom line is ‘ how healthy are you?”

  22. Why would you think I care what Barry Sears thinks about this?

  23. Yes I can explain it actually: if you look at THE FIRST sentence of this article, which hopefully you saw when you read it, I said that my views don’t necessarily reflect the views of my sponsored athletes.

  24. Eating does seem confusing today. I personally eat a primitive diet. I advocate eating a balance of animal and plant foods, and yes, I advocate eating mostly “unprocessed” foods. I do consider butter and coconut oil to be on this list, as one person mentioned above. Although these items are processed, they do not have additives, chemicals or colorings. In addition, I recommend people shop locally. America is the sickest, fattest country in the world. 1 out of 2 people here get cancer. Almost all of my clients have some kind of chronic health, digestive, or auto-immune disorder. I would feel irresponsible if I promoted high levels of starch, sugar and any foods containing GMO’S. Genetically Modified Organisms have not been studied enough to be proven safe, and if you care about the planet at all, you would spend more time researching Monsanto’s Fascist tactics. The meager testing they do is subpar. Independent research is finding serious links with autism, digestive disorders, and other chronic diseases in conjunction with gmo intake. If you look at the research carried out by the Weston A. Price Foundation, you will see that primtive cultures had optimal health and longevity. They didn’t count calories or macronutrient ratios. They had a series of common factors that are missing from our SAD. I do not believe in the paleo diet either, as it is not what our primitive ancestors did. Most “scientific” research is flawed because it is funded by the FDA. We need more common sense, not more science. People were a lot healthier 100 years ago than they are today in reference to lifestyle related disease.

  25. Hi Y’all 🙂 I love this debate. Don’t have much time to post a report with multiple backed up sources here, but I have been studying nutrition physiology for just over 14 years, am a practicing health and nutrition coach and have had some pretty fantastic outcomes. My first client is relevant to this question; it was curing terminal cancer that the docs said would kill my mum in 3 years even with aggressive chemo. I became quite an expert on toxicity and DNA damage during that time.

    A couple of points for y’all to consider:

    1) Exercise of varying types stimulates gene expression of varying types. If the exercise is performed with intelligent technique and recovery timing, the effects are remarkably healthy in general. This effect occurs over time because a lot of this adaptation to exercise involves ramping up systems dealing with the toxins created by tissue damage. Most of you are aware of this I’m sure. So, there is such a thing as “dirty exercise” – Working out without sleep comes to mind, and it will kill you eventually.

    2) In this same manner I would define “dirty foods” as a limit we are going to draw for foods which (due to their molecular state, which could be due to processing, sourcing, pesticides, fermentation, GMO, denaturing etc) produce more toxic metabolites (or in some cases contain toxins directly but in amounts that will only show epidemiological evidence of disease a few decades after mass use – this is the problem with the U.S’s sell first, do research last model which the FDA is unfortunately behind. We don’t require proof of safety, we require no-proof-of-harm; a dangerous game if history is any indicator) – That is the only definition that makes sense to me. So, it’s not just a matter of what is IN the food itself (which is what most of you have been arguing about) it is what is the full metabolic chain of this food from mouth to toilet and how much toxic load does it produce. By the way, even organic spinach fresh out of the ground has toxic load at the molecular level.

    Have a great sunday, keep up the debate! This site rocks, I just found it today 😀

    This is me in case anyone wants any advice (all donation based, but fit-in when I can afford to as I’m quite a busy man) jamesfb0swell(ate)gmail.c0m – altered for storm-troopers 😉

  26. Just came across this article and I think it is great. As a response to Kirk, it is rude to refer to someone as a Nazi because they prefer to adhere to a strict diet. I would suggest seeking a thesaurus or dictionary for a more appropriate word. Also, it is not completely accurate to compare today’s “paleo diet” to the Paleolithic era. People who lived during the Paleolithic era were hunter-gatherers and it has been shown that when available they would eat beans and legumes. People during this era also had limited meat, and when it was consumed they would eat all parts of the animal, liver, brain, etc. Humans during this time migrated/traveled to many areas which has led them to be coined as opportunistic omnivores. It is thought that the Paleolithic era saw the first use of fire to reheat thawed meat and the first use of minimal horticulture. Which means the people of this time could have known about cooking and agriculture. The lack of modern diseases could be for many reasons; one to be noted is that these people did not live as long as people today. Also the foods that are considered to be in their “purest form” today do not look anything like they would have during the Paleolithic era. Naming this diet or way of eating after a specific era is not accurate in my opinion.

  27. “Waiting for the Paleo Police to show up…”

    Ha, you split my sides.

  28. It is nice to find an article that is well thought out, reasoned and based on intellect, as opposed to fashion. Thank you.

    It is too easy to get caught up in the latest craze diet or current public opinion when it comes to food. I wish it was possible to pass on this “common sense” view to everyone. Well, I will be passing on this article to everyone I know that would benefit from it.

  29. “Now correct me if I am wrong, but I don’t think there are many foods out there that are devoid of nutrients, except water”

    Well since you gave me permission… In fact, most “processed” foods are devoid of nutrients. You were right in your argument though, about what constitutes something as processed. Butter is technically processed, yes, since it doesn’t come out of a cow like that (that would be pretty gross). Someone who, like you said, doesn’t know much about nutrition, would therefore argue that things like butter and oils are “bad” because they are processed.

    So I agree with you on that point, but I feel that people simply ask the wrong questions. Instead of “is this processed” (when about to consume something) one should ask “HOW processed is this?”
    To go back to your point about nutrients- certain processed foods are practically devoid of nutrients… when of course, you compare them to their healthier or whole counterpart. For example, one bowl of cinnamon toast crunch- while offering many carbs- only offers 1 gram of dietary fiber. When you compare that to a whole grain cereal, you’ll find an average of 6 grams. Therefore, you could eat 6 bowls of cinnamon toast crunch and get plenty of calories and carbs- but only the amount of fiber in a single bowl of a whole grain alternative.
    Just to conclude, I both agree and disagree with you. The fact is, people are always convinced that they know what’s good and what’s bad. In my own opinion, I think anything that has literally been stripped of its main nutrients is inherently bad. Because when you take out the fiber and grains of a cereal, you only leave room for sugar, preservatives, added chemicals, colorings, and nothing that could replace the nutrition it once had.
    We are so lucky to live in a time and country where, not only do we know the nutritional value of everything we eat, but we have such a surplus of food. It seems wrong to fill our faces with things that taste good and do nothing for our bodies except wreak havoc. You might look good on the outside, especially if you’re working out or staying active, but that doesn’t mean you have a clean bill of health. Those nutrients are nutrients for a reason; they are vital for proper bodily functions, things like vegetables, fruits, lean meats, whole grains, etc. Clean eating isn’t just a way to become thin or even to live healthy- it’s a way to live longer.

  30. I don’t know what kind of clean diet you talking about. What I was told is that a clean diet consist of foods in its BEST form. For example Tomatoes are best cooked and stored in glass jars than metal cans to preserve the nutrients better. I have never heard anyone say eat butter or coconut oil. Second rule was to be aware of toxin such as Mercury in fish and Arsenic in rice. The rice is washed until the water is seen clear.

  31. Ok, define best form. That makes about as much sense as “eat clean.”

  32. Alexis,

    Read the article again. Brandon isn’t trying to push people towards eating CTCrunch as their primary source of carbs. He has an understanding of what unbalanced cortisol levels do to a human being and their ability to lose weight / gain muscle. What do you think is better for an athlete: to stress about his/her food incesantly and end up eating a sweet potato for carbs, or to have a broader definition of what good food is and once in a while reach for a bowl of cereal? Having a stress free diet plan with laid out macronutrient ratios is MUCH more important than WHERE those macros come from. Yes, a sweet potato is healthier and is more micronutrient-dense than a sugary bowl of cereal, but when you factor in what an extremely rigid diet can do to a persons stress levels, cereal wins every time.

  33. I agree that the “clean eating” trend has gotten a bit ridiculous; there is no need to have an unhealthy fixation on food to the extent that we see now in the media. To be honest, if you are just thinking a little bit more about what you are putting into your body there shouldn’t be a massive problem. Obviously some people need reality checks (say those who buy McDonald’s every day). However, the majority of people just need to eat MOSTLY healthy foods; have a biscuit or two squares of chocolate with your tea, get takeaway with your friends once or twice a month. It’s hard too though; certainly as a woman who went from an atrocious diet to healthy eating and exercise I can see how it could be easy to feel guilty when your friend is eating a salad for dinner and you’ve just ordered the steak. But you know what? Every now and again you need to eat food that you thoroughly enjoy… otherwise, what’s the point?

  34. You take a apple home and cut it up, it’s processed. Nothing wrong with processed foods unless they add stuff to them

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