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Clean Eating: the opinions of experts and devotees

Is Clean Eating about following your intuition, or going on a diet? Is eating clean about eating organic, Mediterranean or in a relaxed way? How do you avoid the pitfalls of Clean Eating? Here are the answers from the experts, and testimonials about this new Clean Food trend.

Clean Eating is a healthy trend that was born in the USA in the 1960s, at a time when a poor diet was more political and moral than nutritional. Shunning mass-produced fare was primarily about shunning food waste (which went hand in hand with booming hyperconsumption and hyper mass production).

These days, Clean Eating is a movement promoting foods that are unprocessed, organic and as clean as possible. “This way of eating, relayed by a great many blogs, is primarily espoused by habitual social media users”, states Dr Michèle Marchaland, a micronutrition and functional medicine specialist, and consultant at the Valdys spa in Roscoff (Finistère).

However, the dissemination of the principles of this healthy, balanced and ethically-sound diet raises questions. Doctors, micronutrition specialists and dieticians give us their answers.

Is Clean Eating a diet?

No! Eating healthily is not going on a diet. It’s first and foremost about guarding against the many ailments of our time that are preventable with the proper lifestyle. And the key to getting there is dropping the idea that we have complete control over our bodies. “We’ve got to stop believing that we can determine everything, including how much we’re going to weight next month!” states Dr Cyril Laporte, an oncologist with a degree in health and nutrition. Along with Pierre Joyeau, who holds a diploma in health, nutrition and micronutrition (from the Scientific Institute for Intelligent Nutrition – SIIN), he runs the Paris firm Cypios, a specialist nutrition coaching centre. “Getting back to your own humility makes it possible to reconnect with your power”, adds Pierre Joyeau. “We never talk about diets. A change in a person’s attitude to food takes them to their correct weight, the one at which they are in good health. Showing self-respect by opting for a high-quality, balanced, healthy diet has a direct impact on the body, weight and also where a person stands in life”, the two experts conclude. In their book, La nouvelle révolution alimentaire [The new food revolution] (published by Mango), they stand up for their belief system genuinely in a clear and fun way.

© Cypios: to the right Cyril Laporte, to the left Pierre Joyeau

Is clean eating relaxed eating?

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For Dr Cyril Laporte, it’s vital to switch between eating and not eating, to move and then rest, to surround ourselves with noise, then quiet. “We need this switching to get back our sense of safety. The idea of intermittent fasting, which consists of giving the digestive system a rest, is a good one. But on condition that we eat foods that are good for us beforehand and afterwards. Switching between a poor diet and fasting is harsh. Switching between bingeing and diets is also harsh. Eating meals while under stress, bolting them down without taking the time to chew or be mindful of what we are eating, is harsh too. However, making a distinction between the everyday, healthy, balanced diet that you eat 80% of the time and special treats (within reason!) the other 20% of the time is a balanced approach. Without ever losing sight of pleasure”.

Is Clean Eating an obsession?

There is no point at all in eating healthily at all costs without integrating diet into a healthy lifestyle. Dr Michèle Marchaland states that “diet is just one of the factors that are beneficial for health, and must be an integral part of a healthy lifestyle (playing sport, stress management, quality sleep, social contact, etc.). Most importantly, it must not become a problem or an obsession, which are sources of anxiety that would be counterproductive from a health point of view. Some devotees, who only engage in clean eating for health reasons, tend to get hung up on ingredients. An attitude that can lead them into obsessive habits. The desire to eat well does not have to become pathological. The pleasure of preparing a meal and that of eating must not be replaced with food rituals like a permanent preoccupation with food, or scrutinising ingredients for fear that eating certain foods will make us ill…”

Clean diet = organic diet?

“Organic, seasonal and local can only get a seal of approval, because it has been conclusively proven that the micronutrient content – that of polyphenols and carotenoids, among others – is higher in a diet of organically-farmed foods. This makes it possible to increase the micronutritional value of foods without increasing quantities. Moreover, pesticide use considerably increases the accumulation of toxins and functional deterioration” explains Dr Michèle Marchaland. For this doctor, all organic is all good!

What’s the difference between clean eating and the Mediterranean diet?

“If you broadly follow clean eating guidelines (avoiding processed and refined foods, cooking from scratch, selecting local and organic produce, making meals colourful, eating more fruit and vegetables…) but keeping the fundamental notion of pleasure without obsessiveness, there are similarities with the Mediterranean diet, which in my view is the rule when it comes to health”, says Dr Michèle Marchaland. “The Mediterranean diet which draws its inspiration from Crete is based on variety, on high intake of high-fibre foods, fruit, vegetables, pulses, wholegrain carbohydrates, oilseeds, high in essential fatty acids, high in polyphenols and with a low glycaemic load. I also recommend consuming first-press cold-press olive oil and rapeseed oil, reasonably-sized portions of meat, eggs and cheese, which are high in arachidonic acid – an omega 6 fatty acid – fish and seafood at least twice a week, plus herbs and spices. This universal eating plan guards against the chronic diseases known as lifestyle diseases (cardiovascular disorders, cancer, diabetes and neurodegenerative disorders)” concludes the doctor.

Is intuitive eating the same as clean eating?

They are not far removed, and that makes sense. The two Americans behind the name and definition of intuitive eating, Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch, are dieticians, study authors and the authors of successful books on the subject. Their principles are very close to those of clean eating: the need to eat a healthy balanced diet and most importantly, to make peace with food. This is a fundamental reminder for those who tend to get crazed or rigid in their thinking when embarking on any kind of diet. There can be no clean or intuitive eating, and no nutritional fulfilment, without this process of letting go which brings about a peaceable relationship with food and one’s body. This process of letting go can only happen in the presence of knowledge, skills and safety.

Before you dig into your meal, there’s a whole approach that gets established upstream: selecting the distribution circuit, selecting foods, preparing meals, eating, all done mindfully and joyfully…

The 10 principles of intuitive eating 

  • Shun diets that come with false promises
  • Sate your hunger
  • Make peace with food
  • Don’t class foods as “good” or “bad”
  • Pay attention to satiety signals and listen to your body to pick them up
  • Get reacquainted with the pleasure that eating brings
  • Find ways other than food to calm yourself down
  • Be kind to your body
  • Take exercise to help you feel good about yourself
  • Look after your health

According to followers of Clean Food, the only difference between these two types of diet is the labelling of foods as good or bad. However, they all agree that demonising a particular food never helps matters… In summary, trust yourself.

Clean Eating… Not so clean?

If you have grasped the basics of eating a healthy and balanced diet, you are your own decoder, whether when reading labels or looking at recipes posted on the many specialised blogs. Dr Marchaland urges caution: “Clean Eating recipes feature a lot of coconut oil. It has, over the years, acquired a good reputation as a health food. However, it’s a plant-based substance with a very high proportion of saturated fatty acids which increase LDL (bad) cholesterol, and which are therefore not at all advisable for cardiovascular health. Good fatty acids, particularly the omega 3 type, must be included in the diet (not least in the form of small oily fish like sardines). Tuna is to be avoided, as it is high in heavy metals. These omega 3 fatty acids play fundamental physiological roles, especially with regard to the risk of cardiovascular diseases, inflammation, immunity, vision and emotional balance. Olive oil, as part of the Mediterranean diet, promotes hypocholesterolaemia and increases HDL (good) cholesterol in correlation with its polyphenol content. The recommended intake of olive oil is around three tablespoons per day “.

To each their own version of Clean Eating?

Embracing the art of eating healthily is obviously beneficial, but do it at your own pace and go easy on yourself. “Changing what you eat, and starting to eat a healthy balanced diet, is to be done at an individual pace, depending on lifestyle and how the starting point looks. This applies whether it be a flexitarian, vegetarian or raw food diet, or about embracing functional nutrition (which highlights the nutritional value of food to restore or retain balance and health). Hence the importance of personalised guidance in cases where the change is a radical one” explains Céline Vaquer, a naturopath, iridologist and functional nutrition specialist. “And above all, it’s not a diet so there’s no point in counting the calories in each meal or watching the scales like a hawk. Moving towards a healthy diet is a lifestyle” says the naturopath. Sifting the items on your shopping list is primarily about avoiding anything too fatty, too sugary, too processed or produced or grown too far afield.

Clean Eating: what are the breakthroughs?

Sophie, Laurent and Jules explain why and how they embraced Clean Eating.

  • For Sophie (42), being done with diets changed everything

“I had a few kilos to lose, and started looking at all the diets that were supposed to be really effective. I did several of them one after the other, without much success because I was hungry between meals and would then grab all kinds of sweet or savoury foods! No wonder, since I was undernourished. I got acquainted with the really tempting accounts of several expert influencers on Instagram, and was blown away by the Clean Eating trend”.

  • For Laurent (51), it’s about middle-age spread

“Yet I was eating a healthy balanced diet, with no alcohol or sweet treats, I was cycling every other day – I couldn’t see what I could change. I started getting acquainted with approaches that resonated with me: Clean Eating and the fully mindful diet, which I combined with slow food. In fact, that was my problem right there: I would eat on the go, in front of my computer at lunchtime and too fast in the evening, without taking the time to chew, drinking too much water with my food (which dilutes the gastric juices and impedes proper nutrient assimilation). I realised then that eating healthily is a good thing, as long as mealtimes are stress free”.

  • For Jules (26), it’s about the power of the mirror effect and sharing

“I met Manon, who is into healthy food. With her, it was hard to keep eating so poorly. She didn’t give me an ultimatum, she just cooked healthy, clean and tasty food! It wasn’t long before I swapped my fizzy drink with water and a twist of lime, or my panini with a dish of stir-fried rice and chopped fresh vegetables. I felt so much better, almost overnight… There’s no going back!”

Are you sold? Once you start walking the Clean Eating path, there will be no going back! Going back to eating very fatty, sugary, ultra-processed food will seem odd or even… Bad. There’s a good chance that you won’t feel sated, but tired, since these foods are full of empty calories, devoid of vitamins, minerals and dietary fibre. In conclusion, a diet that’s healthy, varied, balanced and ethically sound is yours to enjoy and feel good about!

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