What is Eating Clean?

by Jillian on May 12, 2013 · 8 comments

How do you define “eating clean”?


I’ve gotten this question a couple of times over the past few weeks, so I decided to do a post on my thoughts about it. I am not a professional so don’t hold me to anything I may say in this post, but I do have to say that I don’t believe there is one right definition for “eating clean”. That’s basically why I wanted to express my opinons, because I don’t believe that it’s a technical term and it can mean something different to everyone. However, the most generally accepted would probably be Whole 30 as it focuses on detoxing the system.

So, first things first. What do you think of when you hear “eating clean”? Here are a few things I am sure come to mind for most people:

  • cutting out processed foods..
  • meat, chicken, fish, fruits, veggies, nuts & seeds..
  • organic..
  • grass fed, free range, cage-free, etc..
  • paleo, whole 30..
  • food that has been scrubbed with soap?

Now, for the issues regarding the above.

  1. A lot of people will post a picture of greek yogurt or oatmeal and hashtag #eatclean, right? Guess what? Both oatmeal and (most) dairy products are processed. I am not saying these foods are bad for you; just saying that they are processed, even if it’s minimally.
  2. Non grass-fed beef, farmed seafood, and non antibiotic/hormone free chicken: clean? Some would argue. If anything, you lose out on the omega fatty acids.
  3. If it’s not organic, is it still clean? Does it depend on the fruit or vegetable in question here?
  4. Did you use olive oil or canola oil to cook your veggies? Are those white or sweet potatoes?
  5. Peanut butter and lentils are paleo, right? Wrong. Legumes/beans are off limits too, not just dairy and grains. No tofu either!
  6. What’s the difference between Whole 30 and Paleo? Whole 30 is like Paleo on steroids; eat food as it naturally occurs, no paleo-fied treats, no sugars like maple syrup, honey, etc. So, I can’t have paleo pizza or almond flour pancakes? NOPE!

Alright, now that we cleared that up, do you think differently about what “eating clean” means to you?

My point of all of this is not to define eating clean, but to encourage you to learn about the foods you are eating and find what works for you. Read about paleo and whole30, read about the benefits of grass fed beef, read about the dangers of sugar and decide for yourself. Eating clean to one person may mean doing Whole30 with organic products only, and to another includes 0% greek yogurt, oatmeal, beans, and farm raised salmon. A lot of foods, though (minimally) processed, still contain a great nutritious profile.

My Eating Habits

I am sure you are wondering my personal opinion and what I typically eat. Well, if it was a perfect world and all organic fruits and vegetables, grass fed beef, and wild seafood were cheap, I’d definitely include them in every meal. About 50% of what I eat is organic or grass fed/wild. Additionally, I eat eggs and Chobani and yes, I include cheese, though mostly parmesan for topping. I do eat oatmeal, ezekiel bread, and quinoa as far as grains are concerned. I eat almond butter AND peanut butter, and sometimes they have added sugars. I use stevia and soy creamer in my coffee. I eat all kinds of hummus, chick pea, black bean, and lentil, with lentil chips. I often enjoy tuna from a can. I always buy organic spinach for my smoothies and I eat sweet potatoes whenever I want. I eat a lot of (high glycemic) bananas and protein bars like Quest and ThinkThin. I use whey protein powder. I only use coconut oil and olive oil. I eat sushi with brown rice and dip it in low sodium soy sauce. I like bacon and try to buy uncured and nitrate/nitrite free. I can probably go on more but I’ll stop here.

Then there’s Sunday, where I typically eat pizza and fries and cake and chocolate and drink wine, beer and manhattans. Not counting my cheat meals, my opinion is that I eat pretty clean. Although, I do notice how much better I feel when I cut out dairy, grains, and beans but would never be able to eliminate them totally. I focus on getting enough protein, good fats, and carbs from meats, seafood, chicken, and vegetables.


So when people ask me “what is eating clean?”, it’s pretty hard to answer. I think it’s safe to say if you aren’t eating anything from a box that says “fat free oreos”, you are doing better than a lot of people. Eat real food. Shop the perimeter of the grocery store. Don’t fall into the fat free and no added sugar trap. Educate yourself. And last but not least, eat what works for you, not what works for someone else.

  • What does eating clean mean to you?

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Sam @ Better With Sprinkles May 12, 2013 at 10:10 am

When I think about eating clean, I generally see it as focusing on whole, unprocessed food. As long as the majority of what you eat was grown in the ground or comes from an animal, you’re probably ok! I know some people like the Whole30 or Paleo styles of eating, but that feels too restrictive for me…I like a wider range of foods in my diet! And I think that even ‘eating clean’ has wiggle room for ‘non-clean’ desserts or drinks or what have you…life’s too short to cut them out completely!


2 Jillian May 18, 2013 at 2:14 pm

I agree – we can’t completely cut out the “bad” foods we crave, just have them in moderation.


3 Jen @ SavedbytheKale May 12, 2013 at 4:39 pm

Hi Jillian, just came across your blog! Just wanted to say that I really like your “eating clean” perspective. I have learned that for me that it has to do w/ balance. I cut dairy out for 1 1/2 yrs and am just now slowly working it back in. It was just too restrictive cutting it out all together. I have found that I am happier w/ balance. :) and lots and lots of veggies!!!


4 Jillian May 18, 2013 at 2:14 pm

Yes, balance is key!


5 Sky @ The Blonde In Black May 17, 2013 at 12:23 am

I really enjoyed reading this post about “eating clean.” I know I definitely don’t eat clean and probably won’t ever truly eat clean. Your idea of eating clean is what I would like to work towards. Being in college and living at home for the summer has its share of challenges when it comes to eating healthy. I do a good job for the most part but I can do better :)


6 Jillian May 18, 2013 at 2:13 pm

Hey, every little bit counts! :)


7 Lillian @ Seize the Latte May 17, 2013 at 7:33 am

You raise some really good points in this post! For me, eating clean basically boils down to eating the things that make me feel good: lots of fruits and veggies (although I do have to be careful with which ones I eat — carrots, for example, make my estomago superbly unhappy), lots of lean protein (we try to get organic as much as possible, budget permitting), lots of beans, nuts, and legumes, and Greek yogurt galore. I do go with non-fat and low-fat yogurt, even though they’re toward the more processed end of the spectrum, simply because I’ve found that full-fat dairy provokes a lot of back-talk from my stomach. As you said, though, it’s all a matter of perspective! :) Thank you for writing this — I think a lot of people will benefit from it!


8 Jillian May 18, 2013 at 2:13 pm

Lillian – I am glad you are doing what works for you, and your stomach! :)


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