Most fitness figures, experts, and enthusiasts could be categorized into two crowds: 1) The clean eating crowd. 2) The “fuck it” IIFYM-type of crowd. Generally, the subject of ‘clean’ vs. ‘dirty’ eating has been covered by a lot of experts already. Some believe in both concepts, and some despise both terms entirely. In my modest opinion, what matters more is the “how”. What do I mean by that? What I mean is, how can one incorporate a healthy (mentally and physically), enjoyable, and sustainable way of eating while looking good? After all, looking aesthetic doesn’t have to be synonymous with torture. Both “styles” of eating have their pros and cons. This article will shed some light on both styles and, hopefully, help you create your own enjoyable and sustainable eating habits. However, what’s more important is demonstrating how “eating clean” can have some major consequences.
First, what exactly is “dirty eating”? Dirty eating is a style of eating that involves eating whatever you want as long as your food choices fit within your daily macronutrient and caloric targets. This is more commonly known as IIFYM – If It Fits your Macros -. Or rather the flawed version of IIFYM. While this may sound logical on paper, dirty eating neglects a major dieting component: micronutrients intake. Food is composed of both macronutrients and micronutrients. A 400-calorie doughnut may fit perfectly within my daily macronutrient targets; however, it’ll be devoid of almost any nutrients. Compare that to a 400-calorie meal of salmon and steamed vegetables and the differences are clear. The latter food options will have many more vitamins, nutrients, minerals and other phytonutrients that will further improve your health and thus your body composition. Adopting a diet that solely includes poor food choices will result in sub-optimal health, sub-optimal gains, and many nutrient deficiencies. This could result in some serious medical complications (been there!). On the other hand, the beauty of this “fuck-it” type of eating is that you get to eat much more crappy food. While phrasing it this way may not sound very appetizing, but some people love those food choices, and rightfully so.
- Peace of mind because of much more diet leniency.
- You get to enjoy much more junk food.
- A slice of pizza a day keeps the doctor away. Seriously, who doesn’t love pizza?!
- You don’t obsess about eating healthy all the time.
- You get to enjoy many more social gatherings that, obviously, involve low quality food options.
- Can result in medical complications in the long run.
- Nutrient deficiencies.
- Sub-optimal health.
- Sub-optimal gains.
- Food volume is much less due to higher caloric density.
On the other side of the ring we have the “clean” eating crowd. This crowd believes in eating nothing but whole foods. A slice of pizza must be had with extreme caution. Thus, including a slice of pizza in this crowds’ diet must be carefully calculated using probability equations, laws of thermodynamics, and E = MC^2. Yes, a diet solely composed of whole foods is ideal, but in the grand scheme of things, it’s not sustainable. The problem with clean eating is that is severely restricts personal preferences (somewhat) and food choices. Moreover, this can result in developing unhealthy obsessions with food that can result in mental complications such as food disorders. Lastly, “clean” eating indirectly prohibits the dieter from enjoying social and family gatherings which can further contribute to psychological issues and stress. Obsessing about how many grams of carbs, protein, and fat shouldn’t be on anyone’s to do list. You can STILL enjoy less than optimal food choices without affecting your health or body compositions, so why stress?
- More food volume because of low energy density. You get to eat more.
- Will almost always fulfill micronutrient targets. Thus, “clean” eating will prevent nutrient deficiencies.
- Improved health.
- Better body composition.
- Optimal performance.
- Can result in developing unhealthy relationships with food.
- Can cause food-related obsessions and stress.
- More doesn’t equal better.
- Not sustainable.
- Having to avoid social and family gathering that involve poorer food choices.
Now that I’ve covered the pros and cons of both dirty and clean eating, let me elaborate on why and how ‘clean’ eating can ruin your life.
More =/ better
More dirty foods won’t yield more enjoyment. But, more clean foods won’t result in better health or body composition either. This is a perfect example of “naturalistic fallacy”. Just because you eat whole foods all the time doesn’t mean you’ll look better or be healthier than everyone else. There are many other factors involved, both controllable and uncontrollable. Thus, deciding to be overly-strict with your diet and eating only whole foods 100% of the time isn’t necessary for optimal health and body composition. For example, if an individual suffers from zinc deficiency and he decides to correct his deficiency by eating zinc-rich foods, will his body store any additional zinc past his saturation point? Absolutely not. Whatever is leftover will be excreted. Which is the same idea regarding multi-vitamins. Thresholds exist, guys. And once you fulfill your body’s needs of micronutrients, there’s no need to go past that limit. It won’t yield better results, guaranteed.
Limitations and sustainability
You can go around raving about whole foods all you want, but I know your deepest darkest secrets: You crave junk food too! Guilty. I don’t care how tough you are, you know you want to eat some ice cream or a couple slices of pizza occasionally. Who doesn’t? Are you even human? The truth is, you are not a robot and you shouldn’t try to be one. As established above, eating whole foods 100% of the time isn’t necessary to maximize your results in the gym or to improve your health. So, why not have your cake and eat it too?! In fact, you can enjoy as much as 20-30% of crappy foods every day without affecting your health or gains by a substantial amount, if any. Thus, severely restricting your diet is unnecessary. Moreover, NO ONE can only eat 100% whole foods for the rest of their lives. It’s just not possible. So, this really isn’t a sustainable style of eating whatsoever. What worries me the most is how individual intentionally avoid all types of social gatherings and family events just to avoid being around junk food! WHAT ARE YOU THINKING?!! Why would you want to miss out on such special moments? Because you are scared of exceeding your caloric target by 300 calories? Come on! Realistically, looking good and being healthy isn’t the only in existence, so don’t make it that way. Going out with friends and family to get some food will actually benefit your health and body composition more than avoiding those gatherings. These events will also help you de-stress, laugh a bit, and recharge your mental battery. Now, tell me how this isn’t beneficial to your well-being? As a bonus, you’ll get to enjoy a good piece of molten lava cake that you’ve been craving for two months now. Just relax, go out, and have fun. Otherwise, you risk developing a serious food disorder that will do you no good. Did I mention that food disorders will impact your health and body composition?…
The Big Picture
Another often-neglected component is what I call “The Big Picture”. Most people are in a hurry to reach their goals, which is humans’ nature. So, I understand this part. But, good things take time. Moreover, incorporating healthy food habits into your lifestyle should be a long-term strategy. Your main goal when you start training and eating healthy is to figure out how you can manage to keep up those great habits for as long as you live, not a few short months. Which means that if you are too strict about your diet you will soon get bored, irritated, and completely give up. You don’t have to look great after two months of training and eating right. “It’s not a race, it’s a marathon.”. It’s cliché because it’s true. Slow, yet sustainable habits will yield better results than shortcuts. What I am trying to say is although hitting your daily macronutrient and caloric targets is a good thing, don’t punish yourself if you fail to do so 1 or 2 days because the outcome of those 2 days will most likely not impact what you do on the other 5 days anyway. Given that you’re not taking it too far, of course! Once again, focus on slow and sustainable progression rather than overly-strict shortcuts.