“Gosh, I was so bad today. I ate three cookies after lunch, and I was still hungry,” said Katie during our weekly girls’ night, sipping on her pinot noir.
“Oh, I do the same thing all the time! This is normally the season when everybody is thinning out, but everybody seems to be eating a lot more lately!” responded Jessica, reaching for another pita dipped in hummus, ogling the latest Vogue.
“We need to do another clean eating detox. We need to be good again. I am so tired of gaining weight and being bad all the time,” Kate said.
“Agreed! We can have, like, one cheat meal per week. That would be perfect!” said Jessica.
I sat there, contemplating whether or not to chime in, feeling full of my own insecurities and body woes.
Do I tell them that I feel the same way sometimes, or should I be honest that I’m fighting the urge to diet every single day?
Do I explain to them that strict clean eating was what ruined my digestive system in the first place?
Do I explain why eating “clean” has nothing to do with morality?
Do I go into detail about why food is just food and feeling guilty about it is what keeps them going back for more?
I sighed, feeling an overwhelming amount of discomfort.
“You know, I think instead of doing a clean eating detox, you should just listen to your body. Eat intuitively, nourish yourself, and do what makes you feel best,” I said, trying hard not to come across as too woo-woo.
“If I do that, I’ll end up a fat cow, eating pizza all the time!” Jessica replied, laughing.
Conversations like this one happen in almost every single girlfriend group, from as young as 10 years old to 50 and beyond.
It’s no secret that clean eating has become the most popular diet craze over the last few years, leading people to adopt a belief that’s becoming more dangerous by the day: If you eat good, you are good.
God forbid you eat “too much” pizza, label yourself a “fat cow,” and then go down a self-loathing spiral, deep into an abyss of clean eating shame.
This is the type of language that needs to change if we want to raise confident children who believe in themselves no matter their size. “Fat” and “cow” should never be mentioned in the same sentence, unless we are talking about a literal cow that’s lounging in a field, resting after a hearty meal of grass and whatever else.
Moreso, the phrases “clean eating” and “cheat meal” should both be put to bed for good, and here’s why: They are tearing people apart.
They are tearing you apart from yourself and from others.
They are preventing you from falling in love with your body and life right now.
Diet camaraderie affects everybody. Not only does it make the people in the conversation scramble to find something imperfect about themselves that they can share with the audience, but also it influences others to feel guilty about their own diet habits.
When I was clean eating at my strictest, I was also at my unhealthiest. I was so consumed and obsessed with being good with my food, that I completely forgot about being good atlife.
I am not saying that clean eating in and of itself is bad.
I am saying that clean eating becomes bad when people confuse morality with it…which they often do: “I’m good if I eat ‘clean’ and I’m bad if I don’t.”
Next: cheat meal. Without even realizing it, you are inherently labeling certain foods as a “cheat” — and as we all know, cheating is typically a bad thing, a dishonest thing, a shameful thing.
Even when people do indulge in their weekly cheat meal, there is usually a hint of regret and shame attached to it. The only cure is validation received through a hundred Instagram likes.
Just the other day a woman told me that her daughter was a vegan, but then she corrected herself, saying her daughter’s actually a cheating vegan.
Without even thinking, I immediately thought, Oh, she’s a cheater!
And then, coming back to reality, I remembered what we were talking about: veganism.
This girl was eating in a way that suited her body best, which meant not eating vegan every single day, and therefore she was on the right track for her.
Yet, to others, she lives under the label “cheating vegan.”
Listen, if you want a burger and a milkshake, you go and have it! No labels or confessions necessary, and no next-day-diet required.
If you want to eat healthy foods, go for it! But always remember that your morality as a human being has nothing to do with how well you stick to that way of eating.
The sooner you give up labels on your food preferences, the sooner you will be able to touch into your intuition. Not only that, but you’ll also be a shining light of positivity for the young eyes watching you (something we definitely need more of in this day and age).
Eat what you love, give up the labels and stop letting “clean eating” destroy your perfectly-imperfect self image.