Common Eat Clean Rules Are Full Of Hype.

eat clean rules

“Eating clean” is popular right now. If only “popular” also meant “backed by science.”

They tell you to eat this, not that.

They tell you to eat organic.

They tell you to live by their arbitrary “eat clean rules.”

They tell you your body was not “meant to” consume entire food groups.

They tell you to exclude dairy, gluten, or legumes from your diet.

They tell you to completely cut out sugar or that sugar is addictive.

They tell you to watch out for GMOs.

They tell you you need supplements.

They tell you you’re not a good mom, if you don’t feed your kids organic.

They tell you doctors have sold out.

They tell you to not trust scientists.

But they want you to trust them.

I call them the Eat Clean Hype-Masters. They roam freely across the web, unchecked, uncrossed, unchallenged.

They cherry-pick data. They distort. They discard all that does not agree with them.

Most of them don’t know any better.

Some of them will come around.

But some of them, will never come around. Some of them don’t want to know any better.

Some of them think they’re smarter than everyone else.

Some of them think they’re “ahead of science.”

Some of them want to start a holy war against whoever happens to be their target.

Some of them support that buying their products is the only way to live healthy and perform at your best.

Some of them deter patients from seeking proven medical treatment in favor of their wishful thinking reality.

Not all of them are equally passionate. Not all of them have the same intentions. But some are both very passionate and determined to spread what they think is the right message. They’re fighters for pseudoscience.

If bullying is what’s needed to support their holy war, then that’s what they’ll do.

If distorting the facts is what’s needed, then that’s what they’ll do.

Their influence is dangerous.

And many of their followers suffer.

Some of them who follow their eat clean rules get eating disorders.

Others suffer by getting sick from preventable diseases, or by losing friends or family who believed in them.

Everyone suffers by getting distracted by the minutiae, or false information, and not doing what actually matters, or not living their lives being happier!

The hype-masters are fighting hard to gain ground.

But you can strip them out of their power and escape their influence:

  • Fact-check without cherry picking.
  • Try to understand the science behind the subject, instead of blindly relying on experts’ opinions. If that’s too much to ask, put your trust on scientific consensus, not on individuals.
  • Realize that something being “natural” doesn’t mean it’s safer or better. Understand that some of the most toxic substances in the world are natural.
  • Understand that food is not dirty and doesn’t need “cleaning.” Watch out for red flags and especially eat clean rules that vilify entire food groups.

But before you do any of the above, open yourself to the possibility that you may have been influenced by the hype-masters. Maybe not directly. Maybe the people in your environment believed their claims, maybe it’s your facebook friends who started preaching about their eat clean rules (or other theories)! It all “made sense” at first. It’s so easy to get sucked in unnecessarily avoiding food groups, and worrying about things we need not worry about.

But once you accept the possibility that the hype-masters’ propaganda may have reached you, then it’s easier to get started with fact-checking, learning more about science, and understanding the “appeal to nature” fallacy.

Also, if that’s you, then don’t feel bad. We’re born in an “appeal to nature” environment. Everyone in our society believes that by default “if it’s natural it’s better.” I used to believe that too! What I didn’t know is that this belief, first, it’s false, and second, leaves room for all sort of unscientific claims.

Take detox claims for example.

Detox claims are so popular. You’ll most likely find them whenever eat clean rules are mentioned. This particular meme by Destroyed By Science happens to be true (but remember that just because something is on a meme, doesn’t make it true.)

detox smoothie
If you believe you need to go on a “diet cleanse” to detox (you don’t need to do that, it’s hype), then who can blame you when all sort of celebrities support “detoxing,” when product brands have been born to save people from “toxins,” when many people in your environment go on detox diets too?

For every 100 pro-detox messages you hear from all sorts of unqualified people, including the hype-masters, you may hear only 1 doctor saying that detox diets have not been proven to “detox” and our liver is doing the job.

With an 100 to 1 ratio (to clarify: this is a subjective observation), it’s easy to “go with the flow,” it’s easy to not realize that most people who talk detox have no qualifications at all, it’s easy to not fact-check whether the body of science supports “detox” claims.

And that’s just for detox. Organic is another big one.

Part of the eat clean rulebook is preaching about eating organic vegetables and fruits. By all means – eat them. But don’t take their claims as facts. They tell you organic has no pesticides (not true.) You hear that organic has pesticides but these pesticides are safer (no they are not, but we need not worry too much about pesticides anyway.) They tell you organic milk is better than regular, or that organic food is more nutritious.

You learn that organic is in general more environmentally friendly (not true, if you want to help the environment go conventional.)

You think organic is good because it does not contain GMOs. They say GMOs are bad (not true.)

You think GMOs are some fruit with a syringe (not how it works, thanks Science Moms.)

Here’s the moment that you didn’t even know you’ve been waiting for – the 2-minute trailer for Science Moms, starring Kavin Senapathy, Mommy, PhD, and Anastasia Bodnar: Science Communicator.Enjoy it, share it, and stay tuned for the launch of our Kickstarter campaign (because we still need to film with the brilliant Layla Katiraee – Biochica and Jenny Splitter – Science, Storytelling & Snark).(Oh, in case you’re watching with your kids around…Kavin says “bullshit” within the first moments of the video.)

Posted by Science Moms on Wednesday, March 9, 2016

You think GMOs are weird but have no idea what other crop modification techniques we use or how they are different (thanks Biology Fortified!)

genetic engineering

In fact, you don’t realize we’ve been altering our food from the very beginning. Here’s a wild banana shot by Rita Banerji. Compare it to the (seedless) banana you find in stores. You think it’s different by accident? Think again.

wild banana
wild banana – all those seeds!

You listen to the Hype-Masters who spread a message of fear, not knowing you’re disregarding more than 1700 studies from all around the world that have found no evidence GMOs are not safe.

In the meantime, instead of moving forward full speed, to get better quality food, more of it, and in a more environmentally friendly way, we put roadblocks.

It’s as if we humans hate ourselves. Why can’t we give ourselves (i.e., the human species) credit for creating something awesome? Why do we have to mistrust ourselves? Why do we have to take 8 steps back for every 10 steps forward?

I’m not suggesting moving prematurely forward. I’m suggesting not going back when an issue in the scientific community is settled. I’m suggesting to stop the faulty propaganda and move on to the next chapter.

While we take the time to take steps back, people in the developing world suffer. While we take the time to take steps back, we support that giving them supplements or sending them our food waste would somehow be equally good solutions and we don’t need GMOs. While we take steps back, climate change is still going on, and we’re not helping our situation.

I’m not suggesting that we sacrifice safety in order to help the underprivileged. What I’m saying is that because we want to take steps back on an already settled matter, the consequences do not only affect us, but also them. And often, it’s them who get it worse, because they are the ones who wouldn’t go blind or die if their nutrition was adequate, not us.

The hype-masters don’t acknowledge any of this reality, but they still pretend to be friends of the earth. They and their eat clean rules still pose as knights in shining armor. They’re going to save you from “toxins.” If only you follow the rulebook one by one…

And it’s so easy to get sucked in their made-up narrative. Because they appear to be good people.

And they may indeed be very good people. They may have the best of intentions.

But that doesn’t mean that they’re not flat out wrong and that their propaganda doesn’t cause harm.

And while we’re spending our time stressing about following arbitrary eat clean diet rules, many of us don’t exercise, or don’t do it regularly. Exercise is the one thing that has a huge body of science supporting its value in terms of health, yet our preoccupation with food, or eating this or that, or following those eat clean rules, distracts many of us from doing what matters.

(Note that I’m not referring to a healthy relationship with food, but an unhealthy preoccupation with diet.)

antioxidants don't work

We tell ourselves we don’t exercise because we don’t have time, but in fact, many of us don’t exercise because we lack focus, not time. Creating a routine, even a 5-minute one, finding times and dates that work, doing exercise that we actually like (hello Flat Belly Firm Butt!), is not an instant thing. Focus is needed to make that happen.

But focus is an elusive thing when we’re distracted.

“I’m not entirely convinced but I want to learn more about the hype around food and the eat clean rules many people talk about. Now what?”

Excellent! I’m glad you got interested in the subject. Let me give you some Facebook Page suggestions to help you better understand food and health.

First, let’s go to the source – the farmers themselves!

You hear a lot being said about farmers, but we rarely hear that from the farmers themselves.

The following list is by no means exhaustive. I cannot include everyone (I may need to write a farmers only article to address all the awesome people who share information about what and why they’re doing things this way on their farms.)

Ask the Farmers: Seriously, ask anything! Anything about milk, eggs, farming. Don’t ask the hype-masters, ask them!

Farmer Tim: One word – funny! Three words: funny cow pictures (you’d never think you’d like cow pics, until you actually get exposed to them.) Plus you get to learn quite a bit about farming.

Farm Babe: Michelle is an activist, a speaker, and a lamb lover. Don’t you think that people who get to do what they feel is their calling are lucky? Well, that’s Michelle.

Dairy Carrie: Yes for cow pics. Yes for milk. Yes for learning more about a family farm.

Fitness Reloaded: That’s the page for this site. What, you haven’t liked yet?

Second, let’s address the moms and dads.

Yup, we get it that once you become a parent you become extra vigilant. There are luckily parent-specific resources:

Science Moms: a pro-science documentary made by scientists and pro-science moms.

Mommy, PhD: Alison is a mom and scientist, not too snarky, always eager to answer questions. If you’re a parent, please like. She’ll keep you on your toes so that you don’t fall for pseudoscience.

Jenny Splitter: Snark, humor, and science in one. Jenny is a really good writer!

Grounded parents: Those poor parents they got grounded! And they comment on pretty much everything, including food, including mom shaming of all sorts. Check them out.

Kavin Senapathy: A passionate, pro-science activist and also a mother.

We love GMOs and Vaccines: Not parent-specific, but I’ve learned so much from this page I had to recommend it.

Science and evidence-based parenting: From parents to parents.

Debunking ADHD & Autism Myths & Misinformation: There’s a lot of hype around autism. If you’re interested in the subject, then click like.

Nurse Loves Farmer: Like, especially is you’re pregnant right now. Sara is a nurse who married a farmer and that’s how she got into agriculture.

Meredith at Motherfigure: Excellent resource for postnatal moms looking for health advice.
Modern Science Mama: If you’re a parent, pro-science, and preferably a liberal, then we got a match!

Third, for the science nerds.

So maybe you’re looking for something more hardcore. Let’s do it!

Destroyed by Science: Want to see people’s random arguments get “destroyed” by people who actually know what they’re talking about? That’s “destroyed by science.”

The Credible Hulk: I’ve never met this guy but honestly I think he must be one of the nicest guys on the planet. Both nice and very knowledgable. And a bodybuilder. Unlike Hulk, he’s not green.

SciBabe: She’ll give it to you straight. No holding back!

Biology Babe: Same like Scibabe. A little nerdier.

A Science Enthousiast: Dan is literally a science enthusiast who is putting all this work aside from his full-time job.

The Imaginarium: If you’re a lover of nature, if nature makes you feel “awee”, then you’ll love Dr. Anna!

Thoughtscapism: If you want to follow your curiosity, see where it takes you, follow Iida!

Skeptical Mama: Recommended for all pro-science parents. However, if you’re not an atheist you’re probably going to be offended somehow.
Fourth, humor + satire for science nerds.

Ok now we’re getting even more hardcore.

Chow Babe: too many satirizing memes. Oh, the autisms.

Dihydrogen Monoxide Awareness: This is a prank. A very good one. Check it out.

The Science Post: Really, really, really funny. Like the Onion, posting fake news, but for science nerds.

Finally, food resources: What should we really be eating?

Thinking Nutrition : A nutrition professor from Australia shares the latest on food and what should go on our plates.

Food Insight: A non-profit sharing the science behind many popular claims and eat clean rules.

Yoni Freedhoff – Weighty Matters: An MD who discusses obesity and food on a regular basis.

Diet vs. Disease: Joe is an RD from Australia and often shares debunking of popular claims.

Youtrition: The lovely Ashley supports moderation, building good habits, and letting go of arbitrary restrictions. Like her if weight loss is a goal of yours.

Siouxcountry: A sensible approach to health and fitness.

Shannon’s Kitchen: Warning – adult language on a recipe site. But it’s also hilarious.

Okay I’ve given you quite a few resources. Bookmark this page so you can come back to it when you need to find more people.

Now leave a comment and let me know: what’s an eat clean rule you used to follow until you realized it was bogus?

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  1. Maria,
    Keep up the good work! Your essays always provide a great summary, with very useful links. I am going to have a “biotechnology information” table at a farm show in a few weeks – I would like to print copies of this and hand them out to those people who question GMOs.

    1. Not any more. I retired from career #1 (software engineering, 30 yrs), and career #2 (dairy farming, 20 years), and am now working on a Master’s thesis in molecular biology at Dartmouth.

  2. THANK YOU! As a mom, farmer, and ag-vocate, I appreciate professionals in other industries speaking up for farmers and science <3

  3. Well done. When emotion is the potion, there’s no fruition to nutrition, its the vessel with the science that has the brew that is true. Tip of the hat to “The Court Jester”

  4. […] The truth about “Clean Eating“ – In this article on Fitness Reloaded, Maria explains why the “rules” of clean eating are totally wrong, while thoroughly debunking some of the biggest myths in food and health. You’re going down detox diets, genetic modification, and going organic. If knowledge is power, then reading this article will give you fad-busting super powers.  […]