October 27th, 2009

Orthorexia And The New Rules of Clean Eating – Part 2

In part one, I described the growing obsession many people have with eating only the purest, healthiest foods, aka “clean eating.” You’d think that nothing but good would come from that, but some experts today dislike the concept of clean foods because it implies a dichotomy where other foods, by default, are “dirty” or forbidden – as in, you can never, ever eat them again (imagine life without chocolate, or pizza… or beer! you guys). Some physicians and psychologists even believe that if taken to an extreme, a fixation on healthy food qualifies as a new eating disorder called orthorexia.


Personally, I have no issues with the phrase “clean eating.” Even if you choose to eat clean nearly 100% of the time, I don’t see how that qualifies as a psychological disorder of any kind (I reckon people who eat at McDonalds every day are the ones who need a shrink).

However, I also think most Burn The Fat blog readers would agree that any behavior – washing your hands, cleaning your house, or even exercise or eating health food – can become obsessive-compulsive and dysfunctional if it takes over your life or is taken to an extreme. In the case of diet and exercise, it could also lead to or overlap with anorexia.

It’s debatable whether orthorexia is a distinct eating disorder, but I’m not against using the word to help classify a specific type of obsessive-compulsive behavior. I think it’s real.

As some of the reader comments from part one reveal (rather ironically in a discussion on orthorexia), many people are quite “enthusiastic” in defending – or preaching about – their dietary beliefs: no meat, no grains, no dairy, only organic, only raw, only what God made, and on and on the rigid all-or-nothing rules go.

What people choose to eat is often so sacred to them, it makes for tricky business when you’re a nutrition educator. Sometimes I don’t feel like telling anyone what to eat, but simply setting a personal example and showing people how I do it, like, “Hey guys, here is how natural bodybuilders eat to get so ripped and muscular. It may not suit you, but it works for us. Take it or leave it.”

On the other hand, I can’t help feeling that there’s got to be a way to better help the countless individuals who haven’t yet formulated their own philosophies, and who find nutrition overwhelmingly confusing. For many people, even a simple walk down the aisles of a grocery store, and trying to decipher the food labels and nutrition claims is enough to trigger an anxiety attack.

That’s where I hope this is useful. I can’t draw the line for you, or tell you what to eat, but I can suggest a list of “new rules” for clean eating which simplifies nutrition and clears up confusion, while giving you more freedom, balance, life enjoyment and better results at the same time.

New Rule #1: Define what clean eating means to you

Obviously, clean eating is not a scientific term. Most people define clean eating as avoiding processed foods, chemicals and artificial ingredients and choosing natural foods, the way they came out of the ground or as close to their natural form as possible. If that works for you, then use it. However, the possible definitions are endless. I’ve seen forum arguments about whether protein powder is “clean.” Arguments are a waste of time. Ultimately, what clean eating means is up to you to define. Whether your beliefs and values have you restrict or expand on the general definition, define it you must, keeping in mind that your definition may be different than other’s.

New Rule #2: Always obey the law of energy balance

There’s one widely held belief about food that hurts people and perpetuates the obesity problem because it’s simply not true. It’s the idea that calories don’t matter for weight loss, as long as you eat certain foods or avoid certain foods. Some people think that if you eat only clean foods, you’re guaranteed to lose weight and stay lean. The truth is that eating too much of anything gets stored as fat. Yes, you can become obese eating 100% clean, natural foods. There’s more to good nutrition than calories in versus calories out, but the energy balance equation is always there.

New Rule #3: Remember that “foods” are not fattening, “excess calories” are

There’s a widespread fear today that certain foods will automatically turn into fat. Carbohydrates – particularly refined carbohydrates and sugars – are still high on the hit list of feared foods, and so are fatty foods, owing to their high caloric density (9 calories per gram). Foods that contain fat and sugar (think donuts) are considered the most fattening of all. But what if you ate only one small donut and stayed in a calorie deficit for the day – would you still say that donut was fattening?

If you want to say certain foods are fattening, you certainly can, but what you really mean is that some foods are calorie dense, highly palatable, not very satiating and eating them might even stimulate your appetite for more (betcha can’t eat just one!). Therefore, they’re likely to cause you to eat more calories than you need. Conversely, “non-fattening” foods have no magical properties, they’re simply low in caloric density, highly filling and non-appetite stimulating.

New Rule #4: Understand the health-bodyfat paradox

Two of the biggest reasons people choose to eat clean are health and weight loss. Health and body composition are intertwined, but dietary rules for health and weight loss are not one in the same. Weight gains or losses are dictated primarily by calorie quantity. Health is dictated primarily by calorie quality. That’s the paradox: You can lose weight on a 100% junk food diet, but that doesn’t mean you’ll be healthy. You can get healthier on an all natural clean food diet, but that doesn’t mean you won’t gain weight… and if you gain too much weight, then you start getting unhealthy. To be healthy and lean requires the right combination of calorie quantity and quality, not one or the other.

New Rule #5: Forbidden foods are forbidden.

Think of you on a diet like a pressure cooker on a burner. The longer you keep that pot on the heat, the more the steam builds up inside. If there’s no outlet or release valve, eventually the pressure builds up so much that even if it’s made of steel and the lid is bolted down, she’s gonna blow, sooner or later. But if you let off a little steam by occasionally having that slice of pizza or whatever is your favorite food, that relieves the pressure.

Alas, you never even felt the urge to binge… because you already had your pizza and the urge was satisfied. Since the “cheat meal” was planned and you obeyed the law of calorie balance, you stayed in control and it had little or no effect on your fat loss results. Ironically, you overcome your cravings by giving in to them, with two caveats: not too often and not too much.

New Rule #6: Set your own compliance rule

Many health and nutrition professionals suggest a 90% compliance rule because if you choose clean foods 90% of the time, it’s easy to control your calories, you consume enough nutrients for good health, and what you eat the other 10% of the time doesn’t seem to matter much. Suppose you eat 3 meals and 2 snacks every day, a total of 35 feedings per week. 90% compliance would mean following your clean eating plan for about 31 or 32 of those weekly feedings. The other 3 or 4 times per week, you eat whatever you want (as long as you obey rule #2 and keep the calories in check)

You’ll need to decide for yourself where to set your own rule. A 90% compliance rule is a popular, albeit arbitrary number – a best guess at how much “clean eating” will give you optimal health. Some folks stay lean and healthy with 80%. Others say they don’t even desire junk food and they eat 99% clean, indulging perhaps only once or twice a month.

One thing is for certain – the majority of your calories should come from natural nutrient-dense foods – not only for good health, but also because what you eat most of the time becomes your habitual pattern. Habit patterns are tough to break and what you do every day over the long term is what really counts the most.

New Rule #7: Have “free” meals, not “cheat” meals

Cheating presupposes that you’re doing something you’re not supposed to be doing. That’s why you feel guilty when you cheat. Guilt can be one of the biggest diet destroyers. Consider referring to these meals that are off your regular plan as “free meals” instead of “cheat meals.” If having free meals is part of your plan right from the start, then you’re not cheating are you? So don’t call it that. What can you eat for your free meals? Anything you want. Otherwise, it wouldn’t truly be a free meal, would it?

People sometimes tell me that my bodybuilding diet and lifestyle are “too strict.” I find that amusing because I love eating clean 95-99% of the time and I consider it easy. I had a butter-drizzled steak, a glass of wine, and chocolate sin cake for dessert to celebrate my last birthday. I had a couple slices of pizza just four weeks before my last competition (and still stepped on stage at 4.5% body fat). Oh, and I’m really looking forward to my mom’s pumpkin pie and Christmas cake too. Why? How? Because as strict as my lifestyle might appear to some people, I’ve learned how to enjoy free meals and I will eat ANYTHING I want – with no guilt. Meanwhile, my critics are often people with rules that NEVER allow those foods to ever cross their lips.

New Rule #8: For successful weight control, focus on compliance to a calorie deficit, not just compliance to a food list

Dietary compliance doesn’t just mean eating the right foods, it means eating the right amount of food. You might be doing a terrific job at eating only the foods “authorized” by your nutrition program, but if you eat too many “clean” foods, you will still get fat. On the fat loss side of health-bodyfat paradox, the quantity of food is the pivotal factor, not the quality of food. If fat loss is your goal and you’re stubbornly determined to be 100% strict about your nutrition, then be 100% strict about maintaining your calorie deficit.

Lesson #9: Avoid all or none attitudes and dichotomous thinking

If you make a mistake, it doesn’t ruin an entire 12 week program, a whole week and not even an entire day. What ruins a program is thinking that you must either be on or off your diet and allowing one meal off your program to completely derail you. All or nothing thinking is the great killer of diet programs.

Even if they don’t believe that one meal will set them back physically, many “clean eaters” feel like a single cheat is a moral failure. They are terrified to eat any processed foods because they look at foods as good or bad rather than looking at the degree of processing or the frequency of consuming them.

Rest assured, a single meal of ANYTHING, if the calories don’t exceed your energy needs, will have virtually no impact on your condition. It’s not what you do occasionally, it’s what you do most of the time, day after day, that determines your long term results.

New Rule #10: Focus more on results, less on methods

I’m not sure whether it’s sad or laughable that most people get so married to their methods that they stop paying attention to results. Overweight people often praise their diet program and the guru that created it, even though they’ve plateaud and haven’t lost any weight in months, or the weight they lost has begun to creep back on. Health food fanatics keep eating the same, even when they’re sick and weak and not getting any stronger or healthier.

Why would someone continue doing more of the same even when it’s not working? One word: habit! Beliefs and behavior patterns are so ingrained at the unconscious level, you repeat the same behaviors every day virtually on automatic pilot. Defending existing beliefs and doing it the way you’ve always done it is a lot easier than changing.

In the final analysis, results are what counts: weight, body composition, lean muscle, performance, strength, blood pressure, blood lipids, and everything else you want to improve. Are they improving or not? If not, perhaps it’s time for a change.

Concluding words of wisdom

We need rules. Trying to eat “intuitively” or just “wing it” from the start is a recipe for failure. Ironically, intuitive eating does not come intuitively. Whether you use my Burn The Fat, Feed the Muscle program or a different program that suits your lifestyle better, you must have a plan.

After following your plan for a while, your constructive new behaviors eventually turn over to unconscious control (a process commonly known as developing habits). But you’ll never reach that hallowed place of “unconscious competence” unless you start with planning, structure, discipline and rules.

Creating nutritional rules does NOT create more rule breakers. Only unrealistic or unnecessary rules create rule breakers. That’s why these new rules of clean eating are based on a neat combination of structure and flexibility. If you have too much flexibility and not enough structure, you no longer have a plan. If you have too much structure and not enough flexibility, you have a plan you can’t stick with.

To quickly sum it all up: Relax your diet a bit! But not too much!

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51 Responses to “Orthorexia And The New Rules of Clean Eating – Part 2”

  • Jack

    Tom,Vis-a-vis new rule #10, what do you think about using many or all of the various blood tests at the following link, at one point or another, in order to track health markers and other pertinent things?http://www.metametrix.com/content/DirectoryofServices/MainThis allows you to check the typical markers in a standard CBC and many of the tests would also allow you to assess levels of various nutrients to check for deficiencies, assess toxic burden (to determine if plastics and various chemicals are as big a problem in your specific situation as the media would make you think……some say all such chemicals are a massive issue, others say not at all, but it seems like the tests would let you know for sure in YOUR situation), determine whether certain foods need to be made “forbidden” for a time or for the long term (namely sIgA, IgG4, and IgE testing), to regularly track your ability to detoxify, assess gut function, etc.

  • Jack, as a general rule, measure everything you want to improve, and get all the blood work you care about. but I was thinking more generally along lines of body composition measurements and traditional health markers, b.p, triglyerides, blood cholesterol, etc. On the other hand, I would agree that any discussion of “detox” is moot and even silly unless you can name and can measure the toxins. Being that fear of “toxins” and “toxic food” is a major manifestation of orthorexia, yours is an interesting question. regarding making foods “forbidden” if they are affecting your blood work/ results, should certain people completely avoid certain foods? Certainly, if there are contraindications, allergies, etc. But excluding such medical situations, does it always have to be dichotomous – eat them or not – or is it a matter of degrees?

  • This post should be a Bible for everyone! But you’re right, people are creatures of habit, and (sadly) many will agree with these but just won’t practice it! Great job articulating it, though. Being a figure competitor, I am serious about my show prep. I “eat clean” but always stress to my clients that when I compete, I may look my healthiest… but I, in fact, am not. I would say I am healthiest in my off-season, practicing rules #1 through #10, while still maintaining a lean physique. Health and fitness are two different things, as you mentioned above. You can be healthy, but overweight and not fit. You can also be fit (competitor) but not very healthy due to depletion. Being a fitness professional, I thank you so much for posting this!

  • I really love this post. So many people get caught up in the thought process that they can eat however much they want as long as it’s ‘clean’. This just is not the case and leads them to lack of results and confused as ever.I think it’s time more people understood the notion of calorie balance in terms of weight control. Sure, counting calories can be a royal pain in the behind, but at the end of the day, after protein is met, that’s what really matters. If you eat a slice of white bread or a bowl of oatmeal, one may be healthier in terms of nutrition, but in terms of weight control, if calories are exactly the same, the difference is insignificant.All the stress over clean eating probably leads to more fat accumulation due to cortisol release than anything.Great post again. I hope many people take these words seriously.-Shannon

  • Tom, I agree with almost everything you wrote here. The only point I would make is that it’s very difficult to stick to a natural whole foods diet while bulking. What would you eat? Well, meat, fruits, and vegetables. That is going to make it hard to get your calories in. My bulking diet on training days calls for 3750 calories. I’d want to puke if it came entirely from meat, fruit and vegetables. I include things like pasta, bagels, pretzels, and some cereal to get my calories up and still hit my macronutrient goal.It’s MUCH, MUCH easier to eat all whole natural foods when dieting.

  • If someone prefers to eat clean (i do 95-99% of the time, by choice), I don’t find it difficult at all to get enough calories for gaining lean mass… natural fats (nuts, seeds, oils, whole eggs) and natural starchy carbs/whoel grains make it easy. While ive acknowledged that calorie quantity not quality is the pivotal point in the fat loss equation, im not looking for reasons or occasions to rationalize taking in more processed food either. On the other hand, the ectomorph type trying to gain wt., and especially the endurance athlete, will probably have to take in concentrated carbs (aka junk!) at times to meet energy needs alone. when ultramarathoner Dean Karnazes ran his 200 mile run his food log recorded 27,934 calories, almost all junk, from slurpees to ice cream sandwiches. But he wasnt trying to gain lean body mass per se, just provide fuel

  • Debbie Z

    Tom, yours is the voice of common sense and reason.

  • Kel

    Dear Tom, thank you so much for articulating what I feel.I had tried many methods, but only very recently I realized that the only way for me to lose weight was to keep a food journal and watch my calorie intake like a hawk.My friends who laugh at me for being “obsessive compulsive” have gained weight steadily over the years as their metabolism dropped.As my mom used to say, you don’t gain 200 pounds overnight – if bodybuilders don’t monitor their food intake carefully, their gains may slowly creep away with time and complacency.Hence I agree that being “obsessive” about food intake isn’t orthorexia, but a realistic way of keeping healthy in a world of many temptations.

  • Rae

    Hi Tom,Just wanted to commend you on these last two articles. I really enjoyed reading them, so much so that I have put them up on my own blog. You have said how I feel about my bodybuilding lifestyle better than I could. Thanks!Regards,RaeAustralia

  • Kym Hutcheon

    Tom: Thanks for the article and the comment on “concentrated carbs” above.I’m an ectomorph trying to gain strength and at least some mass on a clean diet and moderate training schedule. Thus far, it’s just not happening despite feeling overfull much of the time.I read some information from your buddy Dr. John Berardi (Scrawny to Brawny) that ectomorph body types respond to increased food intake by burning more, making it necessary to compensate with more food than other body types would require. I certainly feel like I am proof of that.I have no particular desire to eat more junk, mainly because the chemicals included in a lot of that food don’t agree with my body. But at this point, I’m starting to think that calorie dense carbs, and fats, may be the only way forward.I mention this because thus far I’ve yet to come across much info for clean-eating ectomorphs trying to gain muscle who can’t handle constantly pushing food down their throats.

  • janet darbey

    Tom, yet another great article from you. When I first lost the 70 pounds of weight, mostly bodyfat, people took great delight in telling me I would put it all back on and add some more after a while.I am glad to say it didn’t happen, because I am still following your basic rules. I carb cycle, which suits me great. I have just been away on a holiday to Italy, and had big problems as I can’t eat wheat or wheat products which most of the food is based on. So I had to eat salads, veg, fruit and nuts when I could. This left me with a defecit of calories each day, so I made the most of the nut ice cream I found that was made with coconut milk and double cream. Full of calories, but so rich you could only eat one scoop!I have actually returned from my break leaner and with less bodyfat. It must have been all the walking around Rome buying up the designer stores.

  • Eating Clean means different things to different people and because no two people are the same no two interpretations to that term will ever be the same. There is no right or wrong, only right or wrong for you.Great couple of posts, I really enjoyed reading them Tom.Kindest Regards,Lia Halsall

  • sangita

    Fantastic fantastic post! I don’t think it gets any clearer or simpler than this!

  • Tom,This is the SINGLE BEST piece on weightloss, health and eating I have ever read. I am not just saying that either. You really hit all the points. Thank you for being an intelligent, rational voice above the fray.Matt Wilson

  • Ann

    This was so clear, concise and full of common sense! I love it! I will share the link to this post with my clients – there’s no way it can be expressed any better.

  • Valeria

    Hi Tom,I have been folllowing all your articles for a long time now.I do train hard and wise. But as a 50 years old woman, there are some parts of my body, where it gets difficult (impossible!) to get lean.I do a spinning class (great music!!!) 5 days a week plus swim with coach twice a week plus load routine twice too. Only take a break on Sundays….but I am active person (51 kgs -1.61 m )Many years ago, I found out that fast carbs had a very bad effect for me: day 26 of my hormonal cycle (yes, here comes “la difference!!!!) I wolud die for a cracker and couldn´t stop eating ceraels. Then I decided to eiminate them from my diet. The results were great: not only I did not crave for carbs anymore, but also my problem zone was reduced dramatically. So there you have one customized clean-up that did work.I do have, however some cellulite (accumulated local fat) I can´t get rid of. Any hints that coud help? (Please don´t give me that genetic speech with no way out ….!)I love the way you encourage us all, and that is why I bought your book, that took ages to get here, but was worth it.Keep it up U2!!!!Best regards,Valeria

  • Valeria, thanks for your post. I can see there are some situations where completely eliminating some foods is the right choice – binge eating disorder, alcoholism of course, and in some cases where eating a food makes you crave more; then total abstinence might make sense. You have to know yourself. Looks like it workd for you. re: cellulite, that will have to be another post… but if I had completely figured out the female cellulite thing, I would have sold my secret, retired from blogging and be living on a tropical island somwhere… (just kidding… i would still blog! 🙂 )

  • Peter Neville

    Hi Tom,I’d just like to give my opinion in regards to this belief that Orthorexia is a psychological problem.I think that’s bull, humans are basically animals. We’re omnivores, so a balanced diet is in our nature, or at least it should be. The reason it isn’t, the reason there is a need for a fitness industry, and the reason eating clean 100% of the time is considered “weird”, is from decades of advertising of unhealthy foods, being essential in our lives.It may sound like a conspiracy theory, but there’s SOMETHING, that has is changing our primal instincts of healthy eating. And my theory is the tv and all other forms of media, using subliminal messaging to have us craving these foods that are bad for our health. Much the same way smoking became popular, by making it seem cool, and the chemicals in it making our body think we want more, but nowadays, smoking is dropping in popularity, because there are campaigns against its bad health effects.Much the same way as that, unhealthy foods like chocolate, and various crisps and sweets etc, have been broadcast as cool, and delicious, sometimes even claiming to be healthy. But the health and fitness industry, is only beginning to fight back and make them seem unhealthy and uncool, yet people who know this well, still have a craving for these foods, by some horrible twist!Anyway, the people, the every day normal people, could do with a good case of orthorexia, because their current mental disease is way, way, worse!

  • tom

    Peter, no doubt advertising and modern culture have had a huge influence on how we eat differently today than we did even just 100 years ago, let alone 10,000..

  • Nancy

    An old phrase that has become an oxymoron comes to mind – common sense.

  • Jetaun

    I love this posting. Everything said makes a lot of sense and with so much “information” out there it’s great to have someone actually sit down and explain it all in a no nonsense manner.

  • Always no-nonense advice thank you!But I feel that the Rule #3 is not quite correct because of the biochemical effects of certain foods – if your maintenance calories consisted of only white sugar, (you’d be incredibly ill!) but you’d end up craving more food and would struggle to keep weight off.Compare this with the other extreme – eating maintenance calories of only raw food, where you’d be highly satisfied but actually need more than your maintenance calories to maintain weight because of the way the body processes raw fruit and vegetables. (I’ve done this and you do need to eat more calories for some reason)Very few people do either extremes of course, but it shows that some foods are fattening and some foods do help control weight easily.So I personally don’t quite buy into the adage all calories are equal.

  • I love the common sense attitude you bring to these issues. So many people get tied up in the ideas and the words that they forget what they are trying to do, be healthy. With respect to that, I really appreciated your rules 2 through 4:New Rule #2: Always obey the law of energy balanceNew Rule #3: Remember that “foods” are not fattening, “excess calories are”.New Rule #4: Understand the health-bodyfat paradoxThe whole advantage to clean eating is that processing tends to create an artificial energy density that is hard for most of us to manage. We end being able to eat way too many calories before we are full. I think many people just come from the paradigm that ‘clean’ is better because it is natural and I find that unfortunate. It leads to the belief that certain foods are intrinsically healthy to consume. For someone with a great calorie balance that is probably true, but for someone who is already eating too many calories, that kind of thinking just leads to more trouble.Thanks again for the great article.

  • Sarah Diggins wrote:I feel that the Rule #3 is not quite correct because of the biochemical effects of certain foods – if your maintenance calories consisted of only white sugar, (you’d be incredibly ill!) but you’d end up craving more food and would struggle to keep weight off.A calorie is NOT just a calorie. I never said it was. But you have to clarify what you mean — are you talking about nutritional value within each calorie? Gross calories? metabolizable calories? Satiety from each calorie? The effect certain foods have on subsequent calorie intake?The answer to “is a calorie a calorie” is different in every one of those scenariosWhich foods you eat affect your energy intake in a huge way – it can even affect energy expenduture slightly due to thermic effect of food. But when you MATCH calorie for calorie, the differences in a metabolized calorie in terms of fat loss (NOT HEALTH – fat loss), are smaller than you thinkFoods differ in nutritional contents first and foremost, so some calories deliver more micronutrients – so in the health sense, obviosly a calorie is not a calorie – i figured my post made that crystal clear — the health body fat paradox!!!Foods differ in fiber as well – and some of that energy is non metabolizable, further, high fiber foods may suppress appetite and or energy intake – in that sense again a calorie is not just a calorieFoods also differ in gross calories versus metabolizable calories due to the differences in the thermic effect of food. For example, 100 calories of chicken breast versus 100 calories of coca cola are NOT the same, not just due to nutritional value, but the chicken has a higher thermic effect so not all the calories are metabolizable. – in that sense a calorie is not just a calorieFoods differ due to food form. liquid calories are less satiating than solid calories – and solid protein calories in particular are highly appetite suppressing, in that sense a calorie is not just a calorieHOWEVER…. once you adjust for fiber, food form, macronutrients (especially protein) and you match calorie for calorie, then from an energy balance and fat loss point of view, a metabolizable (net) calorie IS just a calorie,It drives the rigid clean eating people bats**t crazy to even think that a calorie metabolized from coca cola will have the same impact on energy balance and fat loss / fat gain as a metabolized calorie from say, brown rice…. but its true, and you’ll be hard pressed to find a tightly controlled (metabolic ward) research study that proves otherwise.Also, re-read rule #3. Are you saying that you wont lose weight in a calorie deficit just because you ate a donut? Think about it.

  • John Jenkins

    Hi Tom, I’m a 47 yr old weight trainer, (been hitting iron for best part of 30 yrs) I recently purchased yr e book and it was like a revelation! My weight has dropped 3 stone and I’ve finally got my abs back up after all these yrs! Only down side is I need a new wardrobe! But hey I’m over the moon Tom and the cardio advice really makes sense!!

  • alexis

    I’m completely blown away by the chaos the diet and food industries have inflicted on the American public. To the point we can’t do something as fundamental as feeding ourselves without expert advice.The media puppets put up some one foot in the grave anorexic as the poster child for the evil side effects of clean eating? The woman in the clip in pt. 1 of this series obviously has a much bigger problem than lettuce leaves.What started as a way of preserving food for armies has turned into something as insidious as credit cards. If you shun eating out of cans, boxes, freezers, or refuse to get into your pre-calculated portion of debt, ohhh, suspicious. Breach of the accepted lifestyle.How about the definition of clean food and the acceptable ratio of participation being — how much rat and insect droppings, industrial solvent, enzyme destroying heat, etc. do I want in my diet. 50%? 20%? You are right about ppl who frequent McBurger need their heads examined. I honestly don’t believe we do rather than them.Ppl passing judgment on weightlifters? If controlling body fat is part of the sport and there is a definite way to do that… ? I don’t get the criticism. No one would tell one of the Lakers they have a mental disorder because they practise everyday.I love your blogs. I love you balance and flexibility. And, I love the fact you don’t apologise to imbeciles for your sport and all it entails. I’m not a pro or a novice. Just someone who wants to get back to a state of pre-brainwash. My mom put me on a diet when I was 6. She wanted an ecto, but was stuck with an endo/meso. I’m a mixed up mess of diet lies, but at least I’m cynical enough to know it.

  • James Scott Murphy

    I love this article Tom. This is such a balanced article and embodies the eating lifestyle I have adapted. Now that I have learned to manage my calories, I can have such a wider variety of foods, including occasional hotdogs,pizza and such. I have come to realize how much I eat is always at least as important as what I eat.Thanks again for another fantastic article!James (also know as Scott)

  • Audrey Samz

    Oh Tom I just love you. 🙂 You are practical, logical and so wise. You never fail to remind me that moderation, balance and simple common sense answer so many questions. Thank you for reminding me always that it’s the journey not the destination.

  • Gary

    I been bodybuilding for 19 years. And when I’m cutting I generally go with a clean diet. I have to control what goes in during a cutting phase. I retain a lot of water and sodium is a big problem. Just take a look at anything pre packaged and see how much sodium is in it.! I see nothing wrong with eating clean 90% of the time. Or even more. Once we all ate clean when we didn’t have factories mass producing foods jammed with garbage we don’t need in them. But that was back in the little house on the prairie days. But I will say thank God for a good pizza and a beer.

  • Hi TomI have struggled with an eating disorder since my late teens, and I am now 51. I really did my best with intuitive eating; read the most quoted authors, attended an intuitive eating course at an eating disorders clinic. Wish I’d encountered you first. Intuitive eating is chaos theory for many of us.I can’t tell you what a difference it has made in my life to eat 5 times per day, and include about 20 g of protein per meal. The security of having my meals planned and the right foods in the fridge, plus having stable blood sugar, feels like a miracle cure! And not a short-lived one. I can’t remember my last binge, and this is unheard-of for me.Thank you.

  • Tom,First I’ve never thanked you for the BFFM book and what it has done for me so THANK YOU!More on this I am one of those people who gets stuck and feel guilty. Thanks for relieving me of it. Every X-Mass my wife makes fudge, and I was dreading it. I always called it “Cheating”, now I will call those off days few and far between “free days”. Your book works for me and I went from 23% fat to 17.9% , 11 lbs fat loss and 4 pound more of LBM totaling 7 lbs in weight loss in just over a 1 1/2 months.Thanks agian, Randy

  • Lucille

    Thank you, Tom.I was eating clean & getting junk out of my system. I lost weight but knew I could have lost more in the same amount oftime if I had been eating less.Bad habits for too many years. But taking it in steps. Now I am ready to eat less but clean most of the time.Glad you are here for us!

  • Gerry Latopolski

    Very good sound advise. Nothing complicated about it. Thanks, Gerry

  • Wendy

    I’ve notice a new craze, raw foods and vegan. I see people losing a lot of weight, but are they healthy ?

  • Karina

    Tom,This post is too “CLEAN” …you leave no room for argument!-Karina (:

  • Rosa Yazmin

    This article is one of the best yet. I have fallen into that trap myself manny times. I don’t lose weight easily regardless. But, I eat almost everything I like. But, not every day, or all day long. The most important thing here is: calories in and calories out! I want to look good… but I also want joy in my life… Deprivation or extremism make people angry and snappy. Eat and get moving… that’s my motto.

  • Aramide

    Wow!! So so CLEAN!

  • Nicky

    Hi TomI would like to put some of your info on my blogOf couser I would send people over to your blog for more infoWould that be OKNicky SehgalBody Fitness Personal Training

  • HI Nicky, you are welcome to reprint parts of or all of this article. if you reprint more than a short excerpt, then please simply inlude the by line (by tom venuto) and a link back to my site http://www.burnthefatblog.com or http://www.burnthefat.com (or both)cheers!tom

  • Tracey

    Thank you for this article Tom!I’d love to see more like this.I have kept off 60lbs over the past 7 years and recently felt bad that I wasn’t yet an “Intuitive Eater”.I find that weighing and planning meals keeps me accountable. I actually enjoy it!Thank you for reassuring me there isn’t anything wrong with not embracing “Intuitive Eating”.

  • Kirk

    Tom,Really enjoyed your post. I believe whole heartedly in your needing some structure but not taking it so far you can’t comply. So far it’s worked well as I’ve gone from 200 lbs. at 20% body fat on July 26th to 188 lbs. at 12% last time I measured it on October 18th.Kirk

  • Matt Mignone

    Eating Clean also has negative connotations like Cheat meals.Don’t get me wrong I have gone through struggles eating my plain chicken breast and brown rice, but for the most part I mix it up with whole foods with changing up the spices and my meals are satisfying and taste good.Question: How can we rephrase cleaning eating that does not represent boring and uninspiring food?

  • Peter

    Absolutely superb article, it sums up everything I’ve personally learned about diet and health in the last few years on one page. I think everyone should read this and understand it.I also think a lot can be summed up in the simple rule of “eat REAL food”. A lot of people don’t comprehend that about 90% of what you see in the supermarket is not actually real food. And they have warped ideas about what is “healthy”, for example breakfast cereals that have around 1,600 kJ/100 grams and a ton of sugar added.By eating real food it’s actually quite difficult to end up with a calorie surplus because in general real food isn’t as calorie-dense as artificial food and is more satiating as well as more nutritious.Better stop there before I get too carried away…Thanks Tom!

  • Angie

    Check Huffington Post 11.1.09–Junk food stimulates the same pleasure centers in the brain as heroin, creates tolerance, and may leave permanent changes.This means literal abstinence and detox for some of us.

  • Ian

    Best reason I can think of for having a couple or three beers during football season!

  • David

    Tom,I too want to thank you for both of your books, they have been a great help and comfort to me. And this artical just prooves how simple it can be. When I started my health conversion last November I was doing the body for life program, somehow I came accross your ebook and then followed your program, I then purchased your 2nd book body fat solution and have not looked back. I have lost 95 lbs in 11 months, I have another 50 lbs to go. You make it so simple, don’t get me wrong its been hard work to get to this point but its worth it. When I look back I just can’t beleive I let myself go for so long. Thanks for all you do.

  • Excellent information Tom !Common sense…so hard to find these days !Thanks

  • Fantastic read as usual Tom. I consistently refer back to your emails, articles to send to my clients as it’s hard to find a more thoroughly researched and well worded source of useful information.I like the use of the word “free meal” instead of cheat meal as often even the smallest change of words can alter how it is received and of course acted on.Not sure if you have seen or heard anything by Bill Bartmann, US billionaire businessman, but he uses the word “promise” instead of “goal” in his audio program Nine Steps To Achieve Any Goal, that you can get for free from his website (www.billbartmann.com). I have actually used this in conjuction with your BFFM goal setting and it works a treat.Hope it is of some use.Kind regards,Clayton WebberPersonal Trainer | Adelaide Australia

  • Jacqui

    Thanks for writing this article – it’s very informative. I know so many people, (particularly overly-fanatic vegetarians) who think that the way they eat is the only way everyone should be eating. They constantly tell me I shouldn’t eat meat at all because it’s “bad for me”, but I know from experience that I can’t be vegetarian without putting myself at risk of serious effects to my health.In 2007, a friend of mine had to go on a strict vegan diet for a year because of several complicated health problems. I decided to support her by being vegetarian for the same length of time she had to be vegan. About 6 months in, I became very ill and found that there were no improvements over time.It turns out I have a particular type of anaemia that prevents my body from absorbing the non-haem iron found in vegetables. I had the option of taking large amounts of various supplements, or add meat back into my diet. I started eating meat again (admittedly, in much smaller amounts than I did before), and within a couple of weeks I was back to being in reasonable health.After explaining this to my fanatic-vegetarian friends, they still tell me I should cut all meat from my diet because it is “unclean” and “wrong”. Somehow, they’ve figured that me being on a complex supplement plan that has its own set of side-effects is better for me than eating meat that naturally has iron that I can absorb.Again, thanks for the article. It’s well worth reading.

  • Lee

    Reminds me of the time my son (in 2nd grade at the time), was practically shunned in class because he told them he had pumpkin pie for breakfast. I told him 2 things. 1. These are kids who are eating “sugar-coated plastic for breakfast cereal; and 2. next time, tell them you had a yellow vegetable, milk, eggs and cereal grain with a small amount of sugar and fat for breakfast. (The pie was homemade and I knew EXACTLY what was in it).

  • This was some of the most sensible advice regarding the matter I read in a long time, Tom.

    You are exactly right: “intuitively” eating is what got many people fat in the first place.

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