October 10th, 2009

Orthorexia and The New Rules of Clean Eating – Part 1

Clean eating has no official definition, but it’s usually described as avoiding processed foods, chemicals, preservatives and artificial ingredients. Instead, clean eaters choose natural foods, the way they came out of the ground or as close to their natural form as possible. Vegetables, fruits, legumes, 100% whole grains, egg whites, fish, and chicken breast are clean eating staples. Clean eating appears to be a desirable, sensible, even noble goal. Eating clean is what we should all strive to do to achieve optimum health and body composition isn’t it? Arguably the answer is mostly yes, but more and more people today are asking, “is it possible to take clean eating too far?”

clean_eating_smPhysician Steven Bratman thinks so. In 1997, Bratman was the first to put a name to an obsession with healthy eating, calling it orthorexia nervosa. In his book, Health Food Junkies, Bratman said that whether they are trying to lose weight or not, orthorexics are preoccupied with eating healthy food and avoiding anything artificial or “toxic.”

Orthorexics are not only fanatical about eating the purest, healthiest, most nutritious (aka “clean”) foods available, says Bratman, they often feel a sense of righteousness in doing so.

Whether orthorexia should be officially classified as an eating disorder is controversial. The term appears in pub med indexed scientific journals, but it’s not listed in the DSM-IV as are anorexia and bulimia. Opponents wonder, “Since when did choosing a lifestyle that eliminates junk food become a disease?”

Media coverage and internet discussions about orthorexia have increased in the past year. John Stossel did a segment on 20-20 (ABC) last year and websites such as The Mayo Clnic, the Huffington Post and the UK-based Guardian added their editorials into the mix in recent months, alongside dozens of individual bloggers.

In most cases, mainstream media discussions of orthorexia have focused on far extremes of health food practices such as raw foodism, detox dieting or 100% pure organic eating, where some folks would rather starve to death than eat a cooked or pesticide-exposed vegetable. In fact, some people do, as was revealed in a Television special on 20-20.

But closer to my home, what about the bodybuilding, fitness, figure and physique crowd? Should we be included in this discussion?

In their quest for adding muscle mass and burning fat, many fitness and physique enthusiasts become obsessed with eating only the “cleanest” foods possible. Like the natural health enthusiasts, physique athletes usually avoid all processed foods and put entire food groups on the “forbidden” list. Oddly, that sometimes includes rules such as “you must cut out fruit on precontest diets” because “fruit is high in sugar” or “fructose turns to fat”.

According to Bratman’s criteria, one could argue that almost every competitive bodybuilder or physique athlete is automatically orthorexic, and they might add obsessive-compulsive and neurotic for good measure.

As you can imagine, (being a bodybuilder), I have mixed feelings about that.

If I choose to set a rule for myself that I’ll limit my junk food to only 10% of my meals, does that make me orthorexic or is that a prudent health decision?

If I plan my menus on a spreadsheet, am I a macronutrient micromanager or am I detail-oriented?

If I make my meals in advance for the day ahead, does that mean I’m obsessive compulsive, or am I prepared?

If I make one of my high protein vanilla apple cinnamon oatmeal pancakes (one of my favorite portable clean food recipes) and take it with me on a flight because I don’t want to eat airline food, am I neurotic? Or am I perhaps, the smartest guy on the plane?

Some folks are probably shaking their heads and saying, “you bodybuilders are definitely OCD.” I prefer to call it dedicated, thank you, but perhaps we are obsessive, at least a wee bit before competitions. But aren’t all competitive athletes, to some degree, at the upper levels of most sports?

Athletes of all kinds – not just bodybuilders – take their nutrition and training regimens far beyond what the “average Joe” or “average soccer mom” would require to stay healthy and fit.

What if you don’t want to be average – what if you want to be world class? What then? Is putting hours of practice a day into developing a skill or discipline an obsessive-compulsive disorder too?

Okay, now that I’ve defended the strict lifestyle habits of the muscle-head brother and sisterhood, let me address the flipside: being too strict.

Where does the average health and bodyweight-concerned fitness enthusiast draw the line? How clean should you eat? Do you need lots of structure and planning in your eating habits, or as Lao Tzu, the Chinese philosopher said, does making too many rules only create more rule-breakers?

Debates have started flaring up over these questions and as inconceivable as it seems, there has actually been somewhat of a backlash against “clean eating.” Why would THAT possibly happen? Eating “clean” is eating healthy, right? Eating clean is a good thing, right?

Well, almost everyone agrees that it’s ok to have a “cheat meal” occasionally, but some experts – after watching how many people are becoming neurotic about food – are now clamoring to point out that it’s not necessary to be so strict.

The diet pendulum has apparently swung from:

“Eat a balanced diet with a wide variety of foods you enjoy.”


“You MUST eat clean!”


“Go ahead and eat as much junk as you want, as long as you watch your calories and get your essential nutrients like protein, essential fats, vitamins and minerals.”

Talk about confusion! Now we’ve got people who gain great pride and a sense of dedication and accomplishment for taking up a healthy, clean-eating lifestyle and we’ve got people who thumb their nose at clean eating and say, “Chill out bro! Live a little!”

The current debate about how clean you should eat (or how much you should “cheat”) reminds me of the recent arguments over training methods such as steady state versus HIIT cardio. Whatever the debate of the day, most people seem to have a really difficult time acknowledging that there’s a middle ground.

Most dieters, when they don’t like a certain philosophy, reject it entirely and flip to its polar opposite. Most dieters are dichotomous thinkers, always viewing their endeavors as all or nothing. Most dieters are also joiners, plugging into one of the various diet tribes and gaining their sense of identity by belonging.

In some cases, I think these tribes are more like cults, as people follow guru-like leaders who pass down health and nutrition commandments that are followed with religious conviction. Seriously. The parallels of diet groups to religious groups can be downright scary sometimes.

Whether the goal is to optimize health, to build muscle or to burn fat, there’s little doubt that many individuals with all kinds of different motivations sometimes take their dietary restrictions to extremes. Obviously, an overly restrictive diet can lead to nutrient deficiencies and can adversely affect health, energy and performance.

In some cases, I can also see how swinging to any extreme, even a “healthy obsession” with pure food could lead to distorted views and behaviors that border on eating disorders. If you don’t believe it’s a real clinical psychological problem, then at the very least, you might agree that nutritional extremes could mean restricting social activities, creating inconvenience or making lifestyle sacrifices that are just not necessary.

I believe there’s a middle ground – a place where we can balance health and physique with a lifestyle and food plan we love and enjoy. Even more important, I believe that your middle ground may not be the same as mine. We all must find our own balance.

I believe that going back to BALANCE, but this time with a better definition of what balance means, is the approach of the future.

I also believe that some new rules would help us find that balance.

What do you think? Can you eat “too clean?” If so, is that a disorder if you’re physically fit and healthy? Share your thoughts on what you just read in part one and I’ll be back to post my list of new clean eating rules in Part Two

Tom Venuto, author of:
Burn The Fat Feed The Muscle & The Body Fat Solution

Founder & CEO,
Burn The Fat Inner Circle

About Tom

Tom Venuto is a fat loss expert, lifetime natural (steroid-free) bodybuilder, certified personal trainer, freelance writer, and author of the #1 best selling diet e-book, Burn The Fat, Feed The Muscle: Fat-Burning Secrets of The World’s Best Bodybuilders & Fitness Modelsand The Body Fat Solution. Tom is also the founder and CEO of the Internet’s premier fitness support community for inspiration, motivation and transformation, the: Burn The Fat Inner Circle.

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114 Responses to “Orthorexia and The New Rules of Clean Eating – Part 1”

  • This is very well said, Tom. I find myself confused a lot about what to eat and how to work out. It’s almost as if the more information I have the more confused I get. I’ve dedicated myself to sorting through this for myself … and… It’s confusing.For example, I started training for a 1/2 marathon because I’ve never done one. After years of hearing ‘no steady state cardio,’ I like the way my body is changing – getting longer, leaner. Go figure.The middle way is the way that will work for me. Thanks again.

  • At last, some commonsense on a complicated subject. In a world of extremes, particularly bodybuilding, it’s great to hear the voice of reason talking sense and sensabilities, not only about diet and nutrition but also about training. It is all about balance.

  • TJ

    People look for rules for the express purpose that “balance” is often so hard to achieve.So many people speak of balance, but then when you observe their actual behaviors, they are anything but balanced. People talk about avoiding becoming a social recluse and not being worried about eating some “junk” from time to time, but then when they give you an estimation of what once in a while is, it ends up being as if you were a recluse anyway.And given what ingredients come along for the ride when attempting to dine out and at least roughly approximate what you might make for yourself, it is hard not to become somewhat neurotic. Heck, unless you plan to “cheat,” going out and working around a menu just to be out and social is not any different (in terms of being viewed as more extreme) than packing most of your food and bringing it along.The vast majority of what I make at home for myself would not be had in any restaurant, or at least it would become more of a hassle to get something close than to just order whatever is on the menu and chalk it up as a cheat meal.And eventually it boils down to this…………………if you never plan, you’re always left making due with whatever is available, which is a tricky proposition. But once you get used to planning, it can become increasingly difficult to remember how to “wing it” once in a while for some mental and dietary “relief.” And discounting a very small percentage of true cheat meals where “anything goes,” it seems almost ridiculous to go out and pay restaurant prices just to work around a menu for the sake of being out and about. Heck, I think I’d rather eat beforehand, and then pay a few bucks for a place setting just so I could sit with friends rather than dance around a menu because this sauce is full of things that might make a chemistry major blush when reading it or because the meat supposedly came from a grain-fed, antibiotic-injected cow, or fill in the bank and what have you.If anything, it is easier for someone who is used to saying anything goes to make a handful of healthy choices here and there than it is for someone who has shifted to “clean eating” to re-learn how to loosen the reigns…………………..this is both a mixed blessing, because the very habits that can yield a great physique that is as healthy on the inside as it looks on the outside can also make for very difficult times in today’s world depending upon where you find yourself. Planning solves everything, as far as maintaining your habits is concerned. But the flip side of that is singling yourself out most of the time because of those very habits.Ultimately you have people who see in black and white and those who see in shades of gray. And if you happen to see in black and white, then it becomes a monumental task when wanting to switch things back onto auto-pilot for a while. As for those who see in shades of gray, a willingness to loosen the reigns can become quite the tightrope act, as you’re only a few steps in either direction from becoming black and white yourself or falling so far off the wagon that moderation turns to gluttony.I’m all for taking as balanced an approach as you can possibly take, in all things. But unfortunately, food is one of those areas where picking a side for the most part often seems easier than trying to balance the scales. I often find myself somewhat jealous of the days when a man had to go out and gather his food or hunt an animal and didn;t think twice about a whole host of factors. He was too busy “just being” to worry about details!

  • Jennifer Riely

    Loved this post Tom!You know I found you through Leigh Peele’s blog just recently and I love the idea of balance so much. Leigh preaches that a lot and now reading this I am FINALLY starting to get it through my head that the years of killing myself trying to be SO strict was the wrong way to go. I am so glad to finally have these resources and to confirm that I am not crazy for what I was feeling all along but ignored. Thank you, thank you.

  • Rob

    Very well said, I believe as society we have because obsessvie to some degree because we love to marry methods particularly in this country. What I mean by that is we see something and immediately take it as gospel because far to often we don’t read and do little home work to determine if in fact that is best for us.

  • I think we think and talk too much about food. It’s such a preoccupation. What did our ancestors eat 100 years ago? Real foods – fresh veggies, fruits, pasture-raised animals, free-range chicken/eggs, real butter/cheese, home-baked breads, etc. – not all the plastic foods we have today. When did eating become so complicated and discussed? We don’t obsess about the air we breathe every day – it’s just a natural process. So should eating be, no? But it’s not (sigh) thanks too all the mixed media and companies pushing products to make a dime.

  • Tom, I used to believe the notion that I had to “eat clean bro” in order to get big and lean. Today, thanks to Lyle McDonald, I know what a load of crap that is.The ONLY things you need to build muscle are sufficient calories, protein, carbohydrates to support the training, and sufficient training stimulus. You can eat bagels, kiddie cereal, pixie sticks. It does not matter if those objectives are met.The ONLY things you need to lose fat and keep muscle are a calorie deficit, sufficient protein to maintain lean mass, and a training stimulus to preserve muscle, such as low rep high intensity strength training.The idea that certain foods are better than others in improving body composition is NONSENSE. Calories, protein, carbs, fat. Doesn’t matter where they come from. Sorry.Of course, getting big and lean is not necessarily synonymous with optimal health but that’s not what we’re talking about here anyway.

  • barry, you wrote Of course, getting big and lean is not necessarily synonymous with optimal health but that’s not what we’re talking about here anyway. We most certainly ARE talking about health! Pursuing body comp changes with no concern for health is not very smart, and once health starts to deteriorate, does that not have the potential to negatively affect body composition?that is one of the questions raised here — how much nutrient dense, natural food, should one eat to achieve optimal health, and also optimal energy and performance (mentall and physically). How much can one relax and enjoy “junk” food and still remain healthy?theres is a surprising (to some people) amount of truth in what you said – I’ve known bodybuilders who eat at fast food restaurants daily and they get huge and strong. I know endurance athletes who eat utter crap because they almost HAVE to in order to cover their huge energy expenditure. I also know people who eat FAR from 100% clean, not even 90%, but they lose fat, no problem – because they count calories or at least are aware of portion sizes . I took “cheat” meals myself (pizza, et) during my last contest prep and still logged in at 4.5% body fat on show day.A metabolizable calorie is just a calorie from an energy balance point of view.Stay in a calorie deficit and you can still get ripped. I didn’t question that. but that doesnt mean eating a lot of junk food is a good idea. Dont forget also, that its much easier to overeat on refined foods, sugar and foods that contain both sugar and fat (many typical junk foods). For people who dont track calories carefully, eating a lot of processed food is not just unhealthy, it very easily leads to calorie surplus – in fact that is clearly a major contributor to the obesity crisis today – not just the processed food per se, but the processed food eaten without awareness or tracking of calories. Also, some foods DO affect fat loss more than others – a major change in macro ratios from low protein and refined carbs to very high protein and higher fiber carbs can affect energy balance two ways: greater energy expenditure and reduced energy intake via reduced appetiteI think we can certainly relax our diets a bit and forget about trying to eat 100% clean, but also we have to be careful not to oversimplify some of the complex interactions between body composition, health, appetite and energy balance

  • Vanessa

    My husband and I sometimes get put-down by fat people people who are eating junk like burgers and cookies, etc. They say we are obsessed with food because we eat vegetables and don’t cheat at every meal. They are taking their frustration with their own failures to eat well out on us!And then when I do cheat, they make a huge fuss over that, too! It’s all I can do not to attack back and sneer at their food choices.It really bothered me when my mom and her sisters all asked me if I was anarexic (at 140 pounds 5’6″!) but now my mom is asking me for diet advice so that she can get healthier.So, hang in there! When people are ready to change, they will know that they can talk to that weird clean-eating fitness-buff who has always been so nice.

    • Karina Cerda


  • Hi Tom,Excellent point. I was just thinking about something similar this morning when I received your email. There are many problems with our modern processed diet. Science is indeed aware of many of them, yet this information is never given to the consumer.It should be, but the good news is that human beings have a way of finding out things when they really want to. The downside is that it means that good eating and support for good health is a responsibility that each of us make take up for ourselves.-David

  • Very interesting points. I’ve often wondered about this myself. I do wish they’d stop labeling “disorders” so frequently, though. Jeez.Here’s to all of us finding happiness in our own “middle grounds.”Best,Sunny

  • ItsTheWooo

    Most people with so called pathological orthorexia actually have anorexia nervosa. The individuals int he 20/20 clip actually have a long history of anorexia nervosa, and for them, the orthorexia is a step in the healthier direction (sad as that is). 20/20 did not mention this because they are sensationalist idiots.It should be mentioned the only time that orthorexia becomes pathological is when one already has anorexia, or when the food purifying behaviors turn into anorexia (i.e. they refuse to eat enough calories to maintain a healthy weight because of neurotic obsessive fears). The DSM criteria for anorexia do not necessarily indicate that a desire to lose weight be present. All that needs to be present is some level of denial about body weight, and the dangerousness of their weight and eating behavior.So, basically, orthorexia is redundant with anorexia nervosa. The only time so called orthorexia is pathological is when one meets the criteria for anorexia nervosa or perhaps EDNOS (i.e. weight or amenorrhea criterion not met). There is no need for an orthorexia diagnosis, other than to make people who eat dunkin donuts feel better about themselves.I also want to mention that anorexia nervosa has very, very little to do with body weight and a desire to be thin. These are justifications for compulsive starving behaviors – the starving is the primary goal. It is a disorder related to depression and OCD. If you starve animals, such as pigs, they develop anorexia nervosa symptomology (compulsive activity and refusal of food). The disease is triggered by stress and other causes of accidental/harmless/nonpathological energy deficits (e.g. exercise, activity, dieting, or yes, going on a healthy diet). Once the energy deficit starts, in people with anorexia nervosa, they are vulnerable to enter into an obsessive compulsive feedback loop of self starvation and gratification from it that they have very little control to stop.It has NOTHING to do with wanting to be thin, even if their mind is telling them this. Obsession with weight is a socially appropriate modern confabulation for the behavior. In decades past it was pious observance or other socially acceptable reasons not to eat.Orthorexia is not a real disease.Anorexia is. And all orthorexia falls under the diagnostic criterion for either anorexia or EDNOS.I am tired of hearing about it.

  • James

    Tom,Great article. It makes me think of something you said about extremes and how going to any extreme results in some consequences. I agree that it is a personal choice to find a middle ground or balance between extremes. I try to respect each person’s decision in how they eat. The red flag for me is, whatever the nutritional methodology is, does it become harmful or adversely affect a persons well being in any way. My wife overcame a severe eating disorder while in her 20’s. Our approach is that we allow ourselves to eat whatever we want, as long as we feel that the proper nutrition is there overall and it does not create an extreme situation. I think balance is the key.thanks again for another great postJames

  • Ah, the voice of reason! Long may it prevail.Tom, it’s hard to believe that people would purposely eat things that do not contribute to their goals. As you have so eloquently pointed out, it isn’t necessary to always avoid (say) Almond Joy’s. But it’s clearly a poor nutritional decision to make them one of your staples.Where some people probably go wrong is a failure to have goals beyond avoiding processed foods. If a person is striving for nothing more than that, it’s no wonder they get extreme! After all, that’s a pretty extreme goal.What they really need to ask themselves is whether or not that is a goal worth pursuing. I never plan to enter a contest; I haven’t been hairless since about third grade, and I’m in no hurry to change that! But, I am determined to be in good health and NEVER be fat again.Your BFFM program has given me the tools to reach this goal and to do it while still leading a balanced life! It’s almost like you anticipated all these issues back when you wrote the course. . .

  • itsthewooo wrote:Most people with so called pathological orthorexia actually have anorexia nervosa. The individuals int he 20/20 clip actually have a long history of anorexia nervosa.That was the FIRST thing that popped into my mind when I watched the 20-20 clip — “that guy is anorexic”

  • Wow, what a great post! balance is such an important key, not just with food but with mind, body and spirit. sounds cliche but right mind and value of that which is greater than you certainly puts the physical in perspective. As Bruce Lipton discusses in his work, it is the signals that impact the cell structure, which includes not only nutrient but the emotional environment that envelopes our body.

  • JanW

    No, it’s not a disorder, because clean eating generates health.No, I don’t “feel a sense of righteousness,” I feel like a freak, but I’m committed to a healthy lifestyle. It’s a personal decision to do the right thing…it’s part of my character. I refuse to be a victim of America’s food industry, which profits (like tobacco companies) from making people unhealthy. It may sound like righeousness to some people, but it’s really just reasonable.Yes, I avoid social situations where I must “out” myself (e.g., food orgies, like Thanksgiving). I don’t view that as unhealthy behavior, I feel like it’s smart. And, I don’t begrudge anyone else for enjoying themselves (I have my own vices). I can’t help it if they feel guilty/threatened, by my behaivor. However, I absolutely refuse to accept ther label of “disordered.” If it’s a mental illness to be healthy, then lock me up!

  • Vanessa

    Lilla said “Real foods – fresh veggies, fruits, pasture-raised animals, free-range chicken/eggs, real butter/cheese, home-baked breads, etc.”Isn’t it sad how hard we have to work to find and eat that real food! You have to have a passion for quality food. That can look like obession to people who get their nuitrition info from commercials.

  • Christine

    I honestly have become so frustrated that for a while I just completely gave up. I used to be a “foodie” and now I can’t even stand the thought of grocery shopping much less cooking. With three kids, a business and going to school full time it is just too time consuming to plan meals that only I will be eating. I wish I didn’t have to worry about it at all…..

  • Tom thanks for the reply. My big problem with “eating clean” is that people take it too far. LOTS of body builders eat clean all the time. Furthermore their definition of “clean food” is arbitrary and unscientific. How many bodybuilders do you know that won’t eat plain old pasta? Or a plain bagel? Everything for them has to be whole wheat. White flour baked goods are supposedly from the devil. Sure, whole wheat foods have more nutritional value but whole wheat pasta, as an example, tastes awful.My philosophy is not “don’t eat this, don’t eat that”, rather it’s “be sure to eat this, be sure to eat that”. So while I enjoy some kiddie cereal a few times a week, I also eat a lot of oatmeal and eggs for breakfasts. Anyway, gotta run. Thanks for the great post.

    • Guest

      I would respectfully counter that the whole wheat pasta thing is a matter of opinion. I didn’t care for it much at first, but now I love it. I started by mixing it half & half with regular pasta, then gradually came to prefer its heartier texture & flavor. Regular pasta now tastes wimpy and limp to me. LOL. Also, it helps a lot to mix the pasta with plenty of veggies & a protein source like chicken breast, so you’re not just eating a big lump of pasta.

      That said, I will occasionally eat regular bagels or pasta, but I’ve truly come to enjoy the whole grain versions better. Tastes DO change! 😉

  • Deliana

    Of course it is always possible to take something too far. Personally I feel there aren’t enough people who really care about what they eat. The ones that really kill me are the ones who say “If these artificial ingredients were really bad, then the government wouldn’t allow these products to be sold”, to which my reply always is “The government allows the sale of cigarettes… What does that tell you?”.Everybody has the right to decide what they are willing to eat. Just because there are a few people who overdo it doesn’t mean the rest of us have an eating disorder. If you cut down on your food intake, does that automatically make you an anorexic?? Only if you take it to the extreme!Yes, people look at me as if I have 2 heads when I read labels or ask about ingredients in the food they offer, but so be it. Read your labels, make your decisions, the less artificial crap gets sold, the more companies are going to change to follow the demand. Just don’t fall for shallow catch phrases on the front of the labels: read the fine print!

  • Hello there Tom,Love the newsletter, love the info…I have studied a great deal on food and the psychology of it… and yes, it can be taken too far. I think the difference becomes when it is obsessed and takes over your life… if you think about the criteria for an addiction (like alcohol, etc)…and apply that to health habits that is where the problem comes. So thinking about things that showcase this as a “control issue”… like obsessing over health as a way to avoid other life issues, problems etc…and taking it to an extreme like if 1/2 is good, 1/4 could be better and then none. Questions like:”Would I be alright having someone else make my food?” (this strikes fear and anxiety in folks with a problem or orthorexia)”Can I be ok if my “plan” is messed up?” (again anxious producing in problems)And the list goes on, but I think many people do have borderline eating disorders or disordered eating. We do need to keep ourselves in check and really think about what else is going on if things become an obsession. Like, am I happy? Am I upset? Am I trying to avoid things, in denial, dealing with guilt, shame, anger, etc.I hope this helps a little and I look forward to part IIclaire

  • Back to basics…making my own yogurt, kefir, granola, canned tomatoes, fruits and herbs from the garden, and making almost everything from scratch. It is not so time consuming as you would think, as many things can be made a day or two ahead with careful planning. I buy only fresh veggies except for frozen peas and corn. I make my own “bagged salad” from fresh produce and pick from that during the week. I do freeze some fish and poultry and meats, but try to use fresh when I can. Leaving out the cheesy and oily sauces is key for me, and when I make tomato sauce I use almost no oil, same for lentil soup nada. It still tastes great with fresh herbs and/or dried for flavor. I use an olive oil “sprayer/mister” to keep oil low.

  • jerry

    Great article. I think body fat % is the underlying concern of all health nuts. Myself included. I compare a person who eats Clean to lower his or her body fat with a person who eats carefully but doesn’t go to the extreme. Although the first may havea bf % under 10 the latter looks healthier to me.Every person must find his own happy medium.Jerry

  • great article. However why did you say egg whites not eggs? Egg yolks are the healthiest part of the egg. Saturated fat or cholesterol are not bad for you. Polyunsaturated fat is. And remember that fat brings satiety to diet. It also helps keep blood sugar levels even and is easier on the liver than protein. Markku

  • Markku, thats exactly the point – egg WHITES are usually what shows up on “clean eating” food lists, not egg yolks, as if egg yolks are “bad” or forbidden. I eat an egg yolk or two every day. However, there is a bit more to why so many bodybuilders and fitness enthusiasts eat mostly egg whites. see my previous blog post on egg whites versus whole eggs for more info.

  • I think most people don’t have balance when it comes to food. Leigh Peele really taught me a lot about balance and I was able to lose when I at least followed my calorie counts.What I find interesting is the bodybuilding/figure competitors on some some of the boards who will “eat clean” for the duration on the competition season and then go on huge junk food/alcohol binges in the off season. I don’t see how that can be healthy or balanced. To me that seems to be disordered eating and it’s one of the reasons why I limit my time on particular boards.

  • Diane

    I eat clean with a few cheat meals each week. When out with friends I have those cheat meals and I don’t worry about the food I eat (other than it being vegetarian as I don’t eat meat).Barry, sorry but I disagree, Whole Wheat pasta tastes great. The fact is that the food industry progressively has made the food we eat taste more sugary, more sweet and more full of chemicals for the sake of our health. Pasta isn’t meant to be white, nor is flour but in an effort to ‘refine’ it we’ve taken out the nutritional benefits, and then sometimes the food processors add the vitamins/minerals back into the food in chemical form! The mind boggles? Seriously!Great article Tom! Thanks!

  • XForce69

    At least for me, i have a pretty balanced diet, i eat like 1kg per day of just veggies like broccoli,asparagus, lettuce, tomatoes, green beans, spinach, etc…, but at the same time i eat some ice cream, cookies, or just whatever i want.But even if there no differences in bodycomposition when you eat clean o junk food if you stick with your kcals, and macros.There is a big advantage with unprocessed and clean foods,1)A lot more satiety and energy trough more time2)0 Hypoglycemic or big fluctuations of sugar in the blood3)You can eat almost infinite green veggies and you will never get fat4)They contain a lot of vitamins, minerals, etc….5)You definitely will live longerAnd i can made a big list of benefits of clean eating vs junk foodBut just like i said, i love all types of foods so i eat of whatever i want but i have always my veggies because i really like em.

  • Christine

    As Granny used to say EVERYTHING in moderation!! Find a happy medium with your workouts and your food and stop letting them control your lives.

  • Paula wroteWhat I find interesting is the bodybuilding/figure competitors on some of the boards who will “eat clean” for the duration on the competition season and then go on huge junk food/alcohol binges in the off season. I don’t see how that can be healthy or balanced. To me that seems to be disordered eating…great point. I have seen MANY competitors eat ONE HUNDRED PERCENT CLEAN for 12-16 weeks on pre contest diet, followed by the most monumental binges and almost mind bogglingly fast weight re-gain.i wouldnt call that balance either.

  • gary kaposta

    Practicality is an important component of any long term strategy. At one time,the average lifespan was 25 years. This was before any chemical additives or processed foods even existed. Good nutrition will result in improved health…perfect nutrition will be unattainable for the vast majority of people with a contemporary lifestyle.I read where a certain Doctor with a large internet following/newsletter carries organic eggs with him when he flies to various places. I am a 60+ year old Masters bodybuilding competitor and to me that level of compulsion borders on madness.The mixed function oxidase enzyme system in the liver will compensate for most chemicals and environmental pollutants. TFA’s compromise this function so stay away from hydrogenated oils at all costs.Stomach acid will destroy BGH and yet we continue to see protein powders brag about BGH free product. Eat foods that spoil quickly and supplement with quality multi’s and get a little exercise…that is a program that the masses can and should incorporate into their daily lives.

  • David

    Tom,Great article and great responses. I would say, having been a professional illustrator for many years, that many normal people would view my dedication and focus on being the best artist I can be as an obsession. I think any person who strives toward a goal of being the best at something could be considered obsessive compulsive. But, it is just another way for people to be critical of those of us who stand out from and above the rest of the crowd.On your program I have acheived 10% bodyfat–does that make me obsessed? After all, the medical community says that bodyfat of 16% to 25% is “ideal” for a man my age. Am I strict? I don’t think so. I frequently enjoy red wine with my meals, cheat on pizza once a week, occasionally have some bacon with my breakfast eggs, etc. In other words, I enjoy my eating and my workouts and get the health benefits associated with my approach.If we are really honest, what is currently considered “normal” in America is really a very unhealthy lifestyle combined with a lot of unnecessary and potentially dangerous drugs like statins that benefit only the drug companies.

  • Kari

    Thank you, Tom, for this article! What timing! Over the past year I have made the switch to clean eating. I bought the books tried my best to figure out how to be committed to clean eating, work full-time, help my kids with their homework in the evening and fit all of our other responsibilities. I found that for me and my family a health lifestyle is a balanced lifestyle. Balanced with nutritional food but also not spending, what felt like, every waking moment thinking about food. While I have “fallen off the wagon” and I am not as stringent as a was…I am much happier and still feel just as healthy as I did before I fell off the wagon. I have kept some of the principles but felt guilty for not having made a full “clean” meal. But again, I think we have a much more balanced life. There is NO way of knowing when my life is going to end or why. I will be darned if the few years that “could” be added because of clean eating are going to be spend on food rather than enjoying life to the fullest!

  • Anna

    Very well written post. I think the only thing I have to add is that while maybe orthorexia isn’t always “pathological”–in the sense that it does not physically damage people–I do think that it serves the same purpose as anorexia for many folks. It can be a controlling mechanism for people who feel like they have little agency in their own lives. Focusing on the minute details of menu planning, etc., is a distraction from loneliness, existential despair, etc. I remember having the realization, at one time in the not-so-distant past, that if I stopped planning every second of my day around when/what I would eat and exercise, that I would have little to do. It’s sad. While of course not everyone is in this situation, I think that orthorexia can create a self-perpetuating situation where a person is physically healthy but emotionally and socially isolated, and that–in my mind–is NOT the “point” of life. I think it’s important to occasionally have a margarita and chips with friends and say f**k the macros!!

  • April

    There is a real emotional attachment to food and eating that plays a role here too. I noticed that these people in the videos have isolated/ alienated themselves from friends and families. They don’t want to participate in activities with others and seem to use their dietary choices as excuses. It seems to me there is a lot more behind eating then nurturing the body. Taking such extremes as to starve oneself, refuse a dinner invitation, and not celebrate a holiday definitely goes beyond nutrition. There is no sound nutritional reason for any of this behavior. To say that orthorexic , is about nutrition makes sense for the ‘bodybuilder’ or the person truly concerned about health. But for others it is not about nutrition or health at all it is about their emotional relationships and food is the one thing that they can control.I think you need to be honest with yourself and what your goals are. If your goal is to loss fat, gain muscle then you a going to make most of your food choices to support that goal. If your goal is related to proving your own assumption of self worth, love-ableness, power etc., you food choice will support that goal. We tend to fulfill the goals that we program in our minds.

  • This is so ridiculous on so many levels. I personally follow a very clean diet and feel fantastic. Every time I put sugar, wheat, gluten or additives into my body I either get stomach cramps, headaches, heart palpatations or a dry mouth. If Bratman wants to label people like me with an ‘eating disorder’ go right ahead, I’d rather end up with a stupid made up label than end up on the toilet because Bratman wants me to eat a piece of bread. Bratman obviously has no idea about how the body struggles to processes processed food.

    • Angora

      Stacey, this article isn’t about people with food allergies or sensitivities that have to avoid certain things for those reasons. No one is asking you to forgo common sense and what is right for you.

  • Awesome post Tom.When you referred to balance, you nailed it. I think the difference between people with any type of eating disorder and people in fervent pursuit of a goal, either weight or physique is their feelings of control. Both of the disordered eaters on the videos were in the grip of a fight for control over their lives which they manifested through their food habits. They just got on a different bus than the anorexics or bulimics. I’d go out on a limb to say that if someone is going to have a problem with control, they will have it, whether it involves starving or other self destructive behaviors designed to maintain control over their lives.

  • Marcel Sahade

    Philosophy has long drawn a parallel between eating and sex.Eating is for the continued existence of the body, sex for the continued existence of society. The desire to eat and the desire for sex are both strong corporeal drives.The abuses associated with each have have been labeled “gluttony” and “lust” and are referred to by Catholic theologians as “deadly sins”. Thus they argue that the more important a thing is (as sex for the procreation of society and food for the continued existence of the body) the more evil is its dis-ordered act.Now if “orthorexia norvosa” is being propounded as an eating disorder, what parallel with sex is this disorder? Would they not argue that sex confined to the fidelity of marriage is too pure and fanatical – that everyone should cheat with impurity once in a while?It is not overly right to be faithful in marriage – and so it cannot be overly right to insist upon proper eating too.On the contrary, fidelity in marriage is a virtuous act – and so too is proper eating without impurity. I believe that was the point of the post. QED.

  • Christine

    The concept of balance is really important to me too. But in addition to balancing what I eat (eating “clean” foods with the occasional treat to keep from feeling deprived), I also have to balance my time. I just don’t have the time to plan out 5-6 meals a day, to look up calories and post my macronutrient profile on a spreadsheet.I found Brad Pilon’s Eat Stop Eat program and now I fast flexibly and intermittently. I don’t have to count calories or obsessively plan what goes into my mouth. I’ve ditched the obsessive compulsive eating and am able to enjoy food without letting the thoughts and planning of it take over my life.Now that’s balance.

  • Georgia

    I was raised by an orthorexic, so I know first hand about the obsessive nature of the disease. Even today, at 76, my mother, will not only avoid the normal idea of eating poorly, she avoids going to anyone else’s house for meals because she can’t control the quality of food. She won’t come over to my home to visit with her grandchildren and have Thanksgiving dinner with us because she doesn’t know what’s in the food, even if in my home, we eat clean and organic foods very similar to what she cooks. And she truly believes she’s better than everyone for eating this way and doesn’t find other negative aspects of her character (like compulsive lying) to be wrong.Yes, I grew up with food issues!So these days, I eat clean, as I have always done, because I was raised to do so (but I am balanced about it), but I still find people openly judging me when I don’t eat and drink like they do when I’m with them. I’ve had to get new friends. I used to socialize with a group of over-privileged, bordering on alcoholism, obsessively exercising for hours to manage their calories, skinny people. They wanted me to join them, just so I could get skinny and make their world a prettier place to be.Too bad people can’t wear their character like a beautiful body.

  • scott davis

    Great post Tom! I’v been one of those that has struggled with finding that delicate balance between eating healthly and pursuing my body composition goals vs. letting my hair down from time to time and accompanying somebody to a restaurant.Unfortunately, I’m an all-or-nothing kind of guy, so this discussion topic has particular relevance to me. I’m slowly but surely learining that there’s a “grey area” in nutrition, along with everything else in life.My father was an alcoholic and had this same sort of obsessive mindset towards work. Even though this outlook enabled him to achieve great success, it often times came at the expense of his happiness. I happen to be a chip off the old block, so changing my all-or-nothing approach goes against my quiddity, or essence. However, to truly be at peace with one self and feel like your not depriving yourself entirely, is a goal that I’m pursuing along with fat loss. Once I’m successful in both these fronts, I’ll not only be leaner and healthier, but a more well-rounded person as a result. That as they say, is PRICELESS!

  • Sanman

    With today’s food, you practically have to be Orthorexic in order to eat as good as you could 30-40 years ago on “regular” food. When consumer demand keeps going more and more to “clean foods”, the market will respond. Already we are seeing many grocery store items with lables touting “No High-Fructose Corn Syrup”, and “No MSG”, and an increase in “Organic” too. I say the “Orthorexia” is necessary just to get our regular national food supply reasonably back to semi-healthy.

  • Daniel

    I have been eating clean for the past six weeks with cheat days on the weekend and a few weak willed times through the week. I find now that when I don’t eat clean and have some bad food like chocolate and sausages on white bread, I feel sick. Before I started eating clean my energy levels were low and my body composition left much to be desired. Eating clean and preparing my meals is definatlely they way I want to be. In my opinion the people who eat junk must not care very much about how they look and what they are doing to their body. Personally I like the metaphor “My body is a temple”.

  • Werner K Kujnisch

    Hi Tom,I eat no junk foods at all. I eat raw fruits and veggies, sometimes cooked veggies. I also eat lots of seafood … fish, shrimp, etc. I include butter and olive oil for healthy fats. I avoid all grains. At age 62, I still power walk 5 miles a day and lift weights. I wouldn’t change my eating for anything. I never get sick and maintain my current weight of 150 lbs. I enjoy my clean foods and have never felt better.

  • Nathanael

    Tom,As usual I am impressed with your succinct and even-headed approach to all things nutrition.I know some health food nuts, people who tell me that protein is bad for you, etc. and only eat raw veggies, but those are the sort of people who are “soft-bodies”. Go ask a lion what he eats to stay strong and lean.I think it all comes down to results. If what you are eating looks good on paper,…but you look like the Goodyear blimp,…or a beanpole,….then something isn’t working, and either way you could seriously harm or kill yourself.I cut way back on carbs in my diet,…not all, but a lot, and it works for me. I up my protein through the roof, and I stay fit, lean, mentally and physically healthy. I am an easy-gainer, I can gain muscle relatively easily,… but also gain fat relatively easily. I have many friends who can eat 3-5000 calories a day, and never gain a pound of fat,…sadly they can’t gain muscle either. I miss out on a lot of foods I would like to enjoy, but for me;…I wouldn’t trade the way my body works for all the pizza or ice cream in the world.Surely there are foods that are downright bad for you,…and it just make healthy sense to avoid these, but the amazing and wonderful thing about the human body, is how adaptable and forgiving it is, and if you live a healthy lifestyle, you can certainly afford to have a milkshake, deep fried crap, or a candy bar every once in awhile. It ain’t gonna kill you.It comes down to results, long-term results. As long as your diet is not negatively impacting your mental or physical health, then I’d say you’re doing good. And if your diet is keeping you vein-popping, muscle-bulging, healthy, then you’ve got it right and don’t change it.All the Best,Nathanael

  • Mark

    Thought provoking post. Makes one think about their own attempts at eating better. Almost two years I made the decision to eat cleaner. It has made all the difference in becoming heathier.I believe it all depends upon genetics whether or not you can eat all natural or just watch what you eat, how much, and when. I practice the second. I try to restrict all added sugars. Eating most of my carbs earlier in the day, eating healthier fats, giving myself plenty of fresh or steamed vegetables and having enough protein that my body doesn’t suffer.There will be days I give myself a little leeway to enjoy other foods. No junk foods. I love ice cream and a couple times of months I award myself this little luxury. For me it works. Fasting one day a week also works for me. It has become a healthy habit for over the last two years and helped me to drop fat and become leaner. I am healthier now than I have been my entire life.

  • Linda Hayton

    I was interested to read these post as I am fighting to gain balance in my diet and lose weight. The theme of balance strikes me as most imortant. I live on a Caribbean island where contrary to what you might think clean eating is difficult. The majority of food is imported and it comes in at the lower end (even though it is expensive even for expats). I therefore have to make compromises. What annoys me is that those compromises are compromisedl – I can’t rely on being able to buy clean vegetables, or meat as I could in the USA or UK so long as I paid the price. Furthermore I have to spend time I do not have to track down the rare sources of clean food. I truly believe that if i ate clean I would be indulgining in a pathalogical behaviour. I already worry because organising my diet and food consumes at least an hour a day over and above the hour + I spend on exercise.

  • As usual, an excellent, thought provoking post.I’m 61 years old and enjoy far better health and strength than most people half my age. Here’s the proof:http://budurl.com/jkkzAs you can see, I’m strong and muscular. I also have excellent balance, flexibility and energy.Hopefully, the following will not come off like a diatribe. My intention is to explain my reasoning and the science behind my decision to eat the way I do.Achieving the kind of health and strength I enjoy, or achieving anything for that matter, begins with good information. My diet is nothing like the average body builder, or even the average person in general, but it’s based on good information rooted in both science and common sense.For instance, biologically, humans are primates. Primates are neither carnivores nor herbivores, and our nutritional needs and digestive systems are not designed to eat what carnivores and herbivores eat.Further, human protein requirements are vastly overstated and falsely advertised by agribusiness and supplement manufacturers who want us to buy lots of meat, poultry, dairy and grains, none of which are foods that naturally correspond to the nutritional needs of primates.As primates, humans share a very high percentage of DNA coding with various apes. Apes get the vast majority of their nutrition from plant sources. Has anyone ever seen a healthy orangutan, or a chimp – or a gorilla – that was lacking in muscle mass? Some of the most powerful creatures on the planet eat very little protein, and get it from plant sources.Also, humans don’t need protein as such; we need the amino acids that protein is made of, all of which are readily available in a healthier, more easily assimilated form in plant food sources. In fact, when you eat protein from animal sources, your body has to go through the extra step of breaking it down into amino acids before it’s usable.We now also know that it’s not necessary to consume all the essential amino acids in the same meal, or even in the same day. The originator of that idea now admits it was incorrect.The idea that plant protein is “incomplete” or “inferior” is simply propaganda from agribusiness and muscle magazines. In fact, the exact opposite is true. Because it’s already in the form of amino acids and therefore directly usable by the body, plant source protein is actually superior. Ask any gorilla.So what do gorillas and other primates eat, that we as human members of the primate family should also be eating? What massive amounts of mouth-watering treats do I gorge on with delightful sensory enjoyment all day long? Luscious, vitamin and antioxidant-rich whole fruit, some mineral-rich leafy greens and vegetables, and a little additional protein and fat from a few nuts and seeds. And nothing cooked. A little research will reveal that heat does in fact destroy both nutrients and enzymes necessary for digestion. Cooked food is dead food that taxes your body more than it nourishes it.Oh yeah, I can hear the howls of protest now, “But there’s too much sugar, there’s not enough protein, that’s not what the food pyramid says, but I love cooked food, but that’s not what the muscle gurus say.”Two questions. First, if the food pyramid we’ve been following for the past 50 years is correct, why have we become the fattest nation on Earth, with deadly health problems like diabetes and heart disease increasing at a catastrophic rate? Second, do any of the high protein, animal food gurus still look like me at age 61? I rest my case.In fact, over the last million years, for the first 990,000 of those years, no primate ate anything but an almost exclusively raw vegan diet consisting primarily of fruit. When humans began to introduce meat, grains and cooked food (and only in the most recent 1% of that million year time span), our health began to deteriorate. It’s not what we’re designed to digest, and not what we need nutritionally.The two people featured in that ABC news report are examples of folks whose intentions began from a desire for health, but who never found the right information to get them there. YOU WILL FAIL ON A RAW VEGAN DIET IF YOU DON’T GET THE RIGHT INFORMATION. The information that got me there, as proven by my own body at age 61, comes from a book called “The 80-10-10 Diet” by Dr. Douglas Graham. I get no benefit from recommending his book other than the fact that it may help others achieve the super health and vitality that I enjoy. Before anyone dismisses it out of hand, read the book. It’s good science and common sense.Thanks for letting me contribute to the discussion!Robert Martin

  • kevin

    One does wonder how people like my grandparents and great grandparents who live well into their 90’s survived with out clean eating. I mean after all eating dessert every night, biscuits and sausages regularly, the daily tipple, and an evening pipe for my GP’s. I think too much of this philosophy is less about health, and more about vanity and some attempt to cheat aging, or even death.

  • I get the feeling that Bratman is more interested in making a name for himself.I think it is okay to want to eat as cleanly as possible, but draw the line with starving just because a certain food isn’t available. I think if the outcome is healthy there shouldn’t be any worries. It is only when the discipline is damaging the body that people need to worry.

  • Hi Tom,Thanks for this post. I agree that everyone, to the best of their ability and time available, should strive to eat “clean” foods that are as close to their natural state as possible. However, that seems to be an almost impossible task these days, since the food manufacturers are constantly adding ingredients to many foods for the sole purpose of increasing the shelf “life” of those foods, which no doubt in turn increases their profits, and the profits of the distributors, wholesalers and retailers. Ever wonder why so many foods last so long – and why insects are not attracted to them? That’s because those foods are essentially “dead” (i.e. – no living enzymes left), thus requiring our bodies to pull more enzymes from our limited stores of enzymes in order to digest them. (Now, please forgive – and bear with me from this point on – as I know I am now stepping up on a soapbox…) Beyond this, is the fact that (I’m guessing here – but it’s probably a pretty good guess) 95% percent of the dairy products, poultry, pork and beef in the U.S. are processed from animals that are “factory-farmed” – in horrible, filthy, cruel, abysmal conditions. Chickens especially are treated the worst, crammed in cages where they can barely move, dead chickens left among the living, still living chickens thrown in barrels with dead chickens, chickens violently twirled by their necks, sick or injured chickens kicked still living into the manure pits, , chickens stuck between the cage wires, chickens with terrible sores and abscesses on their bodies, and injected with concoctions to breed them to grow as fat and fast as possible – to the point where they cannot even stand up because their legs are too weak to bear their abnormal weight. And the eggs and bodies of these tortured chickens are what most consumers normally eat, either as part of a recipe, or scrambled/hard boiled, fried, etc. Even the chickens purportedly raised “cage-free” aren’t treated much better. Next comes the atrocious things done to dairy cows and their calves – caged in stalls where they can’t even turn around, and the calves pulled from their mothers right after birth – in some instances to produce veal by keeping the calves from even moving, and depriving them of iron so as to make their flesh more tender. And I won’t even go into what’s done to pigs and cattle. Even fish, as low on the life chain as humans consider them to be, suffer under modern fish farming methods – not to mention that many species of fish are full of contaminants, and also their numbers are being depleted at an alarming rate. It’s all documented on YouTube in tons of videos. All anyone has to do is just search for “animal cruelty” and the shocking truth is right there. I, naively, thought that these practices would be illegal and did not occur. But, sadly, I was mistaken. There’s barely any oversight going on to stop these abominations. And so it goes on, and on. And, beyond the most shocking offenses, just the “normal” condition of these places is hell on earth for the animals – and this “normal” is – for all practical purposes – “allowed”. We are sad, troubled, and moved to tears by the stories we hear and see on the news, on “Animal Precinct-Detroit”, etc., and shake our heads and wonder how people can do such evil things to their pets, and yet millions (even billions) of unfortunate “farmed animals” every year apparently endure similar, and also much worse treatment. And these practices are actually protected by our lawmakers who have sold themselves out to the lobbyists for the owners of these awful businesses – all in the name of profit and greed, and political campaign contributions used to get our votes. It was only several weeks ago that I stumbled across some of these YouTube videos. From the moment I saw the very first video I was appalled, sad, and angry all at the same time. And what is even more shocking is that some of the people shown on video working in these places are doing the most cruel, callous, inhumane things to the animals under their care that it is truly horrifying. From that moment on I have tried to cut out animal products from my diet. But if I can somehow find some fresh eggs laid by chickens somewhere locally – that have not been mistreated (so far no luck), I will go back to eating eggs. But so far I haven’t been able to find any locally. Also, I’m now looking into trying not to use products that have been created using animal testing – which is still being done on a regular basis by many large, well known companies (just search for “animal cruelty video” on YouTube and you will be appalled). Honestly, I thought the human race was evolving to a higher level. But after seeing these videos, and reading some other materials, that is obviously not the case. In my opinion, truly “clean” eating cannot be achieved easily in our world right now, because the farmed animal products – about 95% (guessing again, but pretty near right, I bet) of what all of us buy – are made from stressed, diseased, craze, tortured animals. Therefore, I can’t believe that the final packaged products from such animals can be truly “clean” and healthy for us. Leo Tolstoy said: “As long as there are slaughterhouses, there will be war.” Here’s something else to ponder: “If slaughterhouses had windows, we’d all be vegans.” We are in such denial – or are so oblivious – now about where our food is coming from – and so removed from even thinking about where it comes from, that I’m sure many children don’t even have a clue that much of the food they eat even comes from what used to be a living creature. As long as I know that food is being made from animals that are being treated this way, I for one, will, to the best of my ability, try to avoid eating these products, and will do all I can to tell other people what I have found out. There are, I’ve found, many foods that contain no obvious animal products, and that also have been grown without tons of contaminants (organic fruits and vegetables, soy products, whole wheat, beans, rice, etc.) We won’t starve – or even feel deprived – if we ate just these types of foods. Instead, as consumers we’d more likely become much healthier, by not purchasing and consuming the vast array of “empty calorie” foods that never satisfy our hunger because they are empty – and that we are therefore compelled to eat more and more of just to get enough nutrition out of them. And we’d also save a ton of money, while also generating tons less of “forever” garbage. For those concerned with the “B12 issue”, here’s a quote from “The Complete Idiot’s Guide To Being Vegetarian”, 2nd ed: “It is true that B12 is most commonly found in animal products. It can be supplied in trace amounts in the vegan diet by alfalfa and other herbs, but to be safe, a vitamin supplement may be necessary.” If demand can be lowered for “farmed animal products” – “farmed animal” owners will have no choice but to change their ways. This is a difficult challenge – we’re up against politicians, farmed-animal owners, “Go Beef” and “The Incredible, Edible Egg” advertisers, Colonel Sanders, and Ronald MacDonald”, to name just a few adversaries. But if more and more people of conscience avoid consuming these products and shine some daylight on these deplorable practices, many more hearts and minds will be changed, and demand for these products will continue to dwindle. In contrast, those 5% of farmers who follow humane, non-cruel methods of animal husbandry are to be commended.

  • Esp

    Tom is spot-on – an excellent post. I have made dramatic lifestyle changes this year that have resulted in a large increase in food intake along with a large drop in bodyfat. At the start (perhaps for about 6 weeks), it took a bit of planning and time to figure out what I would eat and where to shop to get it; but now there is no wasted time. In terms of food preparation, I continue to have mostly home cooked meals (as I did in the past) – the difference now is that I’ll have junk food, say, once a fortnight instead of every other day. I spend half an hour on Sunday night preparing what will be my breakfast for the following week – that way I always have breakfast and its ready when i need it and i’m not late for work. Best wishes to everyone.Cheers,Esp.

  • Elaine

    I think Americans have a proclivity towards food fads and orthorexia because the food industry has changed so much here in the past 50 years. If it was easier to get farm-fresh produce and meat, maybe these people wouldn’t be so scared of their food. It’s hard not to be wary of food when both meat and vegetables are regularly getting recalled for things like salmonella and mad cow disease… especially if you don’t know where it’s from or what happened to it between the farm and your table. Then add media hype over this giving you heart disease and that giving you cancer — it’s like a horror movie, where you know something’s lurking around the corner ready to kill you, but you don’t know what it is or how you’re going to die. But there has to be a middle ground, both in what you eat and how you think about what you eat. Sure, studies show that a standard apple doesn’t have as many nutrients as an organic apple. But it’s better than nothing. Wash it, eat the darn thing, and don’t go letting yourself die. And as far as toxins go, for goodness sake, your body is built to defend itself against toxins. Have a little faith in your liver, it’s there to keep that kind of crap from killing you.

  • Emmanuel

    this makes a lot of sense. i think balance is the way to go. Balance has a different definition to me. So I’ll follow my type of balance. thanks, tom!

  • Kym Hutcheon

    As always, a solid post. Everything I would say about the value of balance has been said, but I just wanted to add that there are plenty of successful, vegetarian, vegan and raw food athletes.Check out Brendan Brazier if this is a new idea for you. A point to note though is that most of these athletes are endurance specialists. Retaining bulk on this kind of diet requires dedication far beyond even a dedicated natural body builder. 😉 It’s tough to get the calories and protein in.I also wanted to say that although Viktoras Kulvinskas is presented as the dangerous freak in the videos (you have to have a negative target with this kind of journalism, yes) his Hippocrates Health Institute has had impressive results with curing cancer. I do agree though that his emaciated appearance doesn’t help his mainstream appeal.

  • brien

    Ahw great… Another mainstream media buzzword that the couch culture can latch onto. I can see this word tossed around in whispers by the water cooler about the guy that bikes in to work. Spoken or not, the message in that report is that healthy eating taken to the extreme is unhealthy… Which is the most infuriating bullsh*t I’ve heard from TV land to date.The -problem- with orthorexia has -nothing- to do with healthy eating. Absolutely nothing. Healthy eating is no more the problem to an orthorexic than the door lock is to the obsessive compulsive who has to lock and unlock it 10 times before leaving the house. The problem is the irrational perspective driving the unhealthy behavior.The two people in the first video had completely different problems. They shouldn’t even be in the same category. The first guy was classic OCD. He wore his disease on his poor anorexic frame. The second woman didn’t seem that ‘out of whack’. The report said she neglected her kids to journal her foods. That could mean anything from not helping with homework one night to criminal neglect. Being conspicuously upper middle class, I bet the problem was closer to the former. If anything, she probably has a mild narcissism — hardly foreign to the upper middle class, and far from life threatening or debilitating.There really is no comparrison to bodybuilding or fitness rigor. A strong, healthy psyche overcomes the tendency to take the easy, self-indulgent way through discipline. An unhealthy psyche runs away from self indulgence chased by irrational fears. Both are running on the same road, but it’s s completely different race.

  • Wow, after watching those videos. My heart goes out to the people suffering.I am a holistic counsellor, among other things, and have my own personal background with overcoming eating disorders.When someone is not dealing with their issues (and we all have them to some degree) they tend to self medicate. Some people medicate with alcohol, some drugs, some overwork, some binge, some starve and the list goes on. This is just another way of self medicating and subconsciously suppressing the pain from those issues. Symptoms will always arise when we are out of balance. What these people need is help, not a new ‘disease’ label and they definitely don’t need people pointing fingers at each other, assigning healthy food as the bad guy. All that does is distract people into debate and the real issues never get looked at.Tom, I thought you spoke very well on the issue as usual. Balance is the key to everything. Mind, Body and Spirit.

  • Rainah

    Thanks Tom,I was not a professional ballet dancer, but, even though I walked away from dance for various reasons, I was offered a graduate dance scholarship way back when.So I guess you could say that fitness has always been somewhat important to me.All the same, for various reasons, I’ve only toyed with clean eating.We eat lots of veggies, whole grains, few processed foods, and make quite a bit from scratch to avoid additives, etc., but we cannot really afford ‘clean eating’.For one thing, my husband and I have agreed that I’ll stay home with the children for now, and because of that, we can’t afford ‘ultra-clean’.For another thing, my husband used to think it was rather stupid to be concerned with eating clean – so eating *with* him meant cheating on a rather regular basis.Now that my husband is seeking to improve his own cardio-vascular health and lose weight, it is easier for me to emphasize ‘clean eating’ types of policies. He is even valuing ‘clean’ more and more. Dont’ get the wrong idea about him…. that is, don’t get the inaccurate idea here. While he values a bit more ‘clean eating’, he still values his regular cheats *grin*.With my husband now joining into the world of ‘cleaning eating’ at least some of the time, I’m revamping our approach to food: types of foods, types of recipes, types of menus, amounts of foods, and how often I’ll cheat *when we eat at home*.Among the things I weighed was ‘raw foodism’. I have recently borrowed a recipe book for raw foods from our local library, and I was really intrigued with some of the concepts about food prep in that book.Then, lo and behold, my husband told me about a raw foods restaurant that recently moved into town.While considering raw-food options for myself, I spoke to a friend of mine who has diabetes about the pros and cons of raw foodism.Being *me*, and not a purist, I also mentioned that the Chinese way of eating (the historic ideas of Chinese nutrition and medicine anyway) endorses both raw and VERY WELL cooked foods in the same diet.They say that getting the nutrients out of extremely raw foods can be hard work on the body, wearing it down.Raw foods can be useful to the body, but then again, Chinese traditions teach that congees, or soups that have been cooked a very long time, have nutrients that are much more easily taken up by the body.They admit that some nutrients are lost because of the cooking process, but that many nutrients are ONLY available via the long cooking process…………What I’m trying to get at here is this:One extreme is not good for us, whether that extreme has to do with types of foods, types of food preparations, or how ‘clean’ our food supply can be. In other words:It’s not good to utterly avoid fats.It’s not good to utterly avoid carbs.It’s not good to utterly avoid proteins (so IF someone is a vegetarian, they have to make up for a diet lower in protein)………..In the same way, raw foods have their place, and extremely long cookery in the form of Chinese congees have their place…………….And as far as food *&* fellowship?My husband and I couldn’t fellowship over food together if I was a purist, because he is NOT going there. He’s eating cleaner these days, but he’s not going to be a super fanatic about clean eating. Not ever.Fellowship with my husband is more important than, (dare I say it?), really, fellowship with my husband is more important to me than….worshiping food!Also, if we eat with friends or extended family, because I compromise already for my husband’s sake, I’m sort of used to compromising on my ideals for the sake of fellowship……….I figure that quality of fellowship with family and friends is a positive trade off when I compromise my current ‘standards’ of ‘clean eating’.As a matter of fact, I figure that relaxing and enjoying friendship is better at removing toxins than, say, eating ultra clean………….To me it is akin to the idea of moderation as found in old wisdom literature, such as the Bible:which teaches that honey is good, but that too much honey is a problem……………In the same way, some soul-food or comfort-food or special treats is good, but too much of these compromising foods can be a problem…………..After thinking about this for several years, I noticed that my children would ask me about the food we would be fixing for supper. They’d ask if this or that food was good for us.I learned to answer them from a child’s POV, which helped me to embrace something more akin to a child’s POV about my own food.How?By asking my children question such as these:Well, if this gives you energy, is it good for you, at least by way of providing energy? Yes, of course it is.But if that energy is *very* short lived and then you are utterly exhausted, was it *really* good for you? No, of course it isn’t.Well, if that honey or sugar helps you smile, but you have already eaten lots of veggies today, do you think that smile might be good for you?Oh, indeed, my children knew the answer to that one!A smile is good for you if it doesn’t lead directly to extreme fatigue……….So perhaps the wisdom of the ages should be allowed to settle this one:If we can simply become as little children……..Then perhaps we can accept the good food-gifts we found about us in this world as just that:Gifts.Some provide us nuggets of goodness to dig out (fresh foods).Some provide us nuggets of nutritious-goodness that are easy to take in (via well cooked foods).Some provide us with great memories with friends.Some provide us with nothing more than a simple smile.A smile?That alone is a precious gift.I think that, like honey, enjoying those types of smiles is amazingly good for us.And when I remember to accept the smile like a little child? That’s when I approach balance………

  • Hi Tom,Fascinating article…really thought provoking. First of all, I think we must understand that, as a race, we are constantly evolving and adapting to our environment. For example, if we travelled back in time 100,000 years, the air would probably poison us.We are constantly adapting to changes in the environment good or bad.The same could and probably does, apply to our food intake. Through the generations, our bodies learn to cope with different diets and foodstuffs so too clean may not be what we actually need any more. Who knows for sure?All I know is that I read BFFM in January, applied it and lost 3 and a quarter stone of body fat in 6 months. I was writing down everything I ate, every bit of exercise I did and my also weight once a week.Once I hit my ideal weight (according to how I looked and felt more than anything), I eased off a bit. No more cataloguing everything but I do still follow the way you laid things out in BFFM.Since easing off, my weight has amazingly stayed at exactly 81 kg for the past few months with no fluctuation, which is spot on for me.I enjoy a curry or Chinese once a week…the occasional extra cheat meal when we visit friends or family etc and I feel great…better than great.As long as I settle back into what has now become normal eating and exercising, I know that I can eat crappy foods now and again and not worry myself sick about it.I am just about to do an 8 day endurance motocross ride across some of Africa’s roughest terrain for charity and I know that food (especially what I am used to) will be in short supply. According to past riders, they come back leaner that ever due to 12 hour days in the saddle and a full days exercise for 8 days.Energy bars, dextrose tabs and litres and litres of water will be available throughout the day but the point is, I know that when I return, I will simply fall back into my normal eating habits and will be back on track again in a matter of days!Once again, great article and as long as you reach a point where you look good, feel great, feel happy and don’t obsess about what you are doing all the time, life CAN be a bowl of cherries!!! ; )

  • Aile

    Thank you, Tom, for a article!I eat mostly clean, but I see that everybody has different idea, what is it. For me protein pancake is not clean… but processed food. In airplane I use my bread (I am baking my own whole grain sour dough wit a lot of seeds…like flax and hemp …I love butter and eggs).Best kitchen is deffinitely french. 🙂 Clean, nutritious and stimulating and I do not think that americans understand, what is it….and certain foods are better than others in improving body composition, that is clear 🙂 I have 20 years experience in that 😉http://www.sila.hop.ru/sportmens/ailekuuda/aileparnu/aile361.htmand now at almost 42 🙂http://www.fitness.ee/rater/index.php?username=Aile&phid=6371

  • Hi TomOnce again, your ability to express yourself succintly makes for compelling reading.I predict this post will create more response than any other. Perspective is a commodity that, like common sense, eludes most people, even those with formidable intellects.That’s the saddest thing about nutrition … people confuse issues, perhaps because it is as emotive as religion or politics.Great post … thanks.

  • Paul

    Hi TomFantastic article and am loving all blog so much appreciate all great info your giving out also.Think being health conscious is not an obession at all as we all know mostly everythink that grows out of the ground is naturally good for us and especially if you grow it yourself you know its freshness.Currently am doing a fitness regime to develope my abs more so very assured of staying away from processed unhealthy foods and sticking to lean meats,veg,fruits,good carbohydrate sources in the process though I try to make sure I eat a “rubbish meal” every few weeks so my body metabolism doesnt slow down too much.Its like the caveman times they ate natural foods cause they had no choice and obviously animal sources protein if we take our cue from them then don’t think we can go too far wrong.Deep down everyone knows common sense wise what to eat to be healthy.1000’s rubbish foods on shelfs in our huge supermarkets but how many our healthy?? only a few.Heart goes out to them loss lives for something they genuinely believed in.Paul

  • No one has mentioned Jack Lalanne who has been pleading with people to eat “clean” for more than fifty years. He recently celebrated his 95th birthday and claims to still work out 2 hours a day. Does he have orthorexia nervosa? Or does he just know the best way to treat the body for long health and vitality. I admire his accomplishment and believe his way is probably best but I don’t think I would want to go my whole life without having a burger, pizza, soda or cake. I do try to limit those things in an effort to stay fit. Check out a few videos of his philosophies for living on my blog at http://middleagemeandering.blogspot.com/

  • Caleb

    If the question is “How shall I eat?”, then I think the answer is in the concept of cybernetics: “What do I want” and “How will this behavior affect it?”.Those are the only rules as far as I am concerned. If I want to improve my body composition further or take my health practices to an even healthier level, and I think that a certain behavior has a scientific basis and will help me to achieve my goals and is worth implementing, then I will do it, track the results, and then decide whether to continue it or not based on the effort it required and the benefit I received.The “rules” that should be followed aren’t from any external system or guru. The only “rules” worth following are those based on a cost/benefit analysis that are in line with a person’s values and priorities.This method allows for each individual’s desires, knowledge, and ability to be accounted for. Afterall, we are all individuals with unique requirements. Anytime we behave without regard to this fact, we are going to become more unhealthy – if not in body then we will in mind.(At least that’s what I have learned over the past 18 months. Thank you Tom!!!!)

  • HM

    Thank you for the great article, Tom!The health of our body is half of the equation for our longevity and happiness – the health of our mind is the other half!If you are uncomfortable eating anything in front of anyone else, be it clean or processed, or avoid social situations because of the food, then that should be a signal to you that there is a problem you need to evaluate.I love to eat clean, organic foods as much as I can, BUT it’s all about balance and common sense. I eat processed and convenience foods too and don’t feel bad about doing so. Because I eat well and exercise regularly, my body can certainly handle a little junk or ‘imperfect’ food once in a while!This year I’ve slowly shed 40 pounds of body fat using your common sense advice in ‘Body Fat Solution’ and BFFM, and I couldn’t feel better! Did I eat cleanly? Yes. Did I eat a little processed crap along the way? You bet!

  • Reka

    Awesome article, I can only admire the way you analyze the question without any biases. This is one of the most unbiased and honest pieces I’ve ever read (and I have read at least a thousand). my best wishes to you and your readers:)

  • Diane Smets

    Tom,I love your unbiased and open approach to the whole issue. The discussion that was started seems like flavour of the month (or year). Perhaps secretly sponsored by the food industry… who knows. All joking apart.Can you eat to healthy? The answer is yes: too much of any good thing is still too much. But as you rightly pointed out: your balance and mine are different in as far as clean eating is concerned (and many many other things for that matter – I just want to be a healthy mom, wife, professional… you a professional body builder who wants to help mortals like myself…).It is when it starts having serious negative effects on other areas in your life or when eating becomes “obsessive” that I think people have reached the limit of what is healthy…Thanks you for the article above.Diane

  • BALANCE! YES!I have no problem running a sugar free house, but that does not make me a fanatic. All other foods in moderation – but I insist on eating FOOD. Not all that packaged crap. But, if there was nothing left in the house, yes I would feed my son mac n’ cheese rather than see him starve.I think that these extremists are fueled by the fear mongering media and bloggers who make value judgements based on what we are eating.Come on people. We all know what real food is – just EAT it!

  • scott

    Tom,Here’s the definition of clean eating…Clean Eating – Eating what God created and prescribed to be food for our bodies.It’s just that simple. When we include our Creator in the analysis of the ‘creation’, it’s always simple.For example, God created the orange to be perfectly compatible and beneficial for our bodies. Man created the donut, which is a poison to our bodies; a chemical perversion of the foods that God created and prescribed.Another example, God directed mankind ‘not’ to eat pork, shellfish, and the like. The meat of these animals carry toxins, parasites, etc.Scott

  • Excellent article! I have never heard of Orthorexia. I do try to eat clean most of the time, but don’t obsess about it. If I’m out and want to eat “bad” food with friends or family, I think it is okay as long as most of the time I eat “good” foods. Maybe some people are obsessed with eating clean and I can see how it could turn into a problem.

  • Sandy

    Hi,I think you are well balanced as usual in your views. I have lost all but the last 10 lbs or so listening to your encouraging words. I am 53 and went from a size 14 to 8 and will be done when I am a 6 again. It has taken me a year, but I am very happy to be back on track with my life.I think if people want to distort something, they will. A person can obsess over anything. Obsessing is fear based. If you approach anything in that mind set of fear, I guarantee it will become distorted, eating, sleeping, raising kids, running your business. i believe anorexia and bulimia are very fear based conditions. No peace there. No surprise some poor souls are becoming lost trying to keep to clean eating. It is not the idea of clean eating, it is the fear and obsessing, and these people could have just as easily gotten lost on something else.

  • Ben Coffey

    I never knew that there was controversy brewing over eating healthy. I thought it was normal to avoid sugar, eat the freshest vegetables and limit your meat intake. Guess I’ll go eat some Twinkies so nobody thinks I’m too extreme.

  • michael

    How could it possibly be a negative to eat the food that was created by the same universal, natural intelligence that created human physiology? it is very beneficial to eat good quality, pesticide free food; and GMOs are worse than typical pesticide grown crops because the chemicals are are imbedded in the DNA. Still, it is equally important to eat foods that benefit one’s body type, and condition. If overweight, you can’t eat fatty foods, even if organic. I will use this space to attack Monsanto and modern food processors: the creation of GMO driven high fructose corn syrup is a disaster for our kids. It should be outlawed.

  • Chad

    The question of how “dedicated” one can be without being “obsessed,” or to still be a balanced person, is very interesting indeed.What these featured people suffer from is paralysis by analysis. They get so caught up in tiny details that they have epically failed tosee the big picture. For example, they may be so obsessed with pesticide content or saturated fat ratios or even “fear content” that they completely fail on a very basic health fundamental such as consuming enough calories to remain above ground.Excellent thoughts on this subject Tom. I think the bottom line is to be as dedicated as you want toward achieving something but be very aware of taking big breaks every so often to step back from yourself enough to make sure that you haven’t failed to see the forest for the trees (or in this case perhaps the mitochondria in the cells of the leaves of those trees).

  • Jim

    Howdy, new to this blog.Good insightful comments as usual from Tom.I’m not too happy about the “whole grains” thing, however. While an enthusiam for “whole grains” is common with many health “experts”, there remains a general lack of appreciation of the negative role of starches in general in the promotion of modern-day health conditions. Yes, and that includes one’s beloved “whole grains”. I don’t have space here to get into the clinical studies, but current understanding of how various types of sugars break down postprandially is now fairly sophisticated.

  • Raving Apache

    Its All About BalanceJust as my bodybuilding workout is tweeked for my needs, so is my diet. That doesn’t make me compulsive or OCD or any other of a myriad of labels some outside of the sport would care to hang on me.I choose to eat certain things and spurn others as a personal choice, one of the few choices that I still have control of.As for the balance, I watch what I eat, not as a matter of practicing clean eating, but as a result of necessity. I know the systems of my body very well and know what I can tolerate and what I can’t. I moderate the loss of vitamins and minerals by taking a daily supplement. Does that make me OCD about supplements? No. It makes me smart. When I can regulate my diet in such a way as to make up for lost nutrients whether it be from clean eating or any other nutritional choice, I’m not “diseased” because of my choices. on the contrary, I’m disease free because of them.Like all things, moderation is key and that includes clean eating as a choice. Tom has it right. it is about balance and the balance for one person is not necessarily the right one for another.Clean eating is a choice and like our choices we can decide to rule them or have them rule us. When we are ruled by our choices, I believe they call that… an addiction.Thanks Tom!

  • Great read Tom… To be honest, I have not heard that term before even as a personal trainer who does a great deal of reading and study on fitness and nutrition.I think that clean eating is by far the superior choice, and BFFM and almost any good fitness program recommends a pretty similar form of eating.It’s a tad bizarre to even think of classifying even the strictest clean and healthy eating program as a disorder though in my opinion. First question would be, “What is the benchmark for an example of a non-disorder type diet?” Fast food, every second meal is a cheat meal, low to zero intake of fresh water instead carbonated soft drinks, pastries, and little or no evidence of fresh fruit and vegetables?I love the BFFM program and indeed all of the principles you teach as I am from a classic bodybuilding background myself (good work to Jay Cutler too on MrO #3). This is certainly not a criticism of any of these things, moreso a reality in terms of how can I take Tom’s information and give it to my personal training clients, friends, etc. so that they can use it in their everyday life without needing to be overly educated in exercise and nutrition? Should they be? Probably. Should they spend more time on finding out what food works for them so they can live and function at 100%? Again, most definitely.But, that’s why they hire a trainer in the first place right. You could argue this point forever and say the individual should take more responsibility, but while I can’t force them to do that, and nobody really can, I can most certainly deliver the plethora of information into a simple, easy to understand set of instructions or principles that they can implement and see improvements in their life.I think I may be getting a little off track, but as an example, one rule I teach my clients is “To be good most of the time” and choose those foods that are definitely within the confines of the Orthorexia “disorder”, or as close to their natural state as possible. The next would be to eat five meals a day, breakfast, lunch and dinner, with 2 snacks and protein at every meal.The point I am hopefully trying to make is to keep it as simple as possible and man, that can be hard work when we are constantly bombarded by new evidence to suggest, hey what the heck, just eat fried foods and drink beer all day and you’ll be fine. You just need to put 2 people next to each other, one that does the latter, and one that follows a sensible clean eating plan and I think in general the results would be obvious.Thanks Tom, another very good article.Regards, ClaytonPersonal Trainer | Adelaide Australia

  • scott davis

    An addendum I wanted to make to my earlier comments concerns the satiety factor of natural foods.When I was younger, I often times would purchase fast food, or hit the drive-thru, all as matter of convience. Meals usually were eaten “on the fly”, so I would grab whatever I could get my hands on. This left a lot to be desired, as far as managing my hunger was concerned. Consuming refined carbs and simple sugars causes your glucose level to rise and fall, which results in a concomitant energy crash. This makes it difficult to preclude further eating, which can lead to the dreaded calorie surplus.After cleaning up my diet, and largely consuming foods in their natural state, I’ve had little difficulty reining in my appetite. Natural foods enable one to practice volumetrics, which is consuming maximal amounts of food on fewer calories. This makes it possible to remain on a reduced calorie diet over the long haul, which is a sine qua non for fat loss success.

  • Tom,I love how well thought out your articles are, and how much you inspire people to look honestly at what drives them. One bone I have to pick with you though, for god sakes enough already with the egg whites. If you want to talk about eating natural foods, what is more natural than an entire egg. Are you really going to lose those six pack abs by eating yolks? There is some protein, and most of the vitamins and minerals in the yolks, as well as a good balance of fats. I don’t eat eggs everyday, but when I do, i’ll eat 4 to 6 whole eggs and I keep my body fat around 10%. If you’re so afraid of the fat calories, why not avoid eggs all together and eat something with a higher protein to fat ratio like turkey breast or shrimp. Anyways other than your insane paranoia about yolks, I think you are the man, and I love reading your articles.

  • Derren, thanks for your post, but “Insane paranoia?” Sheesh. isnt that what I was writing against? perhaps you should re-read the beginning of my post – I described a typical clean eating list, not MY personal foods list or my recommended foods list. Perhaps, also you missed the previous comment I replied to – see it reprinted below (i know there were a lot of comments above)- TomPosted by: markku | October 11, 2009 12:51 PMgreat article. However why did you say egg whites not eggs? Egg yolks are the healthiest part of the egg. Saturated fat or cholesterol are not bad for you. Polyunsaturated fat is. And remember that fat brings satiety to diet. It also helps keep blood sugar levels even and is easier on the liver than protein. MarkkuPosted by: tom venuto | October 11, 2009 12:56 PMMarkku, thats exactly the point – egg WHITES are usually what shows up on “clean eating” food lists, not egg yolks, as if egg yolks are “bad” or forbidden. I eat an egg yolk or two every day. However, there is a bit more to why so many bodybuilders and fitness enthusiasts eat mostly egg whites. see my previous blog post on egg whites versus whole eggs for more info.

  • Linda Miller

    Dear Tom,You are the most level-headed, realistic, down-to-earth person I have ever read on the subject of health. You deal with every single facet of the whole person when it comes to health. I don’t necessarily mean bodybuilder or nutritionist or any one specific expertise, (many of which you are) but of the human being as a whole person. So many of the subjects you write about have to do with psychological/emotional/mental health as well as physical health. Just as you have stated with every other subject you have ever written about, anything can be taken to an extreme if it interferes with your quality of life as a whole. If clean eating starts to interfere with a person’s psychological or emotional well-being, then I would assume (because I am not a Doctor) that is is a neurosis and therefore would be a serious problem. If you eat extremely clean, are happy and don’t try to shove it down anyone else’s throat (no pun intended), why care what anyone else thinks??? If we spent our lives constantly caring about what others thought, we’d never do anything we thought was right or important.

  • John Snow

    Can you eat “too clean” ? Of course not! The question is can you obsess too much with eating clean?Washing your hands is good. Obsessing with it and washing 100 times a day is bad. Changing your dirty clothes is good. Changing clothes 10 times a day is not. Being thrifty or cost conscious is a good thing. Driving across town to save 11 cents on a can of beans is silly. Living a clean, fit, bodybuilding lifestyle is good, but is locking yourself in your home gym watching every ounce of food you eat while pumping yourself full of steroids, Hgh, etc.? I don’t think so. Is vegetarianism or veganism good? Perhaps, if you are personally commited to the lifestyle. How about accusing me of murder and throwing blood on me to protest my leather jacket? And what about the guy who won’t go to his best friend’s wedding reception because he is “offended” that they are serving a wedding cake? I think ‘ve made my point.So back to the original question, “Can you obsess too much with eating clean?” The answer is obviously yes. As Tom said, Balance is the key. Find a balance that works for you as an individual and, please, remember every individual is different and allowed to make different choices.

  • Wow…O.K. this type of behavior tells me that there is a bigger psychological (emotional instability) issue. Any person who obsesses over anything should themselves take a step back, or try to get help.These are not people held by the grips of trying to be healthy. I know this will harsh but, these are people who are obsessed with the attention that comes from living this way.Jason Chiero, CPThttp://www.thetraininggenius.com

  • Jay Brown

    Great post, great comments, etc. And glad someone mentioned Jack La Lanne! I think everything we eat helps to maintain the nutritional/spiritual whole. Our bodies are equipped to deal with a moderate amount of ‘cheating’. But I also think we need to mention WATER when we think of clean living/eating. No sense in putting in the effort to eliminate additives that are put into food for purely economic purposes, and then drinking chemically saturated water. Cancer is an environmental disease, brought about specifically by the chemicals with which we surround ourselves.

  • kate

    Tom,Thanks so much for bringing this up. You’ve gotten a lot of responses so far, so I hesitated to even write this, but I thought that my perspective as someone who’s recovered from a 10-year battle with anorexia and bulimia might be something you or others were interested in.First let me say that eating clean is not a disorder. Period. Unlike anorexia or bulimia, eating clean is understanding how your body reacts to food and consciously making a decision to work in harmony with and nourish your body. It is making the decision to make healthful, reasonable, enjoyable choices about food and exercise that are not emotional or reactionary. It is informing yourself about the nutrients your body needs and making the mature decision to provide yourself with them. An eating disorder does none of these things. In fact, eating clean and an eating disorder have a hard time co-existing if each is in it’s purest form because THEY ARE THE EXACT OPPOSITE OF ONE ANOTHER. This is because if you are truly eating clean you need to be eating a variety of foods with the goal of fueling and taking care of your body (not so in an eating disorder) and therefore should not be restricting your intake (anorexia) or radically spiking your blood sugar and alternately depriving yourself (bulimia/abp).This is something that I and many others who are recovering from eating disorders are still struggling to learn. Unfortunately, many treatment programs “reteach” people to eat by focusing on the food-guide pyramid and on teaching people to not be afraid of sweets and fats, and by telling them not to exercise more than 2 or 3 times a week for a 30 minutes at a time. Instead of educating people about their bodies and the way they interact with food and exercise, they are setting them up to go home and battle with two wrong sets of information – their eating disordered set of information and the new information from treatment. (I won’t even mention how the brain plays into all of this since I know you know that already).I wish more people had your information when they left so that they could truly recover instead of relapsing (and often dying) like so many do. Thank you again for bringing this to light and please consider speaking to this population more! I can honestly say that many of them would truly be grateful for your help. Keep up the great work!

  • Nutrition is extremely simple and all too often gets massively overcomplicated. Eating clean is important but the human immune system is amazing and will process the odd bit of junk here and there – so long as we allow ourselves some parasympathetic nervous system activity throughout the day.All we need to do is to eat how we evolved to eat for 90% of the week. Palaeolithic people (from 2.5 million years ago to 10000 years ago) ate meat, fruit, vegetables, nuts. Potatoes, grains and legumes didn’t feature much if at all in their diet. Biologically we are the same as they were so for optimal health you want to eat as close to how they did as possible. However, breaking the rules once in a while – 10% of the time is fine and in fact can even help you to remain motivated and committed.I would also recommend keeping the higher glycemic foods such as dried fruit to first thing in the morning and first thing after your workout and having them with some protein. At these times the insulin response will send the nutrients into your muscles instead of your fat cells. These rest of the day you want to keep your glycemic index as low as possible. This will also have the added benefit of encouraging a greater growth hormone response – which is your body’s natural fat burner – bonus!

  • Fantastic Article! Well written, very accurate and I couldn’t agree with you more! Thanks for posting those videos as well.NoelleMyHealthiestlife.commyhealthiestlif@twitter.com

  • rw th 3rd

    The body follows the mind.Why can some people eat like crap and live to 90? And some people eat like Gandhi an die at 30?Genetics?What do you think about when you eat a donut? “This poison is going to kill me!” or “Mmm this tastes so good, i am so happy i am eating this”Which of those two experiences is good for you?To really understand the nature of food and nutrition you need to be honest. Without honesty with your true self you can kill yourself on sprouts and wheatgrass. Literally.Whatever you eat be aware of the experience while you are eating it and realize it’s not entirely WHAT you are eating that’s making your healthier or sicker. It’s HOW and WHY you are eating that matters most.Eat FOR real overall health. Sometimes it’s healthy to eat a donut. Sometimes a donut can save your life.Everytime you eat give thanks that the thing you are putting in your mouth is making you stronger, happier and healthier. If you can’t meditate on that while you put that something in your mouth put something else in your mouth that allows you to.If you have bad thoughts about a food while you are eating it you shouldn’t eat it. But without honesty you may trick yourself into believing good is bad. Like in the case of any eating disorder. Where one convinces oneself that eating improperly is actually the right thing to do. that the horrible experience of eating or not eating is actually a good experience.Eating clean or living clean will not make you honest, or strong or healthy. Being honest about your eating will make you strong and healthy and make eating “properly” automatic.DO what you LOVE. EAT what you LOVE. When you eat what you love you are eating love. And love IS strength and health.Dying is not unhealthy. It is natural and organic.Remember the old joke “Life is a sexually transmitted, terminal disease with no cure” hahahaEnjoy life! And if you don’t truly enjoy what and how you eat then don’t eat it because you will poison yourself. And a habit of eating poison will hinder your ability to discern what true health is.

  • Lainey

    Very interesting read.. I’ve always found bodybuilders, especially the figure contest ladies to be really OCD. Who cares? Why are they doing it? It amazes me especially because it’s such a superficial and trivial thing to aspire to. Those contests are about rewarding the OCD, as they don’t really serve any other purpose. I am someone who follows a healthy lifestyle, excercises for preventative care/health reasons and is in great shape, but not a muscle woman/guy look a like, I think this article is great food for thought. It’s too easy to get into competition mode which I really feel is very unhealthy when it comes to living realistically. I also don’t know how living off a few greens and bison mush can be good for your body when you’re burning off so many calories and excercising for hours in a day to prep for a contest only to go back to eating regular food then back to a diet extreme. It’s a yo yo unto itself and should be classified as an eating disorder. It’s not normal and as a mom I wouldn’t want my own daughters to do that to their bodies, or compete for what boils down to serving one’s own satisfaction!

  • dylan

    everything in moderation including moderation! great discussion

  • I think most people don’t have balance when it comes to food. Leigh Peele really taught me a lot about balance and I was able to lose when I at least followed my calorie counts.

  • Steve

    I find there is a simple measuring stick to keep me in balance – if it is contributing to my life in a positive and constructive way then it is fine – if not then I reevaluate and this applies to everything from eating and exercise to work and relationships etc

  • alexis

    The substance doesn’t matter, an additive personality can turn anything into an addiction. This news clip happens to be “clean food” addiction. It could just as easily be yellow chicken peeps that were not uniformly yellow, so the addict has a meltdown and sues the company.

  • Hi Tom,This is an excellent post and debate. Most people criticize others for what they can’t or haven’t been able to achieve.Remember, your outer world is a reflection of your inner self. So when people criticize you that you eat too clean, it means they can’t eat clean.In my recent weight-loss group support meeting, some new members know a lot (probably more than I do), do all the talking but not doing. Some said that I eat too clean. When they’re grossly obese with over 40 BMI, they should listen and start to walk the walk, not just talk the talk.

  • satwinder

    that news: reporter guy saying people are healthier and that’s y they are living longer, seriously people are living longer because of they medical technology not because of the eating. Meat has been reported to cause many different types of cancer and being a reported he should at least know that much, right?being locto-vegetarian because i believe animals feel pain and it isnt right, does that make me more human or just another person who have the medical condition. Although I do not take things to seriously when it comes to organic or not.Very good view and understanding on what u have said Tom.

  • Murray

    Personally, I have always agreed with most of what you say Tom and this article is no exception. I would just like to add that I have found over the many years I am now 56, that what works for one individual does not always do so for another. I really believe the old adage that moderation is the key in all, and as ye believe so shall it be done unto you. This life is a personal trip, and as my dad still going well at 85 says, respect and listen to all but at the end of the day use the good mind that God gave you and make your own mind in all matters, and this includes exercise, nutrition, mind body and soul you might say.regardsMurray

  • satwinder wrote“Meat has been reported to cause many different types of cancer and being a reporter he should at least know that much, right?”meat has been proven to “CAUSE” cancer, or being a meat eater has been “ASSOCIATED WITH” some types of cancer in some studies?big difference there, that vegetarians and meat eaters alike might want to be able to distinguish between, amidst this discussion on what foods are “clean/healthy” or not.

  • I agree, great post!Tom I agree with you whole heartedly. From one bodybuilder to another it’s definitely about finding that middle ground and existing in it to suit your lifestyle.Kindest Regards,Lia Halsall

  • Oh dear god. lol. That’s a little ridiculous. People forget about balance eh? It’s crazy.You think our ancestors had access to only CLEAN foods? I’m sure some digestion of dirt, mud and crap was thrown in the mix. Our race still turned out ok… loosening the belt on this madness is OK at times. It’s the majority of your actions that matter.

    • Kathryn

      Even eating the dirt of our ancestors would be cleaner than most produce and meat on the grocery store shelves these days. At least that dirt had minerals in it and no pesticides. Got dirt?

  • Anna

    Hi Tom,As I read through this post, I found myself saying “yes” to a lot of your rhetorical questions… I do use an online website to track my daily food intake and carbs, calories, fat, sodium, sugar, fiber etc. I also plan meals a day in advance and pack all my food to take to work the night before (even If i fall asleep in front of the TV, I end up waking up ni the middle of the night to go and pack my food since I am left with this uneasy feeling to just ‘wing it’ with my meal plan). Recently, I packed an apple and a small serving of protein chips & a homemade protein bar when I went to the movies since I wanted to avoid the temptation of butter+artificial ingredient filled popcorn and candy. I do pride myself on my discipliine and my family always has comments like “jeez, live a little” or “you workout so much, you can afford to eat junk to ‘treat’ urself”, to which I respond with my jaw dropped, lol. Only those who are concious about nutrition labels and the nutritional information in the foods they eat, and those who know how hard it is to burn calories/fat during workouts would understand. ‘treat’ myself with junk food? No thanks! I actually enjoy eating a slice of whole grain bread with Almond butter and crushed walnuts as a treat (it’s my version of Frosted Poptarts or pastries).But I sometimes wonder, am I taking it too far? I’m a 25 year old full-time worker + part-time student, and needless to say wish there werre 40 hours in a day so I could cope with everything. However, I still devote 1-2 hours a day to my workouts (instead of taking a lunch break at work, I head to my local gym which is a street away from the office – then I come back to work, and eat at my desk while working). But then I think, discipline isn’t only for fitness professionals or bodybuilders.. why can’t an average Joe, or er, Jane incorporate such things into her day to day routine too, right?

  • Adrian Byron Burns

    I found the two videos extremely offensive. It reminded me of similar media attempts to make women bodybuilders look like freaks. It’s as if the media HAS to reinforce it’s mediocre values on us all by trying to find any loophole or anomoly in a decent philosophy or lifestyle and completely focus on it. There was no balance in that report. I’m sure that there are fanatical “health” people… I’m sure you can find people in ANY walk of life who obsess… That does NOT represent the majority, nor should it seem to….

  • When “too clean” means that you’re just not eating at all for days or weeks at a time, than its not a good thing.

    When it also means that you hate your life because you can NEVER eat your favorite food (ice cream, cookies, whatever), than its not a good thing.

    But when it comes to how you eat on a regular basis, I think eating fruit or veggies with some pesticide residue on it is probably better than reaching for a candy bar or goin to Taco Bell and eating 10 times the calories

  • Great article, Tom. Personally, I have pretty much ended the “clean eating” debate in my own mind by adopting the philosophy of this woman, who’s become a bit of a cult fitness heroine on the web. Look what she has to say about “clean eating”. I think it’s very simple, direct, and to the point, and it works for me – she doesn’t use the phrase at all, preferring “plain foods”:


    That said, having lived on both sides of the junk food/clean eating lifestyle fence, I’d rather eat clean and be considered a little OCD or neurotic, than go back to junk food and feel sick & crappy all the time (which is what it did to me). And that’s aside from the whole fat loss thing, which is pretty obvious.

  • Kathryn

    What is so upsetting is that “they” want to make a disorder out of everything, so “they” can prescribe a drug for it. Of course the trend to eating healthy foods is going to be frowned upon by the main stream media and doctors because this is cutting into their profits. Also companies like Monsanto will do whatever it takes to discourage people from eating clean, so we are forced to eat their frankenfoods. I don’t believe we should eat all raw either because some nutrients are only released when the cellulose is broken down, and one can get free range, grass fed, humanely raised meat to eat. I personally don’t like meat, but don’t know any other way to get the right kind and right amount of B12. The people in John Stossel’s report obviously weren’t getting enough protein so their bodies were eating their muscle. That doesn’t mean that everyone who eats clean foods is a nut case! It’s all part of the lies that the mainstream media, the FDA, the big food conglomerates, the pharmaceutical companies, and conventional doctors(who know nothing about nutrition) tell us. Avoiding chemicals and processed foods is NEVER a bad idea, but make sure you’re getting enough healthy fats and if your a person who needs more carbs then eat more healthy carbs! It just depends on your metabolism, your health issues, and your individual goals. Some people have many food allergies to even healthy,clean, foods and can get sick and tired eating clean foods even,so finding out what your body reacts negatively to is key. Avoiding that food or seeing an allergist or a NAET practitioner to help you overcome these allergies can be very helpful. The comment made by John Stossel about the appearance of the nutritionist he was interviewing was rude and only proved how superficial he is. If we could compare John Stossels colon and arteries to this guy’s, he might not be so smug. We’ll see who outlives who. That’s my 2 cents worth.

  • Karina Cerda

  • Sherri

    Leave it to the medical community to label commitment and dedication as a disease. There are and always will be the few extremes, that is life. I believe that the chemical companies, pharmaceutical companies, and the large food manufactures are all in bed together. they grow gmo foods, poison us-create all kinds of illnesses-cancers, diabetes, heart disease etc..then go to your dr for meds and care. end of the day somebody is getting rich off of you being sick. as soon as there is anykind of commitment, dedicated free-choice to eat clean and healthy it is attacked as being extreme and ‘wrong’. I have some pretty big food allergies that automatically make me a ‘clean eater’, I am highly allergic to the whey protein in dairy, as well, I am lactose intolerant. I am also, navigating the gluten issue in grains as it makes me very sick. At first it was really difficult to wrap my head around, but wow I feel great. Almond milk-great stuff, chick pea flour, brown rice flour, buckwheat flour, quinoa flour..awesome. I can’t imagine ever going back to eating ‘non-clean’. As just about every item that is processed out there has dairy in it, especially whey. So i have been blessed with food allergies, as making the hard commitment to clean eating easier because it makes me feel great. i am back to basics cooking, nothing out of a box for me!! I agree with you Tom, moderation is the key. Thanks for putting common sense out there!!

  • jjtkdgirl

    You know is interesting I’d that 100 years ago, junk food, processed food, pesticides weren’t even something that was discussed. For breakfast your options were a few variations of porridge, eggs and toast, grits, maybe even occasionally pancakes. Whatever grew in the garden, your fruit trees or neighbors berry patches was what you ate. You ate local meat, locally butchered. Does that mean we came from a generation of orthorexics??? I mean c’mon. Balance yes, but clearly all the sugar, processed foods etc have not made us healthier. Going back to the simplicity of food in its “cleanest” and original form is more ideal- that does not make people orthorexic- just learning from our past. 100 years ago there just wasn’t the other options to the same extent as what there is today. Learn from the past…

  • Very interesting article. I think clean eating is great as long as it does not cause worries and fears. I like your views of middle ground and balance.

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