EATING CLEAN® - the balanced approach to a global phenomenon of eating gone wrong

Exerpt from The Guardian:

“The first and more moderate version of “clean” food started in 2007, when Tosca Reno, a Canadian fitness model, published a book called The Eat-Clean Diet. In it, Reno described how she lost 34kg (75lb) and transformed her health by avoiding all over-refined and “processed foods”, particularly white flour and sugar. A typical Reno eat-clean meal might be stir-fried chicken and vegetables over brown rice; or almond-date biscotti with a cup of tea. In many ways The Eat-Clean Diet was like any number of diet books that had come before, advising plenty of vegetables and modestly portioned, home-cooked meals. The difference, which Anthony Warner calls a piece of “genius” on Reno’s part, was that she presented it, above all, as a holistic way of living.”

I want to thank Bee Wilson, who authored this article, and saw fit to do what I could not - draw the lines in the sand about an eating revolution that I began with balance in mind and highlight what it is not. I wish to also put a finer point on some of her information and more specifically to describe what Eating Clean® is as envisioned at its’ inception.

I know this is just semantics, but, I make a distinction between Eating Clean® and Clean Eating.  Yes, it’s just letters, but for me, it is much more than that.  Clean Eating is a magazine, one I used to own with my late husband, Robert Kennedy.  We created the magazine together after seeing the response to articles about nutrition that I had written - the early version of Clean Eating was called Nutrition.  We created the magazine together, and I became an active contributor.  Since having had to bankrupt Robert’s business, after his death in 2012, I was forced to sell all his titles, including Clean Eating, to Active Interest Media.  The folks there are handling the mag now and I no longer contribute.  That’s just details folks.  And while I miss the magazine, I have moved on.

Eating Clean® is not only, as Wilson states, based on the idea that “our current way of eating is slowly poisoning us.”  Eating Clean® and the Eat Clean Diet® are movements, books, words and intentions that I have created, built and nurtured, to this day, to heal ourselves through whole foods.  These are my life’s work.  They are brands and trademarks that I work to protect.  They are not casualties of bankruptcy.  They are part of the revolution that Wilson speaks of in her article. They are my voice and my intention every day and the way I choose to serve to my highest and best.

I do agree with Wilson that Clean Eating (not Eating Clean®) could be a “dysfunctional response to a still more dysfunctional food supply: a dream of purity in a toxic world.” What others, who did not do the homework, or the incubating of a dream, and who simply ran with an idea that sounded good and if it was working for Reno it would work for me too kind of mentality - there are literally thousands of copycats - do not realize, nor respect, is the original intention of the good idea that Eating Clean® is.

For me, Eating Clean® was a response, not so much to poisoned food, as to my poisoned lifestyle.  I had become obese through my own ignorance and overeating habits. I was eating my emotions through foods, which included ice cream, peanut butter and cheese.  Not willing to address how I was feeling, I did the only reasonable thing at the time, eat myself to oblivion.  It worked. For a while, until the scale revealed that I was obese.

While I was gorging, I was also dying. Life is not rich with purpose when your only friends are foods.  Life doesn’t offer much hope when you’ve built a wall of fat around yourself.  Every mouthful was one more brick in a prison of my own creation.  I was ill and depressed.   It took courage to look beyond that constricted life, and think that I could and should become a better version of myself.  

The spark, you ask?  You may have noticed, it is the very thing or person testing you that strengthens you.  Looking out from that world of food and obesity in which I had become trapped, I began to take the daily acts of abuse my first husband delivered to me, as proof that I was a survivor and even a warrior.

When it came time to climb out and reconnect with my true self, I needed tools. The first and most critical tool was Eating Clean®.  I needed to shed 85 pounds of unhealthy weight.  How to do it? I could run but that didn’t help me shed my “fat skin.” When I was introduced to Eating Clean® through Robert Kennedy, an icon in bodybuilding, I sat up and took notice.  He challenged me to prepare for a bodybuilding contest.  All I had to do was Eat Clean® and lift weights.  

I did that.  My life was forever changed.

Eating Clean®, taken from the preparations bodybuilders and physique competitors undergo to get lean and ripped, is about eating lean protein, complex carbs from veggies and minimal fats. Robert and I changed the process to include more greens for me and somewhat more fat.  In response, my body dumped 85 pounds of fat, packed on 20 pounds of muscle and got shredded.  I placed in the top 5, in my first ever contest, at age 42. This is what Eating Clean® could do.

From there we adapted the Eat Clean® revolution to a growing audience, mostly composed of women who wanted to get lean, and look and feel fabulous no matter what their age.  My first book, The Eat-Clean Diet®, released in January 2007, was a national bestseller in Canada within the first 2 weeks, selling all 5000 copies of our first print run.  We printed more and sold them too, becoming a sensation in the US.  From there I wrote 13 more books in the series, contributing to 3 million copies of the books being sold.  Now the books are printed in German and Italian, with more on the way.

What then, is Eating Clean®?

Eating Clean® is best defined as a lifestyle way of eating whole, nutrient dense, well sourced, properly prepared, minimally processed foods.  It is not about starvation, counting calories or trends.  It is about viewing every meal as an opportunity to flood the body with the nutrients it needs for optimal wellness.  

If disorders, including orthorexia, have resulted from Clean Eating it is because others have interpreted what I originally created, in a different, sometimes damaging way.  If you Eat Clean®, as I envisioned it, orthorexia is not the result.  

I am the product of my own product.  

Since that first instructive bodybuilding contest, I have followed the Eat Clean® lifestyle.  I eat, probably more than most people, in a normal day, maintain a healthy weight, am energetic, have a capable brain and have no eating disorders.  If I want to eat cake, I do. If I want a glass of wine, I do.  My family will offer proof. My four daughters and brand new granddaughter see that my approach to eating is normal. They never see me count a calorie nor starve myself.  They do enjoy a glass of red now and then and a birthday always has cake.

Using the term Eating Clean® is not intended as a strike against another.  But to say that there is “dirty” food is a truth. In medieval times, the word for unclean food was “perverted.”  This referred to the process of adding sugar to beer. Fines were imposed for those brewmasters who perverted beer by adding sugar.  If we extrapolate the idea of food perversion, there are thousands of foods today that have been similarly made dirty, beginning with the first of the processed foods to appear, cornflakes.  Thousands of such quasi foods now appear on grocery store shelves, many of which have dubious nutritional value.  Most of which contain far too much sugar or ingredients that turn to sugar in the body.  I am not against natural sugar but refined sugar has NO place in the diet. It is not a food and never was.  

I am happy that in this article, so many have done the research to call out the quacks amongst Clean Eating proponents.  Why not? To tell people to eat in a way that diminishes health has no benefit and is clearly harmful.  Many will continue to urge Clean Eating upon us.  But I feel the real value of this article is to point out what is harmful about the new and varied interpretations of it.  

Eating Clean® was always intended to be a lifestyle way of eating that embraces the best nutritionally dense foods have to offer.  We can find this nutritional density in properly prepared foods like Bone Broths, fermented foods, soaked and fermented grains, nuts and seeds.  In general, a food that delivers the nutrients needed by the trillions of cells in the body, to function optimally.

As for the debacle that befell Goop inspiration, Gwyneth Paltrow and Ms Shaw of Get the Glow, they deserve it if they do not follow their own advice.  Not knowing what you write about is the primary error in so many of the publications  “from a “never-ending stream of blonde, willowy ‘authorities’, many of whom seemed to be devising diets based on little but their own limited experience”.   What do they know if they never did the work?  At least I can say I know what it feels like to have eaten the sweet potatoes, the brown rice, grilled chicken, lifted the 200 pound barbell while squatting, and healed my hypoglycemia, overweight and depression.  At least I can say that I did the work.  I did and still am.

As a final note, please know that I have written and followed my own advice about eating and am the product of my product. I can tell you what I eat every day and why I eat it.  I make the recipes myself. I ferment my own kefir and kimchi.  When someone asks me about spiralizing vegetables, I am never surprised. You can do whatever you want to a vegetable but mostly I just eat them.  

Written while fermenting milk, sipping kombucha and enjoying life.

Warmly and in good health,

Tosca