The most common thing I hear from potential clients is the following: " I'm eating good clean food but I'm not losing weight". The answer to this problem is normally one of two things:
1) They are genuinely taking in an appropriate amount of calories for their bodyweight and physical activity but years of constant dieting and dealing with bro-science coaches has wrecked their metabolism beyond recognition.
2) They see clean eating as a free for all and assume that because the food they are eating is wholesome and "clean" that they will by definition lose weight regardless of their overall calorie intake.
This little piece serves to deal exclusively with reason number two although writing this I have just realised that reason two deserves a rant of it's own in the near future. Regardless, let us continue.
The idea of clean eating has most certainly been most heavily propagated by pro bodybuilders and their sponsoring supplement companies/ magazines and very successfully so: when you ask the average gym rat on the street what is required to lose weight I can guarantee "eat clean" will echo through the streets of Fourways like a battlecry from a group of marauding Impis.
However, they're wrong. It's an archaic false narrative that is gradually being phased out by those that understand that although quality of food being consumed is an important factor in the way you look and perform it is not the single most important factor effecting weight loss or even body composition. Here are a couple of individual statements to substantiate my point:
1) Clean food still contributes calories to your daily intake. 1g of carbohydrate has 4kcal, 1g of protein has 4kcal and 1g of fat has 9kcal. Regardless of the source. You can gain weight eating only apples and you can lose weight on a diet solely comprised of McDonald's. Calories in vs calories out. It's the reason Susan from accounts is still overweight eating quinoa and hake everyday and Pedro from the building site maintains single digit body fat year round on a diet of Stoney ginger beer and loaves of white bread.
2) The majority of what pro bodybuilders or bro coaches do leading into shows is a basic example of gradual calorie restriction. The most common formula must involve relying on steak/chicken and carbs to begin with and then gradually favouring green vegetables over starch and fish/egg whites over steak or chicken. They get leaner; not because their is something innately "cleaner" about fish, egg whites or green vegetables but simply by nature of the fact that they are managing to meet their protein requirements while drastically reducing their overall calorie intake.
3) The majority of people who undertake clean eating plans fail to go the distance. Yip, tough pill to swallow but how many people who you know that go on a diet actually stay on a diet longer than a few weeks? Very few. They fail either because they cannot stick to such a narrow selection of food, they fail to enjoy the food they eat or they simply lack the dedication or drive to prep the bro standard 4-6 meals a day. The notion of "clean food" ends up being incredibly limiting and thus is only really a short term solution for most people.
4) What is clean food? This is a difficult question for most people who propagate the idea to answer. The bro/mainstream fitness community seems to fight between "low in calories", "low in sugar" and "unprocessed" - the low in calories crew labels avocados and nuts as evil and the low sugar crew label fruit as evil and the unprocessed food guys are the ones chugging 5-6 different supplement powders in and around every workout - which despite how helpful they may be does not stand very well with their "unprocessed" viewpoint. Nobody really knows; a brief look into the list of approved "bro foods" would reveal to us that a common ground between all of these waring factions would be simply that one should simply limit your consumption of calorie dense foods that are void of any micronutrients or fibre. On this we point we agree but I'd prefer if it we could all just stop worshipping fish and broccoli as the ultimate fat loss meal when the entire DIET and the resulting protein/ calorie intake is the single most important factor for fat loss.
5) You hear a lot of guys saying things like "ah boet just gotta get the calories in" when trying to gain weight yet when they diet they pay no attention to overall calories and simply make the switch to eating clean. This makes no sense to me; if ensuring a calorie surplus and adequate protein is enough for building muscle mass then why is a calorie deficit and adequate protein not enough to preserve muscle mass and drop body fat when dieting?
6) Your body doesn't give you any additional reward for superseding your micronutrient requirements. This is the thinking that brought about the 80/20 rule I subscribe to when talking about flexible dieting - 80% of your daily macronutrient intake should come from wholesome, unprocessed foods to ensure that your daily micronutrient needs are met (I also recommend a quality SSN MultiVit as an insurance policy) with 20% of your daily macronutrient intake coming from less "clean foods". How is that relevant? Well, if you're a 275lb amateur bodybuilder and require 4200kcal daily to gain 1lb a week a diet that consists of solely chicken, rice, egg whites and oats is probably going to be out of the question as appetite and time become a limiting factor causing a lot of people to fall short. Well, let us consider the following: suppose this bodybuilder meets his micronutrient and protein requirements at around 3600 (roughly 80%) by eating wholesome unprocessed food and by taking a quality multivitamin. I can say with absolutely surety that the source of the remainder of his calories will make little to no difference to his weight nor his body composition and the inclusion of some tasty food into any phase of eating is always a welcome addition: increasing overall happiness and adherence.
That's a brief summary on my thoughts about clean eating - I by no means think that the quality of the food in a diet makes no difference to the overall look and wellbeing of clients but I do think it's importance is often exaggerated causing the more important factors to be overlooked.