If I hear “clean eating” one more time…

One of my clients like many others, “wanted to lose some ‘flab’ around the midsection” and see some definition. Upon assessment, I found out that she had a very low lean mass (muscle and bone) percentage. She wanted to talk about nutrition because she “sometimes only eats one meal a day, very ‘clean’ and not too big” according to her description, and maybe a piece of toast in the morning (only one because she didn’t want to eat too much bread) along with a shake with protein (“like you told me because I need more protein”), sometimes she puts avocado on her toast and that’s all because she isn’t hungry for more, but… she can’t lose the ‘fluff’. How can that be? Was there something wrong with her body?

So, my first question was, “when you say ‘clean’ what does clean mean to you?”.

She looked at me weirdly and then said: “Oh, you know, without crap”

Well, the thing is that ‘crap’ means different things for different people, see? For a vegan anything animal may be crap, for an athlete any food that is not nutrient-dense enough to fuel their training may be crap, for someone following a low-calorie diet, anything that makes them overeat may be crap, and someone starving won’t see any of that crap you speak of, so most of the time, those are self-imposed terms depending on our current situation and/or beliefs, I just want to know what it means to you.  

“Oh… well… to me, it means, little or no bread or pasta because of the calories, no sugary stuff, no red meats, that’s it, the stuff that’s unhealthy and has too many calories, yeah, that”.

OK, did you put anything else in that shake that you have in the morning, other than the whey protein?

“Yeah, I put a protein scoop with some broth that I got (but it’s too expensive so I won’t buy it again), sometimes almond milk, a banana, some collagen powder with some greens because it’s good for you, a spoon of peanut butter, chia seeds, some sunflower seeds, and a bit of coconut oil to add some fats, I’ve heard it’s good too”.

When you say a spoon of Peanut butter, how do you measure it? do you measure a level spoon, or do you use a scale, and weigh it? And how many of the seeds, more than a tablespoon?

“Just a scoop out of the jar and I don’t know, some seeds, probably more than a spoonful, they are little”

OK, so here is the thing:

Carbohydrates are 4 calories per gram.  

Proteins are also 4 calories per gram.

Fats though are 9 calories per gram.

So, you know that bread and sugar you are concerned about? Bread is a carb, those are 4 calories per gram, while the peanut butter, the chia seeds, the sunflower seeds, and the coconut oil, are all mostly 9 calories per gram, because they are all mostly fats (which she didn’t know). It doesn’t matter if they are little, and if you are also having an avocado on that toast in the morning and sometimes another one in your dinner salad, those are also fats with 9 calories per gram and little to no proteins or carbs. More carbs and proteins can add volume to your foods making them a lot less calorie dense and a lot more satiating, allowing you to have that extra slice of bread or two and even some “sugary stuff” that you’d like to enjoy.

Let’s make some numbers (grabbing some paper, a pen, and my phone as a calculator and asking for as approximate as possible portion descriptions):

1 scoop of whey = 120 calories

1 banana = 100 calories

1 scoop of peanut butter = 200 calories ended up being 2 big heaping scoops that count for 3 = 285 calories

? Chia seeds +/- 140 calories

? Sunflower seeds +/- 200 calories

Almond milk +/- 60 calories

Coconut oil = 170

Collagen powder +/- 145 calories

The caloric content of that morning shake is around 1075 calories, no wonder you aren’t that hungry the rest of the day and you only have only one extra meal. Those are the calories of 15 slices of bread.

Honestly, I was more concerned about the lack of muscle and bone mass, but… you sometimes have to compromise between what the client wants and what you know it’s best for them, after all, she’ll be consuming enough protein now and will be doing a good progressive lifting program.

This is a perfect example of why telling people to only eat whole foods, cut the crap out of their diet, stop eating junk food, ‘eat clean‘, or eliminate food groups is not only completely meaningless but can sometimes do more harm than good.

Talking of which, what are you eliminating that maybe you shouldn’t be? 

Further reading:


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