You’ve probably seen it floating around TikTok (or IG reels if you’re of the millennial era like me):
🌟 eat clean
🌟 clean eating is the healthiest way to eat
🌟 the cleaner you eat the more [insert desired physical attribute] you’ll have
You can see that a quick Google search pulls results that include words like:
What does this mean? How can I eat this way? Both very valid questions, and it’s important to understand what clean eating is, how it came to be, and what we, as dancers, can do about it.
The technical definition of clean eating is: the practice of eating primarily unprocessed and unrefined foods. That’s from the Oxford Dictionary. Cool, so more fun words that aren’t clear. In summation, unprocessed and unrefined essentially means that a food has been minimally touched and is in its most natural state, or close to how it appears in nature. It’s easy to bring to mind fruits, like a bunch of bananas, potatoes, carrots (not the baby kind), or any other fresh, raw, unpackaged produce you can think of.
technically, clean eating is the practice of eating unprocessed and unrefined foods.
Cool, you might be thinking, so that means I can’t rely on the grab-n-go salads I snag at the café between rehearsals or the bag of baby carrots + hummus I rely on for snacks during the day.
And yes, technically, clean eating would mean that these convenient or on-the-go options would need to be eliminated from your diet. Functionally speaking, and I’ll be honest, the actual definition of clean eating is essentially impossible for really anyone to follow. Unless, of course, they have their own garden and grow their own veggies. Even with those resources, though, the produce would need to be harvested, washed, chopped/cut/diced, and likely cooked in some way before eating it, and you know what? ... AND they have to have the time to do all of that. Those steps from garden to plate are all considered processing foods. WILD RIGHT!? I mean, to think about it in a different way, if you’re a meat eater, you can’t just go up and eat a cow or a chicken. The animal must go through a process to make it to your plate, just like the fruits, veggies, grains, and everything else that is part of your nutritionally balanced diet.
the actual definition of clean eating is essentially impossible for anyone to follow.
It is more realistic to consider the term “clean eating” or “clean foods” as marketing terms. These are words curated by the food industry that create a hierarchy among foods and help some people to feel better about themselves because they “eat clean.”
So, what should you, a dancer, who wants to feel and perform your best without jumping through unnecessary hoops?
The book that really helped me on this part of my wellness journey was Unprocessed by Megan Kimble. The entire book isn’t about clean eating, but it details her journey of un-processing much of her day-to-day life. It’s a really fun adventure to go on with her, and I cannot recommend her book enough. She also makes it very clear that aiming to eat in this way - a “clean,” unprocessed manner - is expensive and can be incredibly cost-prohibitive for many people - both financially and timewise.
One of my favorite notes from Kimble’s book (p220):
“At what point does our work advance or enrich us, materially and spiritually, and at what point does it remove us from the activities - intellectual, communal, emotional - that accumulate into a life lived well?”
This concept/theme is applicable across numerous spectrums.
Are you so worried about “clean eating” that you’re missing out on time in the studio? Physical rest + recovery time? Time socializing, being with family + friends?
If the answer is yes to any of these, maybe it’s time to re-evaluate how your foods + nutrition habits are supporting your well-being. Could you utilize convenience foods more often? That might simply mean buying the already diced sweet potatoes, butternut squash, the bag of washed and ready-to-roast Brussels sprouts, the package of ground meat in the freezer section, the pre-made + packaged salad, the frozen TV dinner, or whatever you might be able to reach for that makes eating easy and fit within your day-to-day schedule.
With this in mind, I’m confident that the definition of clean eating for dancers should mean:
🥑 washing your produce before eating it
🥑 avoiding foods that you’re allergic to, are spoiled or rotten, that upset your stomach, or that make you feel not great
🥑 filling your plate with all the colors of the rainbow
🥑 eating in a way that eMpowers your performance - whether that’s on-the-go or at home
Your nutrition should be easy, nourishing, and fun! Try not to sweat the small stuff and find a rhythm that works for you. Unsure where to start? Check out my Eating for Sustainability Guide, my free resource that helps you optimize your diet to eMpower athletic ability and enhance rest + recovery.