This article has been Fact-Checked by Kendall Kennedy MS, RD, RYT
You might have heard about clean eating. A style of eating that focuses on un-processed foods. Does it work for weight loss?
What exactly is clean eating?
Clean eating is basically avoiding any foods that are not in their natural form. This means no processed foods and no preservatives or other additives.
There are multiple versions of this eating style. Some people go as far as not eating any grains. Others say you have to take certain supplements and eat 5-6 times a day.
For this article clean eating just means no processed foods and no additives.
Eating 2-3 meals without anything between is most likely healthier and better for weight loss than eating 5-6 times a day.
Clean eating basics
To clear most doubts, here are some examples of things you can and can’t eat while eating clean.
Foods you can eat:
- Whole fruits (no fruit juices)
- Fish and unprocessed meat
- Whole grains
- Potatoes, brown rice
- Coffee and tea without anything added to it
- Dairy products like yogurt, cheese and milk
Foods you can’t eat:
- Over-processed foods like white flour and sugar
- Artificial sweeteners
- Foods with preservatives
- Foods with chemical additives
- Soda and juice
Some people claim cooking food is processing too but that’s not really what eating clean is about.
Cooking your foods and adding herbs and spices are all clean-eating-approved.
Advantages of clean eating for weight loss
There are both advantages and disadvantages to following this style of eating.
By eating whole foods you will notice a big decrease in hunger for a lot less calories.
Usually the more processed foods are the more calories they contain.
Whole foods also contain nutrients like fiber and protein.
Fiber is a kind of carbohydrate that doesn’t get absorbed as calories into your body. The good part is that it still helps you feel fuller.
Protein is the most satiating macronutrient. 100 calories of protein will help you feel fuller than 100 calories of fat or carbohydrates.
On top of that vegetables and fruit often contain a lot of water. This is again helpful for feeling fuller.
More nutrients less harmful ingredients
Whole foods contain more nutrients in their natural forms.
It’s true that you could theoretically supplement all the vitamins and minerals. The problem is that the long-term consequences of that are not always entirely clear. Trying to get most of your nutrients from whole-foods is a good principle to live by.
Vitamins and minerals will help you feel better and improve your health.
On the other hand you’re avoiding a lot of ingredients like sugar and refined grains that are linked to worse health and more weight gain.
This ties in with the feeling less hungry advantage.
Because you feel fuller with less calories you will automatically eat less calories. The difference between eating 500 calories in candy or in potatoes is enormous.
Eating less calories can be helpful to achieve a calorie deficit. This results in weight loss.
More calorie burning
It takes your body more energy (calories) to process whole foods than let’s say sugar and refined grains. This is easily measurably in protein. It takes your body more calories to process 100 calories of protein than 100 calories of fats or carbohydrates.
Eating whole foods will also most likely improve the health of your microbiome, the collection of microbes living in your intestines. The health of your microbiome is linked to your own health and weight.
Clean eating will also reduce the amount of hormonal rollercoasters going on. This can lead to less hunger, more calorie burning and better sleep.
Finally, whole foods often contain a nice amount of water. Drinking more water actually slightly increases the amount of calories you burn.
Disadvantages of clean eating for weight loss
Like with most things you can also find disadvantages of clean eating. Not everyone will put as much value on the disadvantages. It’s up to you to weigh the advantages against the disadvantages.
Too strict for some people
Some people find the clean eating rules a bit too strict.
Most reactions are something like “and when can I eat my favorite cookies”, even though there are pretty tasty clean eating snacks for weight loss.
Clean eating is more something you strive to as much as possible. You can have a “cheat day/meal” every once in a while. That’s a day or meal you can have “unclean” foods. Even then this way of eating is not for everyone.
Not all whole foods are equal
While clean eating is probably a big step forward for a lot of people in terms of weight loss and health, there still are important differences within all the whole foods.
The clean eating rules miss a few guidelines in terms of what foods are the best for weight loss. For example everyone needs protein in their diet. Humans just can’t go without it but there are no rules for this.
Another example is nuts. While they are whole foods, they are fairly high in calories. If you would eat them all day you would probably gain weight.
More time to prepare food
For most people clean eating will increase the amount of time spent preparing food. It’s just a little more effort than just putting a pre-made meal in the microwave.
One way you can save time is by making meal preps. If you put in effort in advance, clean eating doesn’t have to take long.
Shopping more often
Because there are no (or less) preservatives in the food you buy it goes bad faster.
This means you can buy less food at once. As a result you will probably have to go to the grocery store more often.
Potentially too much of a calorie deficit
Depending on what your diet looks like right now, clean eating can put you in a big calorie deficit all of the sudden.
While that sounds like a lot of happy weight loss, there is a problem with that. Losing weight too quickly can have negative effects on your health.
One way to solve this is by gradually switching to clean eating. Every week you swap some processed foods for vegetables and fruits.
Other aspects of your health can help weight loss too
Clean eating doesn’t have any guidelines for the other aspects of your health that can help weight loss.
Things like exercise and sleep are also good for your weight loss.
Will you see weight loss results with clean eating?
The answer depends on the things you are already doing and the results will be different per individual.
That being said most likely 90%+ of people will see weight loss results by switching over to clean eating.
You also don’t have to go from 0 to 1 with this. Even just eating some extra vegetables instead of a processed snack once a day can cause weight loss results.
Things like a cheat day or an unclean snack every once in a while can help you stick to this way of eating.