Clean Eating vs Lean Eating



I am often approached about what, when, and how to make dietary changes in order to achieve fat loss results or break a plateau.  Clean and lean eating are two trendy terms that need to be clarified.

Eating clean and eating lean, for fat loss, are not necessarily the same concepts.  While both lifestyles overlap in many ways, clean eating is NOT always about eating for fat loss and lean eating does not have to follow the guidelines of clean eating.

Clean Eating

If you aren’t familiar with clean eating or are confused by clean eating that’s okay.  There are thousands of definitions out there as it’s popularity has risen.  At it’s core, though, clean eating is a lifestyle where you choose to consume foods in their most natural state.  It is highly concerned with food prep and a simple ingredient list.

In the beginning when clean eating first hit the “diet” scene, it was a less confusing way to live.  Things that were packaged were deemed UNCLEAN and everything else just easily fell into place…veggies, meats, nuts, seeds, fruits etc.  It earned a rightful place in fat loss because the foods you were limited to were nutrient dense foods.  However, eating clean has more to do with eliminating things like chemicals and unnatural ingredients from your foods than physique change.

Common Mistakes in Clean Eating

1.  Be aware, nutrient dense can also mean calorie dense… like nuts!  You can easily overdo clean snacks and get yourself out of fat loss mode.  Eating clean does NOT automatically translate into fat loss!

2.  Clean eating desserts ARE STILL DESSERTS!  Treat them as such!  If you eat a pint full of banana faux ice cream you still digested a mother load of sugar.  Clean calories, yes.  Nutrient rich calories, yes.  But if you are constantly making, baking, and digesting clean desserts you will not lose an oz. of belly fat.

3.  Look at the ingredients list on all foods labeled “Natural,” “No Preservatives,” “Nitrate free,” “All Natural” etc.  They often lie.  You want a short, easy to identify ingredient list even if it’s not labeled as “Natural” on the package.

For example, Lay’s Plain Potato chips are actually a very clean product especially in comparison to the “natural” snack options out there today.  Lay’s, however, is not selling themselves to the clean eating public.  They are a party food therefore it is more profitable for them to be perceived as fun vs. clean.  Interesting, right!?!?  Read their label, though, less than 5, easy to identify ingredients.

Lean Eating

As with clean eating, this is a lifestyle choice but with lean eating you only consume foods that create a particular physique.  It is less concerned with ingredient lists and food preparation and more interested with how a particular food affects one’s metabolism.

As with clean eating, there are thousands of definitions and ways to interpret the term.  Lean eating has NO hard and fast rules to follow because it’s concerned with how the individual’s body changes based on how they eat.  However, in starting a lean eating lifestyle everyone is asked to begin incorporating lean proteins into EVERY meal.  This means that snacks or mini-meals are to be centered around a protein too.  Manipulating your other macros, carbs and fats, is based on your results.

Common Mistakes in Lean Eating

1.  Choosing “Fat Free” style labels over nutrient dense foods.  By now, HOPEFULLY, we understand that fat free labels usually come as a highly processed food with additional sugars added.  Fat free is not necessarily the best choice for fat loss.

2.  Choosing bacon over leaner proteins-  I agree… bacon is amazing.  It is, however, high in fat.  Unless your metabolism does well with animal fats, bacon on everything may not be the best physique changing food for you.

3.  Keeping up with results- to understand how a food affects your system you must stay in tune with how your body is changing.  What works for your bacon eating friend, may be your worst nightmare.  Do YOU!!

4.  Not eating enough variety!-  Lean eaters are quite concerned with macros and often want to find a very specific “formula” to attain results.  Our guts need VARIETY to stay healthy and keep our digestive systems running efficiently.

My recommendations to you…

Know your goals!  Know the possible outcomes of each lifestyle choice!  Both have merits and both have their weaknesses depending on what you are trying to achieve.

Once upon a time I was a hard line clean eater and also a hard line lean eater.  I learned valuable things from each phase.


I use what I loved about clean eating and lean eating and make it fit my schedule, my goals, and my results.  I am neither entirely clean nor entirely lean when I eat.  Deli meat is no longer a container full of cancer to me and my meals are no longer a plate full of macros either.  I’m CONSISTENTLY living somewhere in between lean and clean at ANY given time and feeling happy with that freedom both as a busy mom and someone who loves to see a muscular frame.

Could breaking your plateau be as simple as stepping away from rules that dictate your every move.  Clean eating can place a lot of pressure on someone’s already hectic schedule.  On the flip side, lean eating can feel like a boring tuna can opening experience for others.  Instead of picking a side, PLACE THE GREATEST VALUE on the habits that keep you mentally and physically healthy and that are achievable on a daily or almost daily basis.  To stay consistent with anything we have to like ourselves and like how we eat too!!!



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