By Kelsey Klepper

“What goes into someone’s mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them.” (Matthew 15:11)

I have a history of disordered eating—years of binging and restricting, years of meticulous counting and missing out on my life. On my journey to recovery though, I thought I had finally found a way to honor my body and ditch the diets by doing this thing called “clean eating.” I didn’t necessarily call it that at the time because I didn’t know society had named it as such. I was choosing whole foods but still felt guilt and shame around “non-clean foods” and wasn’t feeling satisfied when I really just wanted a brownie or cookie but instead ate a “healthified” version.

There are countless diets out there. Countless. “Clean eating” is just one of the more popular ones in the last couple years, branded to be a “healthy” way to eat. I fell for it, and I’m a dietitian! I, like most women, wanted to feel good, and to feel good we’re shown and told through literally everything around us that we need to look a certain way. Clean eating seemed like a less restrictive approach to what I thought was freedom from my obsession with food (but still secretly I wanted it to change my body—to make it smaller).

“Clean eating” – It has about 4,199 different definitions and rules. Here’s just a few of those rules depending on what Pinterest image you click on:

No sugar. Lean meats. Organic. Non-GMO. Gluten-free. Dairy-free. Vegan. Raw. Detox. Lemon water. Green juice. Black coffee—hold the cream. Whole grains—but only twice a week. Quinoa over rice. Wine, yeah that’s fine. Cocktails? Only with club soda and a lime. Everyone has time to soak, rinse and cook dried beans for 20 hours—do that, no canned beans. Cauliflower crust pizza—it tastes the same as the real stuff, you won’t even miss the old stuff. Make your own whole wheat pasta – that packaged stuff just too many ingredients. $10 chocolate bars w/ 100% cacao. Milk your own cow—but only if the rules you’re following allows you to have dairy. No packaged food. Want a chip? Eat a carrot instead because that will totally satisfy your desire for a chip every single time. 10 servings of fruits and vegetables daily. No caffeine. 3 jugs of water daily. Eat all the “superfoods” – throw them in a blender and make a smoothie if that’s how you like it….

Ok, so maybe I got a little carried away with some of the “clean eating” rules. But that’s what they are: rules, and they are just ridiculous. Why all the rules? What are they doing for us besides making us literally obsess over what we put in our mouths?

Most of the time, the following scenario will happen if I or literally anyone tries to follow said “food rules”:

I follow the rules, and I feel good. I feel revived and energized for maybe a month or two. These food rules are so difficult to follow though, I’m starting to feel like I’m missing out. My mind is constantly thinking about the rules and my next meal and having to look at the menu ahead of time when we go out to eat so I can pre-choose the “cleanest option.” Meanwhile Frankie and Susie are enjoying spinach and artichoke dip with fries as their side option with their meal. They are having a good conversation, and I’m over here trying to talk myself out of eating the dip. I can’t even enjoy the evening. All I can think about is the food that I’m not allowed to have. I just want a donut and cream in my coffee because I don’t even enjoy it black. I want to eat chips. And I want to enjoy vegetables because I can, not because I have to. And I want some darn vegetable dip once in a while. Now I’m at a tipping point where the rules are just too much, but I’m feeling guilty for thinking about “indulging” in foods that are on the “no” list.

Eventually I break. I give in to what I actually want, and I eat it. But I don’t just eat one because it’s become such a big deal to me  and I have so much guilt around it that I eat 2 or 5 or 10. The shame tears me apart. I blame myself for not being able to stick with the rules that made me “feel so good,” but brought my quality of life down because I was obsessing over food and not living.

I didn’t realize this though because following the rules had become life to me. I had forgotten what living is really like outside of the rules. Because to me, living outside of the rules was just shame-filled. So that process starts over with maybe the same rules or different ones, but only to have the same shame filled ending.

This scenario was me on every diet, including clean eating. It’s restrictive. Food and eating should not cause guilt. It should not be all consuming. It should not be related with shame.

The shame-filled ending that too many of us relate to does not have to end there. Your identity does not have to be shame. I don’t want that for you. The world does. The world wants you on this crazy food rule game so you can never find peace.

“Everything is permissible for me, but not everything is helpful. Everything is permissible for me, but I will not allow anything to control me.” (1 Corinthians 6:12)

There is so much peace, so much joy, so much freedom. You will not find it though in the rules. You will not find it when you temporarily get to the size you’re striving for. End the food rules. Just quit them.

Find freedom in listening to your body and honoring that.

Find freedom in movement that feels good for you.

Find freedom in the present moment.

And most importantly find the ultimate freedom in Jesus. He will transform your life if you let Him.