on the #cleaneating dilemma


No, I'm not a vegan - please stop asking.

Honestly, I’m having a moment today. It’s sort of insane that I’m even writing this right now.

I understand that social media can be confusing. That its all green smoothies and zucchini noodles and raw cookies and I get it. Hell, I’m certainly a part of it. I’ll admit I shy away from posting birds eye views of meals that include animal products mostly due to the backlash in the yoga community and the all caps comments of “AHIMSA YOU SHOULD TRY IT” that are inevitable. I once posted a recipe for bone broth and just about had to break out the UFC gloves and rear naked choke holds to wrangle in the chaos.

So yeah, I understand that I have many vegan or 100% plant based followers and I end up tiptoeing around your feeds to keep the comments at bay.

We all love to categorize. boxes and compartmentalization make us comfortable. So c’mon Carling, what are you? what ‘diet’ do you follow? It’s one of the most common questions both Patrick and myself get, and the one we try to avoid the most.

Because there is no buzzword or hashtag for “I eat stuff that is from as close to my house as possible and doesn’t make me feel like shit” I stopped eating much grains (rice/corn/oats) whenever possible because finally, after 28 years, I realized that pooping once a week was not normal (to be fair, I wasn’t exactly asking around) and that being constantly constipated makes you feel like shit (pun intended). I’m sure I just made you uncomfortable by mentioning poop, but remember, you asked. And I don’t drink milk because it aggravates my asthma. So yeah. breathing and pooping, that's my category I guess. Should I start hashtaging that? #breatheandpoop

Do I eat mostly fruits and vegetables? yes I most certainly do. am I a vegan? no, I am not. I was vegan for many years in the past but have not been 100% plant based for quite some time now. Then why do you eat at so many vegan restaurants and share so many plant based recipes? Because they're delicious! There are unbelievably amazing vegan restaurants all around the world (probably even in your town too, wink wink nudge nudge) that everyone should be eating at! I’ve always gravitated sharing the more interesting recipes which often involve food groups other than meat. It’s easy to get meat. Most of us know how to cook chicken breasts or make spaghetti bolognese. Have you been on the internet lately? There are more viral Tasty videos for cheesy stuffed meatballs than there are prank videos of dudes getting hit in the balls on Youtube.  I wholeheartedly believe the more helpful thing I can do is work to inspire people to incorporate more of all the rest into their meals. Finding a more balanced eating experience and rearranging our plates from their usual meat-centric focus to a new ratio of mostly plants, some meat.

In complete honesty, my past eating disorder has left a food shaped hole in my brain - and in my teeth, and my skin, and my stomach lining. These days, I often try to fill it with knowledge. I’ve always loved learning and over the last few years I’ve moved my need to exercise obsessive control from my body to my brain.

I’ve taken courses in Nutritional Therapy, trained as a raw food chef, was a vegan for years past, and most everything in between. In my (not a doctor) experience, there’s really no such thing as recovered, we’re always in recovery. Just like an addict, most addicts don’t ever stop being addicts, they tend to just transfer the addiction to something healthier or more positive. Cigarettes turn into marathons and alcoholism turns into spirituality. Its a very effective tactic and one that I’ve certainly employed for better or worse.

I don’t say this as an insult to anyone in currently in recovery, or to minimize anyone else’s experience. However, I say this as a nod to the fact that recovery is an ongoing process. We may be able to quiet the destructive narratives, but its unlikely that the whispers of our experiences and actions will ever fully silence.

I may not be doing the math anymore, but I can certainly still tell you the calorie content and make up of nearly any food on the planet. calories in the average slice of cheese pizza? macro content of an apple? no problem. and if I’ve got a hidden super power its probably that I can eyeball 200 calories of almonds (or basically any food) like a ninja. After years of obsession and control, nothing short of hypnotism or shock therapy is going to pry this “vital” information from my brain. Do I know my caloric baseline? Yes, its stuck back there in nether regions of my brain along with the lyrics to Brian Mcknight’s “Back to One”.  Just like I know the 50 states or my childhood phone number by heart, my brain seems to have a whole separate set of rather distinct folds dedicated to this knowledge. We may or may not have recouped the damage we did to our bodies (in my case, to the tone of a few thousand dollars worth of dental work and irreparable skin damage) but the experiences we have drilled into our psyches are now unequivocally a permanent part of us.

Eating disorders are relevant here because eating is a deeply important part of the human experience. Food is inextricably interwoven into every part of our lives. Hunger strikes are political tactics, not buying factory farmed meat is a moral and political statement (for those of us privileged enough to have the choice). Breaking bread and sharing communal meals are an integral parts of our sense of belonging and community. Even breastfeeding is controversial. these days conversations surrounding how to feed your child from day 1 are contentious to say the least. Guilt and shame, bad and good, its all now part of the usual food narrative. Should we feel guilt on the larger plane for the way we have destroyed the planet and our precious topsoil with industrial agriculture? Yes, we probably should because we’re nearly fucked. but do we need “guilt free” cookie recipes? no. because cookies are cookies and do not inherently require guilt or shame to be baked or consumed. The categories of “to feel guilt or not” are man-made constructions. Guilt is not listed in the ingredients and is not inherently in the nature of warm delicious gooey cookies.

I truly do wish there was more definitive research on what the hell is in our food, and how it effects our unique and ever changing bodies. but easier said than done and until profiting corporations stop funding research and the wealth of propaganda slows (coming from ALL sides, not just the terrible meat & dairy industry. I’m talking to you vegans. if you tell me to check out the extremely biased nutritionfacts.org or watch Cowspiracy - which of course I already have - then I’m gonna have to whip out those UFC gloves again to whoop all the bad science outta ya) we simply have to do the best we can with what our lives and situations afford us.

So, here are my ‘rules’:

Eat food that gives you energy. Eat enough of it, calories (not just kale) are your life source. Eat food grown and raised from as close to your house as possible. Unless you live in a food desert, (which many many American’s do and thus obviously have significantly less opportunity and access) go to farmers markets, support your local farmers! Eat foods that keep your gut bacteria in balance.  Eat foods that make your mind and your physical body happy (chocolate makes me happy, therefore I continue to eat chocolate)  And please please, don’t let it consume your life. One of the perks of being out of the food chain is the privilege of not having to worry about hunting or being hunted 24/7, so stop. If the way you are eating means your are spending the entirety of your day, time, and energy thinking about food, stop.


Because if you’re you're expending all of your energy focusing on food, on whats good or bad or how “well” you did today, or how you’ll “burn it all off tomorrow” or already ate one doughnut, might as well just eat the whole box. or meticulously filling 37 Tupperware containers. or eating overpriced french fries and an iceberg lettuce salad because its the only vegan* thing on the menu then I encourage you to take a step back. THIS IS DISORDERED EATING. Call it what you want, #hashtag that shit #healthy and sell your meal plans but I’m calling a spade a spade. and #cleaneating is a fucking spade.

*To be clear, this is of course not intended as commentary on the whole of the vegan community but ishowever an example used to say that one can eat & view food in a very disordered way for a very noble cause - the two are not mutually exclusive.

No one cares what you call yourself except you. seriously, no one cares.

I’ve come to realize that by categorizing my influence with notes like #raw or #healthy, #plantbased or #whateverelse I’m very much a cog in the same machine I’m arguing against here. So I’m done. I’m not done sharing and exploring the wide world of food and health and wellness, but I’m done misleading you to think that you must be one thing or the other to be happy, healthy, and well.

Whether I’m #paleo (I’m not) or #vegan (I’m not) or #raw (I’m not) or #whole30 (I’m not) I’m not hashtaging anything anymore. Its such a silly thing, no more hashtags.  but starting today, I’m not. You wanna know what’s in the food? read the recipe, use your noodle. From now on, I’m eating, sharing and experiencing the nourishment that feeds my body and soul rather than my ego or my follower count.

Carling Harps