Is there a difference between clean eating and dieting?

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Photo: Instagram/@chrissyteigen

By polling her followers on what her next cookbook should be, model and Lip Sync Battle co-host Chrissy Teigen unintentionally set off a frenzied debate about what the terms “diet” and “clean eating” really mean.

One of the poll’s options was for her next book’s recipes to be “LightER (not diet!)” which led a fan to ask about her aversion to the word. “I dunno. I’ve always had an issue with the word diet. I like ‘eating light’ or clean eating…I dunno why!” Teigen responded. And so began a Twitter war.

Teigen’s dislike of the word “diet” is understandable. When you’re a celebrity, talking about your diet invites a level of scrutiny that can become torturous (just ask Jennifer Aniston).

Yet Teigen’s reference to “clean eating”—an approach often linked to food writer Michael Pollan’s motto: “Eat foods, not too much, mostly plants”—has sparked controversy itself. One person accused the term of being a blanket statement that really means nothing, while others criticized it for being elitist. Clean eating was also dubbed as merely a “myth.”

“Clean, to me, is something without 1,000 ingredients. With words I can pronounce. I didn’t mean to be #PROBLEMATIC!” Teigen tweeted in response to the Twitter war her post unwittlingly started. She also asked that everyone “relax,” she’s not a nutritionist, and that “by clean I mean ‘not Velveeta.'”

“Clean eating is a diet where you understand what you’re putting in your body,” nutritionist Mikaela Ruben told Vogue. “My definition of [the term] is chemical-free, nothing refined.” According to Ruben, foods should only contain what’s natural to them (i.e. bacteria in yogurt) and not anything unnecessarily added (hormones, chemicals you can’t pronounce, and added sugar, for example).

Whether she’s “eating clean” or “dieting,” no one can accuse Teigen of being inflexible; she later tweeted that she actually loves Velveeta—but “balance, balance, balance.” So whatever your views may be on dieting and clean eating, perhaps we can all agree on one thing—everything in moderation, as they always say.

There are a lot of “clean eating” definitions out there. Take a look at out how Michael PollanFrank Lipman, MD; and Drew Ramsey, MD approach nutrition.

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