Where does the term Clean Eating come from?

Ever wondered where the term Clean Eating comes from? Maybe you haven't thought about it! Believe it or not, "Clean Eating" does have a bit of history to it - read on to find out more and discover how it's evolved.


6/26/20243 min read

topless man in black shorts holding cooked food
topless man in black shorts holding cooked food

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The Origin of the Term "Clean Eating"

Clean eating is a term that's become very popular in recent years, it's associated with a healthy lifestyle and a focus on eating whole, unprocessed foods as close to nature as possible.

But did you know this term has a bit of history behind it? Read on to find out where "clean eating" comes from, and how did it evolve into the concept we know today?

The Early Days: Bodybuilding Roots

The term "Clean Eating" was actually coined by the body building community in the 1990's. During this time, bodybuilders emphasized a diet high in protein and low in carbohydrates, fats and sugars. Foods had to be as natural as possible - so the term "clean eating" was born.

It was in this era that diet really became as critical as training to the bodybuilder.

The goal was to build lean muscle mass while minimizing body fat, the idea was simple: eat foods that are as close to their natural state as possible to fuel the body efficiently and stay away from foods that affect physical performance and appearance. Meaning, you couldn't eat foods that would negatively impact your gains (ie muscle mass), put unnecessary fat on and make you feel sluggish so you couldn't perform properly in the gym. This in turn affects the physical appearance of how you look, which is very important to a bodybuilder who works very hard to build muscle and shred fat.

The offending foods were of course - highly processed, takeaway and junk food, foods high in saturated fats and unhealthy sugars.

Tosca Reno and the Mainstream Movement

The term "clean eating" began to go mainstream in the 2000s, largely due to the influence of Tosca Reno, a fitness model and author. Reno published a series of books titled "The Eat-Clean Diet," which outlined the principles of clean eating and also included a number of cookbooks.

Her books emphasized consuming whole foods, such as fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains, while avoiding processed foods, refined sugars, and unhealthy fats.

It was Reno's work that helped popularize clean eating and brought it into the public consciousness.

Personal trainers adopted the clean eating concept and taught it to their clients as part of their training programs. This is how I first learned about clean eating, through hiring a personal trainer in 2001 and transforming my body through bodybuilding and a very lean, high protein, low carbohydrate, low fat & sugar "clean eating" diet.

The Core Principles of Clean Eating

Clean eating revolves around several key principles:

  1. Whole Foods: Prioritize foods that are minimally processed and close to their natural state.

  2. Avoid Processed Foods: Limit consumption of foods with artificial ingredients, additives, and preservatives.

  3. Nutrient-Dense Choices: Focus on foods rich in essential nutrients, such as vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.

  4. Balanced Meals: Strive for balanced meals that include a combination of macronutrients—proteins, carbohydrates, and fats.

  5. Hydration: Drink plenty of water and avoid sugary beverages.

Clean Eating Today

Today, clean eating has evolved into something different from the high protein / low carb diet concept of the bodybuilding world.

Because it is now much more mainstream, the emphasis is on eating clean foods as close to nature, in their natural state as possible, rather than focusing on the importance of macros, in particular the high protein component (although, it's perfectly fine to do that if your goals are to build muscle).

That's not to say that the bodybuilding community has dropped the term "clean eating", they haven't at all. It just means something a little different nowadays to those of us normal folk, who want to eat clean for our health, wellbeing and longevity.

Clean eating is also more than just a diet; it's a lifestyle choice. Something we want to do for the rest of our lives. It encourages mindful eating, understanding where food comes from, and making informed choices that benefit both us and the environment.

While the term has evolved, the core idea remains the same: eat foods that nourish the body and avoid those that cause harm over time.


The term "clean eating" has evolved from its roots in the bodybuilding community to a widely accepted approach to healthy living. Thanks to advocates like Tosca Reno and the growing awareness of the importance of whole, unprocessed foods, clean eating continues to inspire people to make healthier choices for themselves and their loved ones.

You can get Tosca Reno's cookbooks here, just click the links:

The Clean Eat Diet Vegetarian Cookbook

The Clean Eat Diet Cookbook