In a nutshell, clean eating means you eat more:
- whole grains
- lean proteins
- healthy fats
and you eat less:
- processed foods
- sugar & artificial sweeteners
- saturated fats
- refined foods
Sounds easy, right? But how do you do it?!? Read on below…
You Gotta Step into the Kitchen
Oh my goodness – I know. What kind of torture is this? It’s not meant to be torture – just trust me on this!! The best way to make sure you know what’s going into your foods is to make them yourself!
Time to start reading.
Nutrition labels, that is.
Eat Whole Foods
And by this, I don’t mean that you have to go to the actual store and spend an arm and a leg. I think one of the things that scares people the most about “eating clean” is that we believe we’re going to spend so much more money. Not only am I making you buy the food at a grocery store (instead of your local dives), but I’m going to make you blow this week’s paycheck on said food.
Wrong. Just because you’re eating clean doesn’t mean that you have to spend hundreds of dollars each week! The best part about cooking your own meals is being able to choose what you want to eat! And by buying your own food, you can take advantage of weekly sales and even coupons on various staple items. For example – if you know ground beef is on sale, you may choose to buy more than what’s needed for this week’s meals, just so you’ll have it on hand when you’re craving red meat! Or, you may decide to use the meat this week by making 2-3 different meals!
When I say to eat whole foods, this is what you’re going to be looking for:
- Fresh fruit and vegetables
- Unsalted nuts and seeds
- Whole grains
- Full-fat dairy
- Lean protein
Why whole foods, you ask? Not only are they free of all the extra chemicals and fillers that your body doesn’t need, but they all carry more nutrients – which is what your body really does need!
Say No to Processed Foods
Seriously – just say NO!!! You don’t have to throw the box on the ground or scream at it; just walk away very slowly.
Now – what are we saying no to?
- Fruit snacks
- Frozen dinners
- Salad dressing
- Breakfast cereal
- Granola bars
- Flavored nut mixes
- Ramen noodles
Don’t throw anything at me!! I know these items are all probably sitting on your pantry shelves right now and you’re staring at the screen like, “this woman has lost her damn mind.” Well, I can assure you I haven’t.
Let’s try something. Go get one of these boxes out of your pantry (or freezer) and read out the ingredients. Read them ALL – not just the ones you can pronounce. If you stumbled across one ingredient that a) you had no idea how to pronounce it because you’ve never heard of it before or b) doesn’t even sound like a food item (as in you wouldn’t ask one of the supermarket personnel which aisle this was sold on) – this item isn’t clean!!
And while we’re on the topic of saying no… you really should limit the amount of sugar and sodium that you incorporate into your diet.
Yep – I knew it. I said too much. Don’t throw the frying pan at me!
All of these foods have so much added sugar, as well as chemically formulated ingredients, that it’s hard to really know what we’re putting into our bodies. Did you know that sugar is one of the top 3 culprits for causing digestive issues (the other two being dairy and grains)? You know that “high” you get after you eat something with a lot of sugar? Or what about the invisible hand that prompts your hand to go back for “just one more cookie” until the entire package is gone? That’s the sugar attaching to your cells – specifically your opiate receptors – triggering dopamine to be released.
Dopamine is the “feel-good” neurotransmitter that controls the pleasure center in our brains. Give your body sugar and you’ll make this one happy sucker. The problem isn’t during the intake of the sugar and various chemicals, but afterwards. Anyone who has had a cigarette or even a piece of chocolate knows that at some point, the “high” wears off and you begin to crave that item again. And what happens when you deprive the body of this pleasure it’s seeking? You seek into the “low” or the “come down”, highlighted by withdrawal like symptoms.
You heard me right – we as a nation are addicted to sugar. We might as well be addicted to crack. The sugar is attaching to the same receptors on our cells as opiate drugs do, giving us a “sugar high” and training our body to go back for more so we can continue to “feel good”.
It has to stop!
It’s All About Balance, Baby
What is a balanced meal, anyways? Whatever happened to that awesome pyramid that showed us just how much to eat and what foods fell into which food groups? I honestly was wondering this about a year ago and I was a bit dismayed to learn that the pyramid had disappeared and been replaced with a plate! I felt like this was just dumbing the information down – like we couldn’t understand a shape that didn’t match the shape of our plates?
A few years ago, the Department of Agriculture (or USDA) decided that it was time to freshen up the way we presented nutrition to society, so the created the Choose My Plate campaign. As you can see, the oils and fats section of the diet has completely disappeared! About the only way you could squeeze it in would be through some cheese in your dairy cup. While vegetables has grown a big in proportion to the overall “meal” (it used to be half the amount of servings as grains), grains remains the same size.
I believe the biggest reason fueling the shift from the Food Pyramid to My Plate was the growing trend of people indulging in fast food and take-out meals. I don’t know about you, but the last time I checked the menu at McDonald’s and Burger King, fruit and veggies are exactly offered with every item. Sure, you can pick up a salad or fruit cup in place of the fries, but that’s an uncharge. And when you’re living on a budget, it just makes more sense to buy the cheapest option – which comes with fries!
By providing a visual of an actual plate, the campaign was really trying to shown Americans what all needed to be on our plates at each and every meal. Sadly, I don’t think the campaign really hit a home run and got what they were looking for. School lunches are still severely skued (did you know that 2 tablespoons of tomato paste can be considered 1 serving of vegetables??) towards starches and and every year, childhood obesity is rapidly growing.
I know it’s easier to run through the drive-through or to pack a Lunchable for your kid’s lunch, but when you really consider what all is offered on their lunch or dinner plates, don’t you want a little more veggies and fruits? The antioxidants in fruits and the phytochemicals in vegetables are required for our body’s immune system to function properly. The last time I checked, neither of these can be founding a Double Bacon Cheeseburger or a Whopper.
Smaller is Better
In some rare cases, smaller is better. In the case of food – smaller is definitely better. The average serving size has doubled, if not tripled over the past 40-50 years.
I’m not saying that need to starve yourself or count calories 24/7, but we do need to be aware of what (and how much) we are putting into our bodies. As I mentioned above, I believe that the USDA had good intentions when developing the Choose My Plate campaign. The hope and desire was that my providing a visual aid – a model plate with designated portions for each food group – that Americans would listen and begin to transform their diets.
But here’s the thing – change is hard.
And really freaking hard, especially in today’s world. Every commercial break, we’re bombarded with commercials of restaurants and various food items that we feel compelled to buy. If you have children, you know how this works. They see the new cool cereal flavor or lunch snack and the next time you’re at the store, they beg and please for it! Everyone at school has it but me! I gave to have it! You’re not a nice parent if you don’t allow me to have this!
(Yes, I may have used one or two of those lines as a youngster myself!)
Look, I know what it’s like to be on a diet. And that’s not what clean eating is. If that’s what it was, there’s not way I would still be following it, a year later. Clean eating is very simply a shift in lifestyle. It’s a conscious choice to put less processed junk into our bodies and instead feed it whole, real foods.
You remember what those look like, right?
Our bodies are incredibly smart machines that do everything within their power to keep us safe and alive. Our bodies aren’t meant to be our enemy. But when it comes time to feed these incredible life savers, what do we do? We feed it sugary, greasy, fatty, and over-processed foods. It’s no wonder our bodies don’t break down the minute the saturated fats hit our stomachs!
No – our bodies are all about survival and they’ll fight to the bitter end to survive. But when it’s not receiving the nutrients, vitamins, and minerals needed for just basic survival, how can we expect it to fight off infections or worse – cancer?
By providing our bodies with the right foods in the right amounts, we can turn our lives around. By feeding our bodies with loving intentions and the foods that it needs to function, we’re telling our body, “Yes, I love you”. And in turn, the body says, “I love you too” and gets right into action protecting us against the 5 million different things out there that could kill us.
OK, so maybe that’s not the exact inner dialogue, but hey – it could happen.
Our bodies know how much it needs to survive and function. When you eat whole, clean foods, your body actually feels when it’s full!! Without all the added sugar messing up the opiate receptors, your appetite is able to level out because you’re reaching for food when you’re hungry, not when you’re coming down from the “high” and needs another “hit”.
Everyone’s portion size varies – there isn’t a one size fits all. And that’s where we begin to explore!
If you’re interested in trying out clean eating, join our free 5-Day Clean Eating Challenge group starting May 15th!