I wanted to share my own interpretation of clean eating because I’ve been successful at maintaining a constant, ideal weight for quite a few years. I’ve also enjoyed tremendous health benefits: I feel more energetic and stronger now than I did in my twenties. While consistent exercise plays a big part in my energy levels, I attribute much of my youthful body and mind to clean eating.
Cleaning Eating: My Interpretation
I follow the clean eating lifestyle loosely and am not rigid about any particular rule. I find that this approach suits me because I’ve chosen to avoid processed foods, fat, sugar, and sodium, and eat small, frequent meals that almost always include protein. I don’t do it because any food is bad or because I would be bad if I indulged.
“Clean eating” has different meanings to different people, and you can adapt it to your own lifestyle. I personally wouldn’t succeed with a rigid eating plan, or even one in which I had to count anything. This way of eating has become so natural to me that I don’t even think about it anymore.
I don’t obsess about eating a few processed ingredients and readily eat out of packages for a few things. I don’t worry about eating at certain times, either. When I feel hungry, I simply eat a small, healthy “mini meal” or snack. It turns out that I’m hungry around the same times each day because my diet is so consistent. This approach also cured my long-standing digestive problems caused by eating fat, sugar, and processed foods. Once I started eating clean my daily bloating, cramps, and discomfort were greatly decreased, if not totally eliminated.
Some people conclude that the word “clean” implies that other foods are “dirty,” but that’s not how I see it. I don’t eat clean because it keeps my insides nice and pure. Clean eating does not mean only raw or organic foods – not in my world anyway. Incidentally, I don’t “scrub” my food, either.
Prep for Success
As I talk about in my posts on clean eating basics, breakfasts, lunches, and dinners, I gather all my food in the morning to take with me. This is food I’ve already cooked and stored in individual-sized servings in the freezer. Despite how this might sound, it is not difficult or stressful. It beats running around trying to find something healthy on the run.
Once you have a list of food ideas, you can shop and prepare a few things on the weekends. I put whole-wheat pasta and brown rice in individually frozen bags that are ready to pull out for lunches (adding frozen veggies and cooked-ahead chicken). I boil a few eggs. I bring Greek yogurt and frozen blueberries. I keep dried cranberries, walnuts, and instant oatmeal at work (yes, instant – but the natural kind, without added sugar). I eat tuna sandwiches (yes, on “processed” wheat bread) and occasionally veggie burgers, which are probably the most highly processed thing I eat and I do feel it in my stomach. But it’s worth the convenience once in awhile.
What does prepping ahead accomplish? First, I’m eating healthy food, not on the go or whatever I can find. You may find that it’s more liberating to eat ice cream whenever you want and to dine out frequently. But people who do this are (1) not worried about their cholesterol, weight, or blood pressure, (2) exercising very frequently, and/or (3) young. They also may manage their portions. Regardless, the amount of saturated fat in junk food isn’t good for your health.
With clean eating, you watch your portions, but eating a healthy snack every few hours makes it natural to eat smaller portions. You’re including a bit of lean protein at each meal (or “snack,” whatever you’d like to call it) and complex carbs at eat meal, which provides long-lasting energy. You’re also avoiding blood sugar lows that cause you to gorge on whatever you can find.
So What Do You Eat, Anyway?
It may be more important to talk about the types of foods I avoid first, because when you avoid these foods, you’re eliminating a big part of the weight gain risk. I avoid processed foods such as frozen dinners and packaged foods; sugar in most forms; soft drinks; high-fat foods; high-sodium foods such as restaurant food; and red meat, which is difficult to digest and contributes to heart disease and cancer.
What do I eat? I make sure each meal or snack has healthy carbs and lean protein – it’s that simple. You can read my other posts on clean eating for the finer details, but the basic plan is whole grains, low-fat dairy, lean proteins, and produce. I also have a mental list of super foods that I like to eat frequently.
I never feel like I’m sacrificing anything, because my energy level and general wellness are so tremendous that I don’t want unhealthy foods anymore. Being thin is obviously predictable outcome of eating this way (in addition to regular exercise of course).
Another result of this approach is that I’ve become intolerant of huge amounts of sodium typically found in restaurants and processed foods. When I encounter heavily salted foods it assaults my senses and I just don’t want it.
A note about timing: When you eat three large meals a day, you’re prone to low blood sugar crashes in between, which can drive you to gorge on whatever high-calorie junk you can find. However, when you eat small, frequent meals that each includes a bit of protein, your blood sugar is more regulated and you have more sustaining energy. By the way, I’m not talking about eating according to a stopwatch here.
About Counting Calories and Portions
I don’t find the need to count calories, although I have done so to gauge whether I’m getting enough for muscle growth or to lose a couple of extra pounds gained over the holidays. But on a day-to-day basis, I’ve thought out portions and understand them and I don’t need to count calories, because what I eat is so consistent.
For example, I eyeball a quarter cup of almonds per day because I know they’re high in fat and that’s the portion I want to follow (roughly). If I start to gain weight I look at my portions and will cut out something out high in fat. If I eat a high-calorie meal one day, I know it’ll balance out with the other days. JC over at JCD Fitness also has two very good posts on the subject of calorie counting, one in which he answers a question I had about building muscle.
In the beginning you may want to count calories to find out if you’ve made good choices. But if you learn about good choices and follow them, you won’t have to count calories day to day.
Incidentally, I gained a few pounds over the holidays but it came off easily since I went right back into my usual eating routine and amped up my cardio a bit.
No Cravings Means No Cheat Days
Some people may lead you to believe that cravings are inevitable and that you have to feed these beasts with “cheat days.” But I don’t crave sugar and I don’t have “cheat” days. There are two reasons for this:
- Needing cheat days implies a system of deprivation, and my eating approach doesn’t make me feel deprived. Since I eat healthy every day, there is no harm in having cake one day at the office because we’re celebrating birthdays. But I easily go without treats most days, and here’s why…
- I used to crave sweets and fat. I’d have a nice little piece of chocolate every day and a pile of delicious tortilla chips. But one day I realized that not only were the calories adding up, but it upset my stomach. I became aware of how little these indulgences was actually giving me. I stopped cold turkey and did miss it at first. But eventually I stopped craving those two things. I also lost a couple of pounds.That’s right – the cravings disappeared, so I don’t need “cheat days.” If you want a treat or fatty snack now and then – or even every day – feel free to have it. Just be aware of the consequences.
We know that making changes in your diet is challenging. But the choices are yours. You have the information at your disposal – now it’s up to you. If you have any questions, feel free to email me.