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 (25 years ago!). 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 find that taking a relaxed approach to clean eating suits me because I’ve chosen to avoid refined, prepared foods, fat, sugar, and sodium, and I eat small, frequent meals that almost always include lean protein.
“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 in my world. Incidentally, I don’t “scrub” my food, either (ha!).
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 to work. This is food I’ve already cooked and stored in individual-sized servings in the freezer, or it’s “processed” in its most natural state (such as Greek yogurt or almonds). 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 few recipes ideas, you can shop and prepare a few things on the weekends. For example, cook quinoa, lentils, brown rice, and grilled chicken ahead and portion them in individual-sized freezer bags. Have a few bags of frozen veggies (or fresh cut-up veggies) on hand and create some salads out of these ingredients, or make a few casseroles ahead and portion them in the freezer. But allways think lean protein when you eat, like hardboiled eggs, tuna in water, and nonfat, plain Greek yogurt with berries.
What does prepping ahead accomplish? I’m always eating healthy food, even when I’m on the go, busy, stressed, or hurried. In other words, all the danger times when we tend to grab whatever we can for a quick fix.
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 and complex carbs at eat meal or snack, 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 to limit first, because when you limit these foods you’re eliminating foods that contribute to weight gain, lethargy, and digestive upset. Refined, commercially prepared foods such as frozen dinners, pizzas, burritos, garden burgers; refined sugar and saturated fat in found in sweets, soft drinks, pastries, etc.; and high-sodium foods such as restaurant food, processed meats, and many other processed foods.
After you adapt to eating healthier foods, you don’t feel deprived any longer. Your energy level and general wellness are so tremendous that you don’t want unhealthy foods anymore. You may become intolerant to heavily salted, refined foods. When you eat the proper portions you also maintain a healthy weight.
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. Having a snack under 200 calories and which includes a bit of protein keeps your blood sugar is more regulated and a more consistent energy level. (Though ‘m not talking about eating according to a stopwatch here!)
About Tracking Calories
I find it very useful with my clients to track calories and macronutrients for a time to gain awareness around diet. In time, as you integrate habits like reading ingredient labels, you can use portions as your guide.
See my series on the art of food tracking for everything you need to know:
Part 1: The basics of food tracking
Part 2: The process of food tracking and using a tool/app
Part 3: How to analyze your diet
Cravings and Cheat Meals
You may think that cravings are inevitable and that you have to feed the beast with cheat days or meals. And the truth is (in my experience), that if you feed the beast, it will thrive. But when you eliminate sweets, soda, etc., the craving lessens. This may sound difficult or impossible, but I’ve found that the best way to eliminate cravings is to replace the culprit with something else. It’s most effectively done in stages, such as replacing fast-food burgers with a “garden” burger, and then finally with homemade turkey burgers. Or you can try simply replacing soda with iced tea, for example. But it takes time, so have patience and take the long view.
Cheat meals (not days) can be useful when restricting calories because it reduces feelings of deprivation. The only caveat is that cheat meals must be planned, not taken spontaneously. You can look forward to the meal and not count it towards your calorie budget at all!
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.
This article originally appeared on www.workoutnirvana.com.