For years, I strove to eat “healthily” by keeping my caloric and fat intake low, but my diet was still full of artificial sweeteners and processed foods. I ate three decent-sized meals each day with one snack in the afternoon to hold me over until dinnertime. Although I wasn’t eating much junk, calorie-laden food, I still didn’t feel that well in my body. I would get bloated often and I seemed to always be hungry. I was tired and lethargic daily. I had heard vaguely of “clean eating” but thought it was only for extreme bodybuilders– eggs, grilled chicken, and vegetables all the time. Plain, bland, and boring. So I never thought twice about trying it.
I can’t remember how it happened– probably on a health forum or through a post on Facebook–but somehow I found the “Kitchen Table” section of the “Eat Clean Diet” website created by Tosca Reno. Here were ordinary people, just like me, who were changing their lives for the better through clean eating and sharing their experiences about it. People of all ages, shapes, and sizes. They weren’t just super-buff bodybuilders like I had always believed. And the food they were eating wasn’t super bland either– a lot of the recipes they shared actually looked delicious.
The support, enthusiasm, and encouragement that I found on “The Kitchen Table” made me want to give clean eating a try for myself. Every member had so many positive experiences to share about their clean eating journey. So I picked up a copy of Tosca’s book and got to work on making my own lifestyle changes.
I’ve been eating clean for a few years now (with the occasional slip-up, of course), and I can honestly say that I look and feel better than I ever have. At first, it was difficult for me to cut out some of the foods & drinks that I was so used to having– especially diet soda. I am not afraid to admit that I was a former diet soda addict– big time. That had to gradually be phased out of my daily consumption. It was also difficult for me to eat every three hours– I felt like I was full all the time (which, hey, is never a bad thing)! But now, I couldn’t imagine living by any other lifestyle. And clean eating is definitely a lifestyle– it’s not a fad diet or a temporary solution to a problem. And it’s truthfully an easy lifestyle to stick to if you give yourself a chance to adjust to it– once you get used to feeling better, you won’t have any desire to return to a less-clean way of eating.
If you’re interested in making the switch to a healthier way of eating but aren’t sure where or how to begin, this post is for you. Here are a few tips that helped me succeed at incorporating clean eating into my lifestyle, and I know they will help you, too!
- Step 1: want to eat clean. This one’s important. You have to figure out why you want to start eating better, and make sure it’s a reason that you are passionate about. Want to lose weight for a friend’s wedding? That’s not a good enough reason. Want to eat clean because someone else told you that you should? That’s not a good enough reason. You have to want this lifestyle if you are going to be able to benefit from clean eating! Are you sick of being exhausted all the time? Are you tired of striving for a healthy body weight to no avail? Now, those are some good reasons to want eat clean. Figure out what is motivating you and write it down. And reference those reasons every time you feel your willpower failing. I used to stick Post-It notes on my computer monitor at work reminding me why I chose to eat clean, and those reminders kept my fingers out of the community candy jar many times.
- Educate yourself. Once you know you are ready to switch to the clean way of eating, learn as much about it as you can before coming up with a game plan. Buy a book, seek out info online, connect with others who can tell you about their experiences (Facebook and “The Kitchen Table” are great places to start), etc. Just like any new undertaking, you can’t try something new without knowing anything about it and actually expect to succeed.
- Strive for consistency– not perfection. Don’t sweat the small stuff– like a slip up or two here-and there. We all give into temptation occasionally. It happens. We’re human! At the same time, don’t let a slip-up wreak havoc on your new habits or on your outlook. Leave your fast food meal or extra martini in the past, keep your head up, and move on. Don’t let it get you down. You can’t give up just because you gave in! Remember– a bad meal won’t hurt you any more than one good meal will make you healthy. Strive for consistency but don’t let lack thereof deter you from continuing towards your goals. Always remember why you started eating better in the first place.
- Be open to trying new things. Clean foods are seldom found in the “typical” American diet. If you want to embrace this new lifestyle, you’re most likely going to have to embrace new types of foods and drinks. Just because something doesn’t sound extremely appetizing at first doesn’t mean you should shun it– give it a try! I eat many things now that I never would’ve thought about eating before (bee pollen? egg whites topped with peanut butter? Greek yogurt on EVERYTHING?). If I wouldn’t have tried different foods, I’d have never known how much I’d enjoy them. Eating clean is all about thinking outside the box we are used to being inside.
- Write it down. I repeat, write it down. For me, this was the key factor in successfully adjusting to the clean way of eating. Keep a food diary each day. It doesn’t have to be anything sophisticated or overly detailed. I just wrote down each thing I ate and the time of day that I ate them. And DON’T CHEAT YOURSELF. If you ate it, write it down!! This works for two reasons. One being that sometimes we don’t realize how much we eat or how many bad things we are putting into our bodies until they’re on paper for us to see. That sugar we dumped into our morning coffee and that candy bar we ate after lunch and that extra glass of wine we had at dinner might not seem to add up until you see them all written down together in your food diary. I used to overload on carbs, even the good kind, without realizing it until my notebook told me so. The second reason this works is because eventually you won’t want to eat certain things just because you don’t want to have to write them down in your diary! I turned away many-a-desserts because I didn’t want to have stare at that entry in my food diary for days to come. Try it; it works!
- Eat often. Whether you’re hungry or not, eat every three or four hours. This may be difficult at first because you’re still in the three-square-meals-a-day mindset and the thought of eating smaller meals might be very unappealing to you. I love food. When I first started eating clean, I didn’t want to leave any lunch break feeling less-than-stuffed. Eventually, if you force yourself to eat more often, your body and your tastes will adapt. You’ll find yourself eating smaller meals and you will actually be ready to eat again in a few hours. Nowadays I couldn’t imagine eating my meals any more than five hours apart. Eating frequently is very important because it will keep your metabolism revved throughout the day, meaning you will process your food more efficiently (it’s less likely to be stored as fat). Also, if you wait to eat until you are starving, you are more liable to give into temptation to eat foods that aren’t clean. Eating often, before you are very hungry, will help you make better food choices and further your progress in adapting to the clean eating lifestyle.
- Read your labels. Often times, foods that are considered mainstream “healthy” or are notoriously low in calories contain ingredients that aren’t clean. Diet soda contains 0 calories but contains aspartame– a no-no when you are trying to eat clean. “Wheat” bread contains enriched flour– look for “100% whole wheat” bread instead. BUT even whole wheat bread often contains high fructose corn syrup– another ingredient that has no place in a clean diet. Most ketchup brands also contain this nasty ingredient. Educate yourself and read your labels– question everything that you are putting into your body.
Best of luck to you as you begin your journey into the eat clean lifestyle!! Rest assured, once you have given your body the chance to adapt, you will never look back!