Friday, November 1, 2013

Clean Eating- What do I need to know to get started?

Changing your eating habits is not easy. Actually, changing any habit is not easy but it seems that we have the most difficult time with the foods we put into our mouths. Agree? Personally, I think this has a lot to do with the emotional attachment we have to food. We celebrate with food. We comfort ourselves with food. We relieve boredom with food. You name it and I bet food is involved somehow. Don’t get me wrong I am not suggesting we need to leave food out of the celebrations. Believe me I need chocolate just like the rest of you. However, I do think we need to shift our focus to the quality of food we attach ourselves with.

Enter clean eating. Clean eating allows you to enjoy foods that are delicious yet still nutritious and satisfying. Within the three months or so I have transitioned to a clean eating lifestyle. My goal is to eat clean 90% of time that way I can have some flexibility and don’t feel deprived. Below are some of the clean eating strategies I have used and now recommend when helping somone who is just starting out.

“Clean up” the recipes you already eat

Believe it or not, you’re probably not too far off from a clean eating lifestyle. I know when looking to make changes to your diet it is easy to think you need to completely switch up the foods you are eating. However, that is not always the case. Sometimes you just need to make a few tweaks. Let me give you an example. My family eats a lot of tacos. Prior to clean eating I did not pay much attention to the quality of ingredients I purchased. It is not that I wanted to feed my family sub-par food I just didn’t think it mattered. Well the quality of the food we eat does matter. Therefore to clean up tacos I now use 97% Fat Free Ground Turkey Burger with other organic ingredients. You probably don’t need to purchase all organic ingredients – unless you want to – but focus on where quality matters the most.

The main take away point is to control the ingredients as much as possible in the recipes you enjoy. You can do this by making more of your recipes from scratch or by making substitutions like brown rice for white rice, whole grain pasta for white pasta, and wheat flour for white. For example, if your kids eat a lot of boxed macaroni and cheese try making a homemade version. Sure it takes more time but you can easily make it ahead of time and I guarantee your kids will prefer homemade over boxed very quickly. I could go on and on just on this topic so I will write more about this in a future post. if you're having trouble tweaking a family favorite recipe, let me know and I can help.

One change at a time

I really believe in making healthy changes slow – it is what has worked for me – and clean eating is no exception. I know some people just wanted to jump in and make drastic changes. That might work for some but in my experience, drastic usually is not sustainable.
When I started clean eating I made 1 -2 changes at a time. For example, I started with focusing on getting more whole grains into my diet. Then once I had that down I focused on reducing my sugar. Then I started introducing more fruits and vegetables. For me it was helpful to take diet changes a little at a time. Not just for me but for my family as well. In my experience, when I try to make changes fast my family revolts and I begin to feel overwhelmed and defeated. This always lead to healthy lifestyle sabotage. Once I figured it all out and began introducing changes gradually I was able to successfully adopt a clean (er) eating lifestyle.

Menu plan and plan ahead

I am sure you already knew I was going throw this in here. However, I cannot stress enough the importance of having a plan. In my experience, the absolutely only way to create sustainable changes is to plan for it. Without a plan chances are you will find yourself falling back into old habits – especially when life starts to get busy, and trust me, it will.
Planning ahead means a couple things. First it means putting together a weekly menu plan so you know what groceries to purchase and what to eat every day. It also means prepping your food ahead of time. This is especially important when you eat clean. Many of the clean foods you purchase are going to be part of recipe and not necessarily ready to eat like their prepackaged counterparts. So taking the time to prepare ingredients in advance will make it much easier to eat the healthier clean foods you are now buying. Believe me, I am more likely to grab peppers and hummus if I have my peppers clean and cut up. If not, they usually will just sit lonely in my refrigerator.

  • Make an effort to spend an hour once per week preparing clean eats for the week. I like to hard boil and peel a dozen eggs, cut up raw veggies (organic bell pepper, cucumbers, carrot sticks, etc.) for the week, make a batch of hummus, bake some boneless skinless chicken breast I can use for clean chicken salad, and pre-portion your snacks.
 I know that at first it may seem daunting to meal plan, prep and shop. However, after a few weeks it will be second nature and take up less of your time and mental bandwidth.

Read labels

Reading labels is not new information. In fact, it is probably some of the oldest weight loss advice in the books. However, I found label reading to be different when it comes to clean eating. For instance, while I am still concerned with the calories and portions I am now just as concerned with the ingredients. I want to make sure that if I do purchase a processed or boxed item that it is not filled with high fructose corn syrup, hydrogenated oils, or any other artificial ingredients. Of course, the goal is to purchase more of the foods that don’t have a label like fruits and vegetables but most likely you will still buy some convenience items.
Personally, I have found reading food labels to be a real eye opener. Marketing companies have become genius at making you think you are purchasing a nutritious item when it is actually filled with sugar, artificial colors, and hydrogenated oils. At the end of the day it comes down to educating yourself on the foods you are purchasing. Don’t depend on what marketers tell you is in the box. Turn the box around and see for yourself.
Two blogs that do a great job at exposing the nasty ingredients that are in some of the popular foods we eat are Snack Girl and 100 Days of Real Food. Believe me after reading some of their finds I guarantee you will think twice before purchasing and putting certain foods in your mouth.

Don’t think it is all or nothing.

The thought of eliminating all processed foods is a bit overwhelming for people – I know it was for me – so that alone can prevent them from eating clean. Honestly, that is one of the main reasons I HATE putting “a label” on an eating style. I feel as soon as you attach that label you immediately feel like you are under a microscope and have to do everything “perfect” or why even bother. Well, you might be happy to know that I don’t view cleaning eat as an all or nothing lifestyle. Sure some people might disagree with me and that is fine because we all have the freedom to do and eat what we wish. However, I feel it is unrealistic to think that you can (or should) remove all processed foods from your diet forever. I mean if I had to go the rest of my life without a Reese PB cup or potato chip, in my opinion, would be a very sad existence. I like to live by the Two Bite Rule: If I am faced with the opportunity to eat something "off plan" and I just can't pass it up, I employ this rule. Allow yourself two bites of that food- "The first bite is good, the second is best, therefore you don't need the rest!" You still get to have a taste of the yumminess but don't have to feel guilty about it. 
Be sure to give yourself some grace. You will face obstacles. You may feel like having a few glasses of red wine and dark chocolate. The most important thing about eating clean and healthy living is consistency. Strive to be clean 90% of the time  to achieve weight loss in this phase and you will see results. Allow yourself one "Cheat Meal" a week (not an entire day, just one meal lol). If you know you have a birthday party, family picnic, dinner out with friends, or other event that could be challenging coming up this week, plan that as your cheat meal so you can relax and enjoy yourself, but afterwards, get right back on track.   

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