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.
A couple weeks ago I talked about what clean eating is and offered some simple guidelines to help you make sense of all the information that is out there. I hope you found it helpful. This time around I want to talk about how to get started.
Within the last year or so I have transitioned to a clean eating lifestyle. My goal is to eat clean 75 – 80% 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 starting out.
“Clean up” the recipes you already eat
Believe it or not but 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. As you know 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 organic grass fed beef along 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 and in this recipe I would say the beef.
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.
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 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.
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. I think the post that had the greatest impact on me was the Subway investigation. Yikes! I have not had Subway since!
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 cheez its that, in my opinion, would be a very sad existence. So my advice is to make clean eating work for your lifestyle. Do your best to eat clean most of the time but don’t think take-out pizza is forever off the table either. Like I have said before, I try to eat clean 75 -80% of the time so when I do stray a bit it is not the end of the world. Everything in moderation.
If you eat clean what are some of your tips for getting started? If you are just getting started what are some other questions you have?