Clean eating is a lifestyle, and with any lifestyle you choose, you will have curves and bumps in the road. I have never driven down any road that was a straight shot, nor do all things in life go as planned. This isn’t always a bad thing; some things in my life have gone way better than I could ever have imagined or planned. This ‘things don’t always go as planned’ doesn’t just go for major life events, this goes for every day things too. For example; say you plan a delicious crockpot meal for your family and you walk in the door from work only to find that you forgot to turn your crockpot on. (Ruh-roh) What matters then, is what you choose to do in that unplanned moment. Maybe you choose a salad from a fast-food restaurant or an Amy’s frozen meal from the freezer–is this what you planned to have? No, but it is a lot better than some alternative fast food choices or eating junk food. My point is that you have to give yourself grace with clean eating because there will never be such a thing as perfection.
Clean eating can mean different things to different people. I think it is important to experiment with what clean eating means to you. Once you know what your own definition of clean eating is, then you can take small steps to eat that way. To give you a frame of reference to start, I want to share with you my own clean eating rules. I don’t expect myself to be 100% perfect all of the time (insert Yesterday’s Reese’s Cheesecake – how do you say no?) but I do expect myself to adhere to these rules 90% of the time. I hope my rules inspire you to create your own. Heck, I don’t even care if you steal all of mine 🙂
Eat real food. This rule is as simple as it sounds. When you are making your food choices, choose things that grow on a plant, not things that are made in a plant (a factory). Choose foods the way nature intended them to be–in their whole, real form, instead of processed, puffed, and in a box on a shelf. When you fill your plate with real foods, you simply have less room for junk.
If it grows on a plant, eat it. If it is made in a plant, don’t.
Eliminate artificial ingredients. Your body knows how to recognize, break down, and use the nutrients found in real foods. When you eat chemicals, artificial ingredients, and preservatives, your body sees them as foreign invaders. In response to them, your immune system is stimulated. Constant stimulation in response to these additives in food can result in widespread silent inflammation, which can eventually present itself as a chronic condition. The less inflammation you have, the less likely you are to develop disease. My rule of thumb: If you can’t pronounce it, don’t eat it.
If you can’t pronounce it, don’t eat it.
Eliminate added sugar. Sugar stimulates the same receptors in the brain that drugs like heroin and cocaine do, so you can literally become addicted to it. I would argue that it is the most readily available drug in America. Most Americans have a constant drip of sugar–think Starbuck’s foo-foo drinks, granola bars, dressings, ketchup, BBQ sauce, cereals, yogurts, coffee creamers, pop, candy, and more. Eating sugar not only gives you a doughnut around your middle but it also puts you at greater risk for developing heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and more.
Sugar is the most readily available drug in America. Stay clean.
Choose organic, grass-fed, and non-GMO when possible. Look guys, I know you are going to tell me that this type of food is more expensive. You know what? You’re right. Personally, I would rather pay more money up front for quality food then more money down the road for healthcare.
I am never going to tell you not to eat a vegetable, organic or not, but I do think it is important you pay attention to the quality of the food you buy. The organic label on produce ensures that it hasn’t been sprayed with harmful chemicals, is non-GMO, and has been grown using sustainable farming methods. Conventional produce is sprayed with harmful pesticides to kill off bugs and herbicides to kill weeds around the crops and make up for unfit soil conditions. Eating residual pesticides and herbicides stimulate your immune system in the same way that artificial ingredients do, contributing to inflammation. Would you allow a farmer to spray a chemical directly into your mouth? I didn’t think so. Then why be ok with eating it on piece of produce?
In an effort to maximize your dollar, I recommend using the Environmental Working Group’s Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen list when shopping for fruits and vegetables. The Dirty Dozen is a list of produce that has been shown to have the highest amount of residual pesticides after washing and the Clean Fifteen is a similar list of the cleanest fruits and vegetables. I always purchase produce from the Dirty Dozen organic and think it would be a good practice for you to adopt too, especially if it is something your family eats a lot of.
I recommend sourcing quality meat as well. I typically look for the labels ‘organic’ and ‘grass-fed’. The organic label ensures that no hormones or antibiotics have been administered. Conventional farmers give antibiotics to cattle because the living conditions are so unfit, that without them, disease would run rampant. Actually, 80% of antibiotics sold in the U.S. are administered to animals, not humans. (NRDC) Growth hormones may also be administered to fatten the animal up. The fatter the animal, the more $$$ for the farmer.
Grass-fed means that the animal has been raised in its natural environment and was fed from grass, as nature intended. This results in much leaner and richer tasting meat. Conventional cattle farmers typically feed their cattle corn and grain because it’s cheap and it fattens them up. Knowing that you are what you eat, why would you want to eat something that has been fattened up? Once you make the switch from conventional to grass-fed, you won’t be able to go back. There are many more labels to get to know and understand but organic and grass-fed will get you started.
I also think it is important to familiarize yourself with what GMO’s (genetically modified organisms) are. GMO’s are crops that have been altered at their genetic level to be able to withstand pesticides like Round-Up (yeah, that Round-Up) and to be able to grow in unfit conditions to maximize profits. Approximately 90% of soy and corn in America is genetically modified. Considering that corn and soy are in almost every packaged food item available, it is important to seek out non-GMO packaged grocery items. A great place to start is with corn chips because they are made of corn (thank you Mrs. Obvious) and crackers because they typically contain both corn and soy under names like soybean oil, corn oil, corn syrup, and more. Defenders of GMO’s say that there is no difference between GMO crops and non-GMO crops, but considering that this new way of growing food hasn’t been around all that long, I am not willing to be part of the test group. You can learn more about GMO’s and what products are non-GMO certified here.
Focus on the quality of your food. Source organic, grass-fed, and non-GMO when possible.
Do the best you can with what you have. I just spewed a lot of information to you. Sometimes, it is just entirely not possible to choose organic, grass-fed, or non-GMO and that is ok. You just have to make the best choice possible in any given situation. Altering from the cleaning rules above from time to time is not going to kill you. Give yourself grace for the moments when the ‘perfect’ choice is not possible. What you do most of the time is what matters, not what you do once in awhile.
Make the best choice possible in any given situation.
Enjoy food. Food is love and it is meant to be enjoyed. Creating a positive mindset around food is an important aspect to clean eating. A lot of Americans, specifically women, view food as an enemy when it should really be viewed as a friend. It is what gives you the energy to power through your day, muscles to hold your children, and and the building blocks for your body to function optimally. Make friends with food, not enemies.
Make friends with food, not enemies.
All of these rules may seem overwhelming at first. Personally, I didn’t change everything at once. I did it over a long period of time by taking small steps. What can you do today to take one step in the direction of cleaner eating? Please leave your answer in the comments below.