Clean eating is about so much more than picking an apple over a cupcake…find out below…
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Here’s a buzzword you definitely haven’t heard before; CLEAN EATING.
The phrase “clean eating” is being used just about everywhere these days. From personal trainers, to Crossfit addicts, to registered dietitians, the mantra continues to repeat itself in various forms, but the underlying message is the same – EAT CLEAN! Sounds good, but is anyone wondering what clean eating really is? Or perhaps more importantly, how do I eat clean?
Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered. Stick around and I’ll show you exactly what clean eating is, give you my personal opinion on the matter (which I know you’re all dying to read), and explain ways to easily clean up your diet.
What Clean Eating Isn’t
First off, let me tell you what clean eating isn’t. It’s not a diet or eating plan with rigid rules. It’s not something that requires counting, subtracting, or calculations of any kind. Take a sigh of relief because eating cleanly stands in stark contrast to things like the Paleo Diet, the Atkins Diet, etc.
Secondly, there is no set definition for clean eating. Naturally, this paves the way for a variety of different interpretations of what clean eating is… which invariably leads to contradictions, confusion, and a general sense of frustration. Let me say this; stop over thinking things. As you’re about to find out, clean eating is all about simplicity. The concept of eating clean isn’t supposed to stress you out, cause panic attacks, or make you think too hard. It’s a very easy lifestyle to adopt, so hang in there, and I’m going to break things down as simply and easily as possible.
What Clean Eating Is
Now that we’ve got what clean eating isn’t out of the way, let’s talk about what it actually is. Clean eating is about eating foods in their most natural state. This means avoiding processed foods, foods with loads of preservatives, foods with lots of added sugar, and foods with high levels of bad fats (some saturated fats/all trans fats). Alternatively, you want to avoid foods that have been stripped of their nutritional value and/or have been injected with a heaping dose of six-syllable chemicals.
As I mentioned earlier, clean eating isn’t an exact term with standard guidelines to follow. My definition of clean eating is just that – my interpretation. These are some of the basic guidelines that I associate with clean eating.
A diet with an abundance of fresh, local, organic fruits and vegetables.
Free-range and grass-fed meats and dairy.
More vegetable-centered meals than meat-centered each week.
Plenty of water or other no-calorie drinks (NOT diet soda)
Making healthy cooking choices, such as baking, steaming, and light sauteing whenever possible.
Consume healthy fats from natural sources such as nuts, avocados, organic coconut oil, etc.
The overwhelming point I want to drive home to you is this; choose foods closest to their natural state. It’s great if you’re eating broccoli, but if it’s covered in cheese, butter, breadcrumbs, casserole style, then baked for 45 minutes, it’s losing a ton of its nutritional value. A better option would be to lightly steam your broccoli, toss with a little olive oil, lemon juice, and fresh Parmesan. Learning to cook (and eat) cleanly is all about learning to simplify things and not overdoing it with your meal prep. When you keep things simple, meals normally turn out to be more healthy.
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Potential Pitfalls of Clean Eating
Like many health and fitness topics, clean eating does have its share of critics. I think it’s important to address their issues because it only serves to benefit YOU, the clean eater, as you embark upon this journey towards good health. The overwhelming criticism I come across is the effects of clean eating on one’s mindset. Many critics claim the idea of banishing all things processed/unnatural can have a negative affect on an individual. There are thoughts that eating disorders and inappropriate feelings towards food can be developed if an individual becomes obsessive with ONLY eating cleanly.
A clean diet is important, but so is having a well-designed exercise component. If you’re interested in a completely customized fitness program, complete with a different video workout to follow along with each day, you’ve GOT to check out FitPlan! With a 2 week FREE trial, and the option to cancel anytime, what do you have to lose?
To an extent, I agree. If you’re dreading going out to dinner because you know there’s nothing on the menu that qualifies as “clean”, you might have a problem. If you refuse to have a bite of cake at your grandma’s birthday party because of all the sugar and refined flour, you might have a problem. If you start analyzing the ingredients in the biscuits you give your dog to make sure they’re “clean”, you might have a problem.
Simply put – stop over analyzing things. Progress is made and goals are reached through consistency, NOT perfection. Be consistent MOST of the time, and the good health and fit body you’re seeking will become yours.
The 80/20 Approach
The 80/20 approach is something I like to use with both exercise and diet. It’s a simple concept really – be consistent with your exercise and/or diet at least 80% of the time. If you’re living a perfectly healthy life four days out of five, your less than perfect tendencies will not come back to bite you in the ass.
As it relates to clean eating, simply make the right choices 80% of the time. If you’re going out to dinner and you have a bowl of pasta instead of the grilled fish, don’t obsess over it. You’re still maintaining your 80% standard of clean eating. And what’s more, that ONE bowl of pasta doesn’t even negate the rest of that day’s good efforts. One bowl of pasta a week and you’re looking at something like 95/5…….stop sweating it, you’re only going to stress yourself out.
The bottom line is, you’re going to make plenty of progress, have great successes, and improve your overall health as long as you stay consistent and make the right choices more often than not. When you strive for perfection you’re only setting yourself up for failure, disappointment, and bad feelings. Chill out and remind yourself it’s about consistency, not perfection.
How Can I Eat Clean?
Okay, so we’ve gotten through the basics, now lets tackle the practicality of everything; how you can start eating clean TODAY.
First off, I know a lot of you are concerned about the costs associated with terms like organic, free-range, grass-fed, etc. Well, I’m here to say that for MOST of you, you can easily buy organic, free-range, and grass-fed produce and meats for LESS than what you currently spend on the regular, chemical-filled stuff.
Secondly, make sure you’re actively reading nutrition and ingredient labels. If something has tons of ingredients you can’t pronounce, put it down. If it’s incredibly high in sugar, put it down. This doesn’t mean go for low-fat/sugar-free stuff either. Those products have usually been manipulated to an extent that makes them just as bad for you, albeit in a different way.
Make the bulk of your grocery purchases fresh and natural foods. Fresh produce, whole grains (quinoa for example), and organic/wild-caught meats/fish should be your go to choices. Personally, I’ve shied away from having meat at every meal, which has made eating cleanly so much easier. As it stands now, I aim to go “meatless” at least 4 days a week. I buy organic tofu, tempeh, and other soy-based sources to make sure I’m getting adequate protein. This decision is a personal one, but it’s turned out to be one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I no longer feel like a slave to meat; something that must be consumed to constitute a “full” meal.
Thirdly, I’d recommend you understand the importance of preparing your foods in a healthy way. For example, when you cook vegetables you break down their nutritional value (for the most part – tomatoes actually become more nutritious when they’re cooked). Boiling asparagus til they’re approaching the structural integrity of spaghetti means you’ve just sapped them of nearly all of their nutritional value. Lightly steam, bake, or saute your foods. You’ll cut down on excess oil and save on the nutritional content if you don’t cook foods to death.
Health Benefits of Clean Eating
Above all else, the reason people get into clean eating is because they want to improve their health. By avoiding chemicals, preservatives, and refined sugars, you’re cutting down on the likelihood of developing serious health conditions, like cancer.
If you’re fighting a weight loss battle, improving your diet could be just the thing you need to get those pounds dropping again. If you’re used to a diet full of preservatives and added chemicals, suddenly pulling them from your daily intake may help get your body back to normal. It’s amazing how slight differences in the physiology of our body can affect our ability to lose weight, get fit, etc. Get your body back to its normal state by eating normal foods…plain and simple.
Other associated health benefits include:
Improved cholesterol levels
Blood sugar balance
Better sleep and mood
General increase in health
The decision to start eating cleanly is a personal one, and I’m not going to tell you what to do. Simply, I’m letting you know what clean eating has done for me, what I think it can do for you, and why I think it can do it. Do your research, check out some other opinions on the subject, become informed, THEN make a decision about how you’d like to change (or not change) your diet and lifestyle.
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Matt has been involved in the fitness industry for over 10 years and has worked with, and helped countless individuals improve their lives. After college, Matt started his fitness career working in the trenches as a personal trainer for a big corporate gym. It was here he saw how impersonal Big Fitness really was. Clients weren't people, they were just sales waiting to be made. After branching out and starting his own personal training business in San Diego, Matt soon developed the idea of Share It Fitness and started our (now highly successful) blog. A fitness junkie himself, Matt knows the importance of incorporating exercise into your life. When he isn't working at Share It Fitness, you can find Matt running, biking, taking yoga, or pumping iron around San Diego.