If you have been considering eating clean, but feel completely overwhelmed, and don’t know where to start, then this post is for you! I started my journey to begin eating clean in January 2014, and have been doing so ever since! I can honestly say, that I won’t ever go back to eating the way I was before. Eating clean has changed the way I view food, the way I understand my body, and the way I perform in the gym. But, I would be lying to you if I said it was an easy switch, and that it happened overnight!
I think the most important aspect of eating clean for the long haul, is that you have the mindset of it being a lifestyle. I eat clean about 90-95% of the time, but that 5-10% where I don’t, doesn’t make me feel guilty and I don’t beat myself up over it. The reality is that we live in a culture where food is a major aspect of community, and not everyone in your life will have the same outlook on nutrition and food as you. So there are times where it is ok to make exceptions to how you eat. It is up to you to determine what percentage of eating clean you are ok with.
For me, I look at those times where I don’t eat clean as special occasions, or outings. My husband and I have a “cheat meal” once a week, where it’s our date night and we go out to eat for a meal. It’s ONE meal, and not a day’s worth of meals, and typically we choose a place where we know we are still getting fairly decent food. (An example of a MAJOR splurge for us was we went to a breakfast place a few weeks ago, and it was just incredibly heavy and fattening. We both determined that we only will do that heavy of a cheat meal once in a while.) The majority of the time we eat chicken or beef tacos or enchiladas as a cheat. Which is far heavier than our normal dinners, but not nearly as rich as breakfast items we had!
Overall, don’t beat yourself up over the times you don’t eat clean. Instead, build it into your schedule, and make it a special occasion. Treat it as just that- a treat.
Now, how do you go about switching to eating clean? This is not an overnight change. Take baby steps. It will be much more manageable, and you’ll start to notice the difference in how you feel, look and your tolerance for non-clean foods.
I encourage you to start out by taking two weeks, and writing down everything you eat every day. If you can, save the labels of products, or at least start looking at the ingredients. This will give you a foundation to go off of. You essentially need to first find out where you are, what your eating habits are, before you can start to make any changes.
Once you have two weeks worth of food logs, start looking at them. What are common dishes you eat? How much of what you consume are products from boxes, cans or bags? How many vegetables, fruits, plant-based items, and meat that doesn’t come from a package do you consume? Take a look at the labels you collected, and note the amounts of sugar and sodium, as well as the list of ingredients. How many of the ingredients can you pronounce and know what they are? Are your meals balanced like the chart below?
Your next step would be to pick one meal to clean up. Personally, I started with breakfast. It’s an important meal as it starts your day off on the right foot. It also provides you with the energy you need to get you started on your day. So, for that one meal, in this case- breakfast, start making adjustments. If you typically eat boxed cereal every morning, maybe try eating some oatmeal (not the quick oats kind, but the legit plain rolled oats) and swirling in some cinnamon and honey, and eating a hard boiled egg. Another great option would be to make an omelet with some spinach and peppers, (try and go light on the cheese!) or give my pumpkin protein pancake a try! You could also do a breakfast burrito with some scrambled egg white and eggs, and veggies wrapped up in a whole wheat tortilla.
Once you are able to eat a clean meal every day for a while, try cleaning up another one! I chose to clean up my lunches as my second meal, since I could easily prepare them ahead of time on the weekend and it would keep me from consuming unhealthy items at work! I just took an hour or so on the weekend to put the lunches together and grabbed the tupperware each morning!
One thing that you may find to be a challenge is how to come up with delicious recipes that are clean. I struggled with this a lot initially, and don’t fret- it get’s easier with time! What I recommend is that you think of a dish that you love- take orange chicken for example. Then think of it in terms of protein, carb and veggie. The protein is the chicken, the carb could be brown rice, and a veggie that goes well with it is bell peppers or broccoli. Once you determine those three items, you can start to figure out how exactly you are going to make it happen. I often look at various recipes online to start. Clean or not, looking at 5-6 recipes is a great way to get a grasp of the types of ingredients that make the meal, and then you can determine what you can substitute.
For orange chicken, I determined that ground chicken meatballs would work well. They retain their moisture well compared to chicken breast. So I knew meatballs use breadcrumbs, so I replaced the breadcrumbs with oats. Then for the sauce, I saw most recipes called for orange juice, and sugar in addition to some spices. So I switched out the orange juice for freshly squeezed oranges and the sugar I replaced with honey. Once the sauce was complete, I poured a measured small amount over my meatballs in the tupperware alongside the brown rice and chopped veggies.
Ultimately, the best way to tackle eating clean is to make small changes, one meal or snack at a time, and take recipes you know you already like and start substituting the “dirty” ingredients for clean ones. If you are unsure of what substitute to make, just google it and see what others suggest. You want to choose ingredients that are natural, and not filled with chemicals or preservatives.