Clean eating is not a diet, it’s not calorie-restriction, it’s not about depriving yourself of things you love and it isn’t about perfection.
- A diet is something you do short term so that you can lose a few pounds and then return to your normal eating habits (and gain all the weight back, hence the term: ‘yo-yo dieting’). That’s short-term thinking, and clean eating isn’t a short-term fix – it’s more of a lifestyle change. If you want to be successful with eating clean, you’ve got to view it as redefining the relationship you have to food, and rather than trying to change everything all at once, taking it slower, and focusing on continuing to improve your eating habits over time.
- Eating clean doesn’t mean not eating. You eat as much food as you need to be healthy and have the energy to fuel your workouts and any other activities. People often equate clean eating with sacrifice, but it’s actually about finding healthy alternatives to unhealthy food. Also remember that as you clean up your eating habits, your tastes change and you get to the point where you actually crave healthy food. Sounds crazy, but it’s true.
- Clean eating is about eating healthy most of the time. It isn’t about 100% strict adherence to mythical clean eating ideals – if you really want the double chocolate fudge cupcake, then go for it – I try to follow the 80-20 rule. Eat clean 80% of the time and stay sane with the other 20%.
Avoid processed food. – Convenient, but you pay for that convenience because processed foods are usually high in chemical additives, trans fats, salts and refined sugars.
Avoid most refined foods. – This means refined flour, sugars (high-fructose, white, brown, and the rest), trans-fats etc. If you’re interested in cutting down body fat, of special importance is to cut out refined sugars, which due to their affect on insulin levels and hormone sensitive lipase, aids in fat loss.
Avoid artificial ingredients and preservatives. – As the saying goes: if you can’t pronounce it, don’t eat it. If it’s made in a lab, don’t eat it. This includes artificial sweeteners!
Avoid alcohol. – The long and short of it is: alcohol is a toxin. It’s also an excellent social lubricant, so if you’re going to drink, make sure you keep it low to moderate.
Avoid soda and fruit juice. – Don’t drink your calories: soda is loaded with sugar, diet soda is loaded with artificial sweeteners and fruit juice is also often loaded with refined sugar and of course, natural sugars.
Eating to lose weight, maintain your weight, or gain weight (in the form of lean muscle, hopefully!) have different calorie requirements. Even though, for example, weight loss probably isn’t as simple as the often used calories consumed/calories burnt model(e.g. some researchers point to other factors such as the significant effect of hormones on fat loss), your caloric intake it can still be a useful guideline to follow.
Eat plenty of vegetables. – Veggies, veggies, veggies! Get as many veggies as you can: cruciferous, dark leafy greens, even potatoes. The idea is to make sure you have a variety of veggies on your plate (as many colors of the rainbow as you can get) and to vary the veggies you eat as often as possible.
Eat fruits in moderation. – Fruits are a sweet treat and a nutritious alternative to candies and other refined sugars, but it is possible to eat too many. Part of the issue with eating too much fruit is that it can lead to problems with the hormones which regulate blood sugar. Also, modern day fruits are generally much larger and higher in sugar than they would have been naturally (hybridization).
Eat high-quality meats. – If you’re a vegetarian or vegan you have plant-based alternatives. For the meat eaters, aim to get your meat from grass-fed animals if possible, it is more expensive, but it’s also healthier – failing that, try to get organic or free-range. One budget-friendly option is to have fewer, but higher quality meat-eating days. For lower quality meats, you probably want to get leaner cuts, as chemicals can accumulate in the fatty tissues.
Eat healthy fats. – Healthy fats don’t make you fat, they’re good for you! You can get healthy fats from, for example, fish (e.g. anchovies and sardines), nuts and seeds (e.g. walnuts, almonds, chia seeds), avocados, eggs, oils (olive oil, coconut oil), dairy products and grass-fed beef.
Use high-quality supplement(s). – (Optional) In an ideal world you would get all your nutrients from the food you eat; however, this isn’t an ideal world and there are some good reasons to add supplements to your diet. Plus, you can’t beat supplements for convenience. Hello Shakeology!
Drink mostly water and enough of it. – Pure, unadulterated water is the best way to stay hydrated, chuck the soda, chuck the fruit juice and stick to water most of the time, herbal teas and moderate use of coffee (remembering that caffeine has a 6 hour half-life in the body, so it’s best to drink it earlier in the morning). How much water should you drink? Half your body weight in ounces daily!