Every person on a wellness-focused path starts to question their diet at some point. If you know a little about preventative health, you know that diet has a huge impact on how you feel. So maybe you’d like to start eating better, whether you already eat decently or you’ve been eating a standard western diet for years. But where do you begin? Completely shifting over your diet can be truly overwhelming. The following below is a guide to clean eating that help you on your journey to wellness.
Let’s first figure out exactly what clean eating is…
What is Clean Eating?
Clean, conscious, organic, natural, whole, wholesome, aware, healthy…
These terms all generally refer to the same style of eating. When you get into the specifics, this way of eating can branch into different diets (such a paleo, vegetarian, vegan, and so forth). But at a general level, “clean eating” means choosing foods in their more pure and whole form, as well as consuming far fewer “processed” foods.
Eating clean means less boxes, cartons, and bags, plus shopping the perimeter of the store where the veggies, fruits, and other whole foods are located.
So the next step in this guide to clean eating is to understand where you are with your eating habits.
How do you decide what to change in your current diet?
Next, you need to find out what you’re currently eating. This is the part of the process where you get to play observer. Create a food journal and track your typical diet for a week. If you’re working on your family’s diet too, try to keep a sketch of what you’re feeding them and what they’re eating at school or work. Get a snapshot view of the food that you’re buying, preparing, serving, snacking on, and taking with you. Understand what convenience foods you’re buying and how you’re eating out.
Then sit down and look through it all. What are you doing great at and where could your diet use improvement? Make notes of what things you would like to change in your diet. Ensure that you’re being realistic about what you will be able to stick with long term.
How do you commit to a clean eating plan and stick to it?
Sure, it can be easy enough to look at your diet and see where you could improve. But sticking to your new plan can be tricky in the long run. You’ll need to find purpose in your transition to eating clean.
Do you have a solid “why” for your reason for attempting this and could you communicate that “why” with your family? Find your purpose, then engage in conversation to help everyone get on board. Make it a regular conversation, since it might help when your diet starts to backslide into old habits or you’re faced with a stubborn family member.
You’ll also need to make changes at a slower pace in many instances. The idea is to change your diet permanently, so a sustainable rate is the goal. Making too many changes all at once can throw everyone off, make you feel grumpy, and set you up for missing your favorite treats.
Instead, commit to finding replacements for the foods you know aren’t healthy and replace them one at a time. Within no time, you’ll have an array of tasty and clean foods you love and you’ll have left behind all the unhealthy foods that were making you feel icky.
Where should you start with your clean eating journey?
There are two ways you can approach clean eating. The first option is that you could replace the easiest food offenders first, giving yourself the immediate satisfaction that you’ve done good without a lot of pain. This might mean buying organic salad dressings and condiments, switching white bread to whole grain bread, or processed cold cereal being traded out for organic/natural cold cereal. After a while, though, you’re going to want to move on to the second option.
The second method is to find a food group that is producing the most inflammation and pain in your body, then make the switch. This method makes you feel better quicker, and therefore makes you feel more committed to this food lifestyle.
If you do choose the second option, one of the best ways to feel better immediately is to give up processed sugar. Remove all of it from your home and replace it with natural sugars such as honey, maple syrup, and stevia. Learn how to make tasty treats with these natural sugars and notice how quickly your mind and body gives you confirmation that you’re doing the right thing.
What should be the next challenge for starting a clean diet?
After you’ve eliminated sugar, the next step in this clean eating plan is to cut out all the processed foods. Dig around in your pantry and identify all the things in boxes, cans, and other preserved containers. Read those labels. Are there ingredients on there that you can’t pronounce and have never heard of? Do you see white flour, white rice, powdered potatoes, or other “white” products in your cupboards?
Head to the store with a list and find the whole grain (or even gluten-free, if you prefer) versions of these foods. Replace them in your house and start learning how to cook with them. You’ll feel even better at this point!
Then work on all the fats you use for cooking and eating. If you’ve got vegetable oil around, it’s time to replace it with whole, healthy fats like coconut oil, organic butter, and ghee. You’ll immediately increase the nutrient content of your foods and decrease inflammation in your body.
Next, look at the quality of your meat (if you eat it). Can you buy something more natural, organic, grass-fed, or locally grown? If budget is an issue, at least choose meat that is grown without artificial hormones. Work towards eating the best quality meats in the near future (especially locally raised!).
Do the same for all the dairy you consume. Find a local source for high quality eggs, milk, butter, and cheese. You’ll make your family feel much better and you’ll know that the animals are being treated humanely!
Decide which veggies and fruits you can buy organically and pick the ones that are the most susceptible to pesticides (such as berries). Try your best to eat as much organic as you can, while still being kind to your food budget.
Buy bulk nuts, seeds, whole grains, and wholemeal flours. Shop at your local farmer’s market. Join a local CSA to get a great deal on high quality, locally grown foods. Support local farmers, gardeners … and consider growing your own garden if that appeals to you!
How to stay on track long-term when committed to eating clean?
As you follow this guide to clean eating, you’ll find that even the best plans sometimes take a turn down a different path. It’s normal to “fall off the bandwagon” every so often. Be gentle with yourself and create a plan to get back on track.
Figure out what caused you to stop eating clean and find ways to set yourself up for success in the future. Were you just too busy and didn’t have time to cook? Start doing once a week meal prep so you only have to cook on your day off. Or create an easy “snack” plan of whole foods that can be prepared and eaten in a hurry, no matter what your schedule holds for that day.
Feeling left out of the social fun? Remember that you don’t need to eat perfectly all the time. In fact, for mental health’s sake, it’s probably healthier to NOT eat perfectly and instead allow yourself some treats once or twice a week.
Enjoy a night out with friends every so often and teach yourself not to feel guilty about it. Keep a bar of dark chocolate in your cupboard for those moments when you’d love to dive into a chocolate cake (but instead, you’ll enjoy delicious pieces of chocolate to curb the craving). Treat yourself, be gentle with yourself, and find ways to set yourself up for success.
Take this journey one step at a time. If you follow this guide to clean eating, you’ll quickly find yourself eating better, moving better, and feeling better. You can do it!