A long time being marketed to by the food industry has a lot of us needing to carry a label when it comes to our eating habits. “Clean Eating” might seem like yet another label, but as far as a label goes, it doesn’t matter if you’re a vegetarian or you binge on carbs, we could all do better with our clean eating.
Defining Clean Eating
Put simply, clean eating means eating whole foods, as close to nature as possible. We aren’t eating processed foods. The point is to buy less foods in packages and more foods that you can find at a farmer’s market. In a nutshell, if you keep good food in your fridge you’ll eat good food.
Like the need to label, we also tend to associate ourselves with either being good or bad. We take eating clean further and make a “diet” out of it, or make it a very restrictive and expensive way to eat. But nothing is really good or bad, just in or out of balance and clean eating is simply shifting our focus to the quality of food we put on our plate.
There’s two ways of transitioning to clean eating. The first, is the right here, right now as quickly as possible approach. The other, is to really understand, getting to the nitty gritty and really giving your body what it needs to help itself. This is achieved by moving to an 80:20 lifestyle where 80% of the time your eat clean so that the other 20% your body can absorb any indiscretions. It’s called “living.” By helping your body help itself and moving to an 80:20 lifestyle, you’ll acheive a healthy balance in your diet and still be able to enjoy some of the “finer” things.
The Transitioning to Clean Eating Right Now Approach
Ok, so this is heavily borrowed from Michael Pollan:
Whole foods, as close to nature as possible. No processed foods, buy less foods in packages and be a peripheral (fresh produce) and farmer’s market shopper. Keep good food in your fridge to eat good food.
Of the 180 or so varieties of fruit, veggies, nuts and seeds most of us eat 5-6 a week, some every week. Green leafy veggies should be our number one priority for carbs and colored everything for antioxidants. Nutrition through variety is a great meme.
The right amount of enough.
Michael Pollan also warns against eating too much (you know if this is you). Eating too much means you’re not getting the right amount of each macronutrient; carbs, proteins, fats. Each meal you should strive for about a 40:30:30 ratio. Beginning with how you eat makes you feel and focus on satisfaction and enjoyment not fullness.
Transitioning to Clean Eating Using the 80:20 Approach
I see transitioning as a process, something you’re always doing and working on. It’s not done and over, never to be thought about again because it’s how you’re going to do it from now on. Even the healthiest most balanced meal every day can behave much like sugar in your brain. We’re wired to seek difference, as much as we are to detect ripeness and spoilage. Ensuring our micronutrient needs in our bodies are met through our foods is important. So here’s a few things to keep in mind when transitioning to clean eating, over time.
- When we remove processed food from our diet, our health comes a long way. Foods our bodies were not made to use can cost more in energy than they provide. We also need more of them to get the same energy whole foods can easily provide us.
- Clean eating doesn’t have ingredients; it is ingredients.
- Forget the calories: chances are we’re nutrient not calorie deficient. If you’re gonna count something, count nutrients.
- There is no one size fits all diet. People prescribing ‘diets’ that have worked for them, without getting to know a person and what is happening in their body at a biochemical and cellular level are either misguided, selling something or both.
- Eat foods to enhance health from the level of the cell. This means getting to the root cause. Clean eating isn’t the opposite of dirty, it’s unprocessed.
- Digest optimally. Think about your food, don’t eat on the run, chew your food and de-stress. Stress is high blood sugar but also digestion needs a parasympathetic state to work properly and stress is sympathetic: it turns digestion off.
- Eating fat doesn’t make you fat. Sugar does. Sugar mobilizes insulin; fat does not. Macronutrient fat does not trigger the hormonal dance that creates body fat storage. When you eat something sweet, your blood sugar levels increase too quickly, and your pancreas secretes the hormone insulin to take the excess sugar out of your blood. Insulin is a fat storage hormone. It stores that extra sugar first as glycogen, and then as triglycerides (fat) once these glycogen stores are full.
- Eat more healthy fats because we need healthy fats to digest what we should be eating! The very bodily substance we need to digest fats, bile, is produced in the liver and stored in the gall bladder. Ironically it’s made of the very fats it digests so low, no or weird trans-fats in your diet means that’s exactly what your bile is made of and probably why you’re body is not digesting fats! Good healthy fats mean good healthy (functioning) bile to digest more fats. And the secret to healthier bile and fats digestion? Beets! In fact you should probably drop some fresh beets daily.
- Beware Franken-fats. The fact is you can’t make a processed food without heat. Turn over just about any box or bag in your kitchen and chances are one of those vegetable oils (along with some level of oxidation) is in there. Even less convenient is the fact that these refined, polyunsaturated oils are the most popular choice in most commercial kitchens because they’re cheap and have that high smoke point — so they can withstand high heats without making food taste burnt. But, there is hope! A growing number of packaged food brands and restaurants have started to make the switch, using more stable oils like coconut, avocado and animal fats for their house-made potato chips and French fries. And, rather than hiding from the world and only eating oil you’ve cold-pressed in your backyard, you can always ask that your meal be cooked in butter the next time you’re out to eat.
- Eating clean will help you re-realize what you need vs want. No one needs three coffees a day; no one needs a muffin: they’re just sugar and artificial ways of lifting our energy, which our body could be doing for itself, helping itself out in the process.
- When we eat clean, we can expect to feel energetic not need processed foods for a boost. It would seem our bodies really do know what to eat; our problem is we’ve forgotten how. We rush to eat, eat on the run and stress our way through our day to get more food in and hope blissful sleep will energize us to do it all again the next day. However, digestion turns off in all these occasions; so taking time is your number one transitioning goal. It needn’t be meditation before each mouthful, or copious amounts of hours cooking and preparing and serving up a ten-course degustation; the time you take is for you and that’s whatever you can.
- Removing the stressors – after we prioritize everything we need first and foremost on our plate, full of vegetables, good fats and high quality proteins at each meal, there’s little left for the “go to foods” we used to fill up on. When did being full start constituting a healthy meal by the way?!
- Strengthening the defenses – this is the next or at the same time, step. It starts with digestive strengthening. A lot of us share similar symptoms like rushing to eat and low stomach acid or poor fat digestion function from a low fat diet. Each of us is as different on the inside as out. There are going to be foods you reintroduce you can tolerate, some you can’t and others you can eat but maybe shouldn’t or should limit. It’s about listening to your body, which is always talking (as symptoms); we’ve just got to learn to listen.
- Transitioning steps: bad, good, better, best. While it’s so encouraging to see people consciously making better food choices, meal planning, grocery shopping, or even perusing your local farmer’s markets to know which foods are the “best” options it’s pretty daunting. Start by making family favorites in a healthy manner. Increase good fats by adding them to foods (such as butter on vegetables). Focus on their digestion through the inclusion of things like beets at each meal. Add more variety after you get used to healthier food ingredients. Increase the ratio of raw foods in your diet. And change gradually: Rome wasn’t built in a day!