What happens when you stop eating man-made foods and get back to nature with your eating? If you asked me a year ago, I would have been stumped, but now – 42 pounds lighter – I can tell you that it can mean big things for living a truly healthier life.
“Cate, you look great! What have you been doing?” people ask.
“Clean eating,” I reply, simply.
The inquirer’s head immediately cocks to the side, à la Scooby Doo, “Huh?”
But really, it’s not so complex. Last year, I seriously overhauled my eating habits, going the “clean eating” route. Basically, that means that I don’t eat anything with ingredients. Oreos, for example, have ingredients. Grilled chicken doesn’t. Twinkies do. Green vegetables don’t. Following that principal along with working out regularly helped me shed over 40 pounds during the past year.
My journey to clean eating started in January 2010 when I had a shift in my thinking and was finally ready to do something to get back to a healthy weight. And as a newly single mom to two young children, I knew that this was the best time to do it. Armed with a new membership to a local gym, I played around with different ways to approach food and eating: eating less, Weight Watchers, frozen Lean Cuisines. I dabbled in them all, but nothing clicked for me like clean eating. Breakfasts became egg white omelets stuffed with vegetables. Lunches were sandwiches stuffed with grilled chicken, avocado and tomatoes. Dinners were stir-fries, salads, proteins, and fresh vegetables from the farmers market. Protein shakes and healthy snacks filled in the gaps. This wasn’t dieting – it was just eating well, and I was never hungry. The weight seriously fell off.
This isn’t about calorie-counting or keeping track of points. Simply put, good food is good for you. By eating this way, your body is better fueled for what it needs to do to get through the day. And “bad” things for you suddenly don’t have the same allure they once did.
I don’t know how it happened, but during my clean eating, my mind was reprogrammed for the better. My body now easily recognizes what good food, really good food is, and when I eat something that’s not quite as good, it’s like my body suddenly says, “Wait, what the heck was that?”
I am by no means a nutritionist, but a desire to make a break from processed foods and find a healthy lifestyle that worked ultimately led me on this path. Clean eating, and its many derivations, have proven results, and you can certainly take it to varying degrees and extremes. For example, I also don’t eat any white bread and, for the most part, stay away from cheese (which has been the hardest thing to give up). Different people interpret clean eating differently, and a tweak here and there will help you find what works for you specifically.
Here are my basic rules for clean eating:
- Eat three meals a day (no skipping meals) and two snacks.
- Drink water – lots of it. Curb your coffee, alcohol and juice intake, if not eliminating them altogether.
- Focus on whole natural foods, including fresh fruit, vegetables and lean proteins.
- Stay away, as much as possible, from man-made foods.
- Pack healthy snacks when you’re going to be on the go (nuts, low-fat yogurt, and fresh fruit, for example).
Of course, there is more to it than just the basics, but you need to start at the beginning. Go through your pantry, refrigerator, freezer and kitchen cabinets and start ridding them of items that don’t follow your clean eating guidelines. It’s better to fill your cupboards with items that you won’t feel guilty about and skip the temptation all together.
But how ’bout these kids of mine? Could I get them on board with me? We all know how kids are rumored to be such picky eaters, right? Turns out it was no problem at all. If you ask my son what he wants for dinner, he is likely to choose a Greek salad over chicken nuggets from the local fast food chain. I love that about him. My daughter is quickly following in his footsteps, choosing cherry tomatoes as a preferred snack over potato chips. But how to get them to buy into the concept with me? Here are a few things that worked for me:
- We visit our local farmers market regularly, buying what is in season and poring through cookbooks, brainstorming on how we want to prepare things. We also regularly seek out foods that we are not familiar with (black garlic anyone?) and Google the heck out of them to learn all we can.
- Get the kids in the kitchen. Kids are more likely to eat something that they have had a hand in making, pure and simple. They are proud to eat something they made, especially when it tastes delicious.
- Ask for their input. When I sit down to plan our weekly menu (a must when we’re juggling school, the gym and life), I do it with the kids so it’s a reflection of what all of us want to eat, not just me.
- Turn junk food on its ear. Although they are typically awesome little eaters, they are still kids and prone to requesting pizza, chicken fingers or French fries. What to do? Make a healthier version. Instead of grabbing a pizza pie from our local Italian restaurant, for example, we make our own. Starting with a whole wheat crust and homemade marinara sauce, we pile it high with some of our favorite healthy toppings, and it’s way better than what we would just pick up.
But is clean eating enough? No. Clean eating and exercise go hand-in-hand. It’s about balance – achieving that right mix of eating cleanly and burning calories. So, yes, you have to work out somehow – but how is up to you. My old personal trainer suggests doing some sort of physical activity for 30 minutes a day, every day. On days that I take a class (Hello, my name is Cate and I’m a Zumba addict), I work out for an hour a day. On days that I spend time with the machines, I usually do between 30-60 minutes per day. I’m so focused on the gym that everything gets planned around workouts and classes.
Recently, when I changed a dinner time with my mom because it interfered with a class she asked, “Who are you?” I laughed. I am definitely a new and improved Cate 2.0. – a better, healthier, fitter version of my former self, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.