Eating clean is a process and a rewarding journey that is also laden with mistakes, setbacks and obstacles. Too many of us, unfortunately, are so hard on ourselves during our journey that we never make it to our destination. So in other words we get so tied up in what is "right" and "wrong" or "good" and "bad" in eating well that we become paralyzed and miss out on our goal which is to enhance the quality and quantity of years added to our lives.
The term clean-eating is actually meant to be a tool to help in this journey but in someways it is becoming a great obstacle for many. Personally, I have done things wrong, right and everything in between. There were times where I got a little crazy about what I ate but now I feel like the best approach is one of balance. I feel like in order to make eating-well a long term habit, especially while feeding a family, that I need to keep it sustainable and reasonable. In doing this I want to share some tips about how to keep things balanced. These tips are to know the history and basics of clean-eating, stay clear of the clean crazies, keep it guilt-free and finally stay family friendly.
1. Know the history of clean-eating
What is clean-eating? Its actually just a term. Let's not let that term define who we are or become so wrapped up in it that we categorize ourselves, others or over categorize food by it.
While the word "clean" has become recently popular in the fitness and health world when referring to eating it has actually been used for hundreds of years religiously while discussing what some should and should not consume. Foods were defined as "clean" or "unclean".
The term began to gain popularity among the body building and physique community in the early 80's. With much experimentation this community used a list of healthy staples in order to gain the best physique. These foods were categorized as clean. Tosca Reno brought the term from the body building community into the mainstream public light a few years ago with her book "The Clean Eating Diet." It was a good distinction from the word "healthy" which was being overused and abused by marketers. The word healthy became blurred and skewed in it's meaning. It could mean low-fat, low-carb, low-sodium or high-protein or even high-fat depending on what diet you were following. Clean eating was a more narrow definition that focused on reaching the end goal of a great physique in mind. It incorporated healthy fats, healthy carbohydrates and lean meats in a more balanced way while being macro-nutrient minded.
Even more recently however the term "clean-eating" has also been adopted by a more politically conscious community. Suddenly the term clean eating has been mixed with non-GMO, organic, raw, free-range, non-dairy, natural and so forth. While many of these ideas are valuable and important these additional requirements have led to mass confusion and have begun to demotivate a lot of families who need to have a feasible starting point.
So with these ideas in mind I want to be clear that when I talk of clean eating in this blog my primary focus is a family friendly, balanced and fitness minded angle. I have outlined these terms below with a balanced approach that places equal importance on both healthy foods and habits. It is not all encompassing list but it is a basic start.
2. Know the Basics
As we have seen there have been different definitions of clean eating for many years. The definition and list of foods below is what I choose to focus on.
Fresh produce especially vegetables
Minimizing sodium, refined sugars, refined flours and other processed foods
Eat good foods frequently (usually a protein and a carb togethe)
Daily Exercise including both weight baring exercises (especially for women), cardio and flexibility
3. Stay away from the "the clean crazy mentality"
Since we have discussed what cleaning eating is we can also discuss what, in my opinion, it should not become. The Studio C, 2 minute clip above does a good job of humorously illustrating some of the attitudes which are often all too common place in the health industry.
I have seen others on this road go pretty extreme and grow even a little "food self-righteous" and critical of others. I call them the "crazys" not because they are actually crazy or not intelligent about health issues but because they are crazy or fanatic about it. They sometimes lose friends in the name of clean-eating because they can become a little overbearing. I watch their comments unfold as they prowl blogs and social media pages in order to leave critical suggestions while using buzz words and scare tactics that might alarm fitness new-comers. I am not sure if the end result is to show off knowledge, if they are just really passionate or if they want to bring traffic to their own sites. They will share or reshare ideas that they read somewhere online and present them as fact when many of these ideas lack truth and substance. It is a good idea to steer clear of the "crazys" or those that preach that the only way to do this is to go extreme. They are okay to do it their way but we need to choose the way that is best for us and I believe for most this way is more balanced.
I believe it is also important to avoid the "crazy" that might be within ourselves. I understand and respect the process and stage that many of these people are going through. There is a certain level of passion that we all need to experience in order to overcome and avoid the marketing waves of junk or processed foods that come our way but we also need to be educated and not be easily scared into thinking that our instagram friend or favorite blogger knows all the answers about eating healthy and avoiding toxins. Many of these people wouldn't trust a doctor without a second opinion but they will take information that they read online as fact and without question from someone that is trying to sell them something.
Again to be fair becoming a "crazy" may just be a natural process of this journey since there is a learning curve involved and a lot of thought needs to go into revamping a lifestyle. But if we can try to keep the part of giving unsolicited education to others or being "food self-righteous" at a minimum it is better. I know because I have been a crazy. There is no reward in having people hide their food from you when you walk into a room or avoid you in the grocery store because they don't want you to see what's in their cart. Balance and kindness goes a long way and for some reason when we get extreme and uptight it effects us and others in a negative way that lasts a long time.
4. Keep it guilt-free
Guilt is not a good thing when it comes to eating healthy. It is best to allow ourselves moderate guilt-free outlets in order to keep a healthy mentality as well as a healthy body. I am not saying to eat chocolate cake whenever we want to or indulge as a way to deal with stress but to have planned treats can be beneficial. This lifestyle needs to be our choice. If we can think "I choose not to." instead of "I can't." then we are setting ourselves up for greater success.
Sometimes feeling guilty can be a punishment to ourselves that is very destructive and actually inhibits our ability to change. When we overeat, for example, instead of change our lifestyle we may have a habit of feeling extremely guilty and we feel like this guilt somehow atones for our failure. We may unknowingly think that if we punish ourselves with guilt than we have done our duty and this dampens our resolve or need to change. Sometimes guilt is still a lazy persons way out of truly changing.
A better alternative would be to choose a moderate lifestyle. Plan treats or outlets and more importantly plan a way to stop eating them afterwards. If it is to have a limited amount available, to eat a treat that you enjoy but don't love or to simply chew a piece of mint gum after than that is a type of planning. There are several ways to eat a treat that doesn't break a diet or topple over a healthy lifestyle. Some people freeze their treats and others keep them completely out of the house but can eat them else where. Some choose to eat them one day of the week while others only have them before or after a certain time. I like the approach to eat a small treat immediately after a workout. It is actually beneficial for the body to have a small insulin spike at that time. If you were an alcoholic no I would not tell you to drink alcohol occasionally but as a food addict this is something you will have to decide and answer for yourself after some experimentation and self evaluation. In order to keep a lifestyle long term we either have to have no desire at all for these treats or we have to learn how to deal with them in a healthy way without completely shaking up our desired goals.
5. Stay Family Friendly
Since I am talking to my fit family people here my guess is that you are all interested in the family dynamic of clean eating. Keep in mind that our long term goal for our children is to enjoy healthy foods. We continually offer them options and try and retry healthy foods in a variety of ways to help our children build a desire to make healthy foods part of their own choices. I found it interesting that in the Harvard Grant study, one of the longest, most encompassing studies following lifestyle in existence found that genetics had less of an impact on the length of life than did habits that were formed before the forties. What we do now will greatly impact our children in the future. When we are all empty nesters I am sure some of us will eat very differently and focus on our goals only but for now we also chose to include the goal of teaching our little ones and not so little ones how to take care of their bodies and have a healthy relationship with food.
So in this post I've shared my tips for having a balanced approach to eating clean. In my opinion we can do this by knowing the history and basics, not being a "crazy", avoiding guilt and by staying family friendly.
Although I feel that the term of "clean-eating" may be on its way out it can still offer us a tool as part of our healthy lifestyle tool box to making our journey more structured, enjoyable and obtainable. I hope that some who have read this can now breath a little easier and layout their own plan for a sustainable and reasonable approach to clean-eating.
Happy Healthy Eating!
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