I’ve learned (the hard way) that when I find myself up against a brick wall time and again, I’ll get to where I’m going faster if I stop pushing against what won’t move, and instead turn around and find a new path. We’ve all been there, right? Closing our eyes and planting our feet defiantly…and when we open them again, Karma is standing there with a smile, telling us to try something else. We fight our way through frustrating traffic only to realize we’ve been going in the wrong direction. We work all night putting together a presentation, and wake to find we dutifully prepared it for the wrong client. And we have been diligently counting calories and fat grams in an attempt to gain control and lose weight, but it’s time to learn that what really helps us achieve overall wellness (and drop the lb’s) is something altogether different.
A Paradigm Shift
Conventional theory has taught us to believe that eating healthy means counting calories, carbs and fat grams. So, dear reader, if this is your first venture into the clean eating movement, this is your chance to refocus on the bigger picture – and get back to common sense in many ways. It’s time to put away the calculators. And it’s definitely time to stop buying and consuming over-processed, bastardized versions of food in a misguided attempt to eradicate everything we’ve been told is “bad” from our diets.
Because good nutrition is more about the quality of the food we put into our bodies, and less about a limited quantity. For some people, this can be a hard-to-grasp shift from a widely accepted paradigm. With calories, fat grams, scales, and calculators, things are in our control – or so we think – and we like that. Evidence proving that the quality of our food affects our health (and our waistline) does exist. But shifting perspective away from the numbers game can still seem like a leap of faith. We need to start thinking in terms of what kinds of foods motivate our bodies to work well for us. What are the nutrients in that food that are going to help our systems work better? Likewise, what’s in our food that’s going to piss off our bodies and make them turn against us?
Sometimes those instigators are the obvious ones – ingredients you can’t pronounce that sound like they could be involved in making a chemical weapon. They are misleading because they can keep the calories and fat down (think Splenda), which can give you an immediate sense of victory. But feeding your body chemicals doesn’t mean you’re beating the system – it means you’re beating your system up. Even harsher than what those ingredients do to your body, is the realization that sometimes, the ingredients that do the most harm are the ones you have known and loved for ages. Familiarity makes them seem innocent, but these dirty bastards are the “best” friends you wish you never had.
Eating Clean Defined
So, what is all this hype about “clean eating” and what exactly does it mean? It has become quite the go-to term for everything relating to healthy eating. If you Google “eating clean” or “clean diet” you can probably find 100 different answers – everything from eating only organic and local, to juicing, to going vegan, to advising that we never eat anything that comes in a package. (I think we can all agree that last rule was clearly set by someone who doesn’t have kids…or a demanding job…or a hectic travel schedule…or all of the above.) And what’s with all the food allergies – why can’t we have peanuts on the plane anymore? Why does bottled water now have a gluten-free label?
Well, I’d like to offer up a high-level definition of clean eating that will be the guiding principles throughout the content and the services provided on this site.
Clean eating involves enjoying foods that:
- Aren’t likely to present sensitivities (e.g. gluten/wheat, dairy, corn, soy, yeast, peanuts or other food additives and categories). Most people don’t even realize they have sensitivities to such foods because symptoms can be so elusive. But regularly consuming foods that your body reacts to, even slightly, can put you in a constant state of inflammation. And this inflammation is a trigger for a laundry list of chronic diseases. This topic is getting a bit overexposed in the mainstream media – with a particularly strong backlash on gluten – but know that these principles are supported in strong scientific evidence and that simple diet changes can have DRAMATIC, positive effects on your health.
- Without pesticides, antibiotics, hormones or genetically modified organisms (GMO’s). This subject deserves a blog post (or 10) to itself, but the net net is that regularly ingesting such various toxins causes free-radical damage (read: premature aging of cells), hampers the immune system, decreases the nutritional content, can be carcinogenic, and prevents weight loss.
- Are nutrient dense. This is the “what can you do for me” category. Items 1 and 2 above are all about avoiding, but there has to be balance – sidestep the empty, inflammatory stuff while still getting plenty of necessary nutrients. Think organic, bright-colored fruits and veggies, whole (gluten-free) grains, and unprocessed oils that provide critical vitamins, trace minerals, fiber and inflammation-fighting essential fatty acids. This category also can include fermented foods and supplementation to repair the underlying issues causing any food sensitivities.
- As fresh and unpackaged AS POSSIBLE. In doing so, you avoid many of the pitfalls listed above as well doing what is best for our environment. However, that “as possible” is a big disclaimer for me. I’m in no way denying that it would be optimal if all of our foods were local, seasonal and completely unprocessed. Wouldn’t it be amazing to grow your own vegetables and herbs, raise your own chickens, and have grass-fed cows grazing in the back yard? However, I presume most of you live on planet Earth like I do. I’m a girl on the go with two arms, 10 fingers, and 5,000 balls in the air at any given time. You do the math. We can only do what we can do, right? So, if there’s a respectable company out there who has already done the work for me, and can show me a clean ingredient list (and packaging), I’m going to saddle up that horse and ride it into my time-saving, clean eating sunset.
This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to understanding the nutrition principles involved in restoring your health. We will dive much deeper into each category in later posts; however, it is important to get your mind right before taking action. If you’re still gripping tightly onto that can of diet soda or container of [pasteurized, cow’s milk] low-fat yogurt, this may take some time to embrace. So, I leave you to marinate on these high level principles for now.
In the wise words of Maya Angelou, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better”