Clean Eating Defined – A Paradigm Shift

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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”

There Has To Be a Better Way

I remember sitting on my couch Googling “rheumatoid arthritis” the day my blood work confirmed my diagnosis.  The first statistic that came racing to my eye was from a Johns Hopkins study, “sixty percent of people with rheumatoid arthritis will be unable to work 10 years after disease onset.” Come again? Not be able to work? I am glued to a chair in front of a computer screen or in meetings most of the day. In 10 years, I won’t be able to do that? The tears started to flow. I was just 32 years old with a 6-week old baby girl.

Prior to this, I would have been considered an extremely healthy gal – a dietitian by trade, a competitive athlete, an avid booty shaker. Now I was faced with a chronic, autoimmune disease without reliable indicators to predict how quickly it would progress. I was scared and devastated, with the countdown to debilitation ticking loudly in my head. I woke every morning with my body on fire, feeling like I had a never-ending flu, and I was so tired I couldn’t get out of bed. My knuckles were so swollen that I couldn’t get my wedding ring on and my wrists and hands were in so much pain that I couldn’t hold my daughter to breastfeed (forcing me to form a borderline inappropriate relationship with my breast pump).

I indulged in a pretty elaborate pity party while the words of my demoralizing Rheumatologist (“you should feel lucky you’re not in a wheelchair”) rang loudly in my head. But my baby girl and my off-the-charts Type-A personality quickly motivated me to find the answers I needed to beat this thing. Answers other than long-term steroids and immunosuppressant medications, I mean. Their laundry lists of side effects include glaucoma, osteoporosis, weight gain, mood swings and increased infection risk. Reading them almost made the rheumatoid arthritis (RA) sound pretty good. In what universe does RA + steroids = vibrant health? Was I really supposed to fill up on medication and feel like a puffer fish, or else be in debilitating pain? These were my only options??

After an underwhelming experience with Western medicine, I explored Eastern medicine options and in doing so, learned about the havoc food sensitivities can wreak on your system, as well as the principles of an anti-inflammatory diet. What should be concerning (for us all!) is that I’m a former registered dietitian with the American Dietetic Association, I have a bachelor’s degree in Nutrition and a master’s degree (also in Nutrition)…and this came as headline news to me.

Anti-inflammatory diet? Never heard of it.

Eliminate gluten if you don’t have Celiac Disease? Can’t be.

The function of your immune system is largely based on the effectiveness of your digestive system. Huh?

Eliminate toxins that can come from non-organic foods and artificial sweeteners, preservatives and additives? That’s a load of alternative health crap.

Isn’t it all about calories in/calories out? Counting your fat grams and carbs? We’re told to eat low-fat dairy and whole grains and we’ll all ride off into the optimal health, tight booty sunset. Right? Wrong. The apple cart was turned over and my REAL education was about to begin.

The first obstacle after fully educating myself was what the hell am I supposed to eat? I used my education (and desperation) to wade through all the questions, and nutritional guidelines, and how many different words companies are allowed to use in an ingredients list so that they don’t have to say “milk” (there are a lot). I’ve stood in that aisle at the grocery store thinking I’m making an easy, smart decision about a food item, only to read beyond the “Gluten-Free!” label to find it’s jam-packed with soy, sugar or corn – all three of which are also not good for my RA. Eventually, I found the short list of foods that did make me feel better, and I ate them in every possible combination to avoid boredom, while I researched what else I could add in. I even went so far as to start my own food company – Clean Cravings – and in the process developed a unique perspective on the allergy-free, gluten-free, natural food industry. I kept my mind and my eyes open, and I realized that the new foods I was putting into my body weren’t just good for kicking some rheumatoid arthritis ass, they were good for my ass (and my whole being).

Over 50 million Americans suffer from an autoimmune disease – with numbers on the rise – and over 30 million Americans suffer from some type of food sensitivity. However, our current health system is doing society a huge disservice. Eliminating inflammatory foods plays a huge role in managing autoimmune and other chronic conditions, and that fact is being largely ignored. Guidelines on treatment for RA from the CDC website, states “…there is no cure for RA, but new effective drugs are increasingly available to treat the disease and prevent deformed joints. In addition to medications and surgery, good self-management, including exercise, are known to reduce pain and disability.”

This is as good as it gets? Dulling the pain, going under the knife, and going for a walk (if I can even move by then) is my best approach? How are we missing the elephant in the room here? Not a single mention of nutrition. That’s why I’m here. That’s why this message is needed. People don’t know! They either aren’t being told about the power behind these progressive dietary changes, or they aren’t getting the fine print. There is so much to learn about the ramifications of food sensitivities and how the quality of our food can help. However, it is confusing and overwhelming.

My purpose is to teach ways to eat clean, feel great, and not hate it along the way. This site and my services are about demystifying clean eating. They are about helping people find a way to a night out with friends that doesn’t leave them feeling like a stuffed sausage. About helping people discover ways to recognize symptoms (whether obvious or obtuse), then alleviate them and crush cravings. Ultimately, it is about learning how to let go of the calorie counter and the fat gram obsession, and how to hold on tight to a fist full of delicious, whole, organic food.


 

  1. Ruffing, Victoria, and Clifton Bingham, III. “Rheumatoid Arthritis Signs and Symptoms.” Arthritis Information. Johns Hopkins Medicine, n.d. Web. 10 Oct. 2013.
  2. “Autoimmune Statistics.” AARDA. American Autoimmune Related Disease Association, n.d. Web. 11 Nov. 2013.
  3. “Rheumatoid Arthritis.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 19 Nov. 2012. Web. 12 Nov. 2013.