How To

Guidelines For Clean(er) Eating, With GIFs

Clean eating: a term that’s been kickin’ around for more than a hot minute, and it seems to have several different definitions depending on which blog/news outlet/dietician’s website you read. Some people say it means cutting out sugar, some say it means eating no meat, some say it means making everything from scratch from organic, local (re: expensive) ingredients. Some say it means no nuts, dairy, gluten, or caffeine. In other words: there can be lot of rules. But simply put, it’s this (in my version, anyway): don’t eat so many processed foods.


BUT WHY NOT I LOVE CHEETOS, I hear you think-screaming. It’s fine. I also love Cheetos. But clean eating man, it’s the best. ANECTDATA TIME: I’ve been all up in this noise for a few months and I no longer feel the desperate need to nap everyday at 3 p.m., I don’t crave sugar to the point of violence, my skin looks damn fine, and I lost the last bit of baby weight I’d been hanging on to since the twins were born three years ago (that wasn’t the goal at all, but I’ll take it).* Here’s how my VERY un-strict version goes:

1. Cook dinner every weeknight. Stop eating out during the week. Make enough for leftovers for the next day’s lunch (or plan easy-to-pack lunches like those [admittedly cute and yummy] damned mason jar salads that are all over Pinterest). The food we cook at home tends to be healthier, have less processed ingredients, and comes in saner portion sizes.

breaking bad gif

2. Don’t buy food products that were cooked somewhere else in a factory. That will automatically cut down your intake of processed foods to almost zero. And if it isn’t almost zero, don’t sweat. We’re going for a good ratio of whole food: processed food here, not absolute zero.

fresh prince of bel air

3. Spend most of your grocery budget on fresh fruit, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, and (only a little) lean meat. This part is easy: instead of buying snack packs of chips, buy some fruit. Instead of buying white rice, get brown rice. The whole-r the grain, the better it is for you and the less wonky it makes your blood sugar. Instead of instant oatmeal in the packets, get rolled oats (they take two minutes in the microwave). They’re in the same aisle, just lower toward the floor and in a bigger box. Don’t eat meat every night- it’s so frackin’ expensive anyway, especially if you’re buying cleaner free-range, organic meat. When in doubt, stick to the refrigerated perimeter of the grocery store and stay out of the middle aisles- if it doesn’t need to be refrigerated, it’s probably processed, i.e., not clean. Get organic if you can afford it, if not, don’t give it a second thought.


4. Make your own stuff as much as you can. Make your own pasta sauce. Make your own marinades and salad dressings. Try baking. Try fermenting, even. You’ll eliminate a ridiculous amount of processed sugar from your food because there’s *so much* added to store-bought stuff. And, as an added bonus, you’ll learn so much about cooking because you’ll be messing with the foundational flavors and prep methods of pretty much everything. “Clean eating” can be restrictive if you make up a bunch of rules, but in reality getting rid of processed foods teaches you how to cook. If you love food, this will be your jam.

julia child gif

5. Drinks, drinks, drinks! Ugh, I know, and I’m sorry, but: drink water. At the expense of almost everything else (I say almost because I am still the biggest cheerleader of coffee, tea, and a good Old Fashioned [hold the fruit]). Have your cup of coffee and your evening cocktail, but during the day ditch the Vitamin Water (it’s a code name for Weird Chemical Water) and the soda ESPECIALLY THE SODA and just drink some water.

w58u7GcLike that but not with vodka.

6. Eat less animal products than Ron Swanson would like. Can you make one meal that doesn’t have animal products? Breakfast is really easy for this: oatmeal with nuts/fruit/syrup.  Bam. Instead of chicken and cheese and hardboiled eggs on your salad for lunch, can you pick just one? I’m absolutely not saying give up animal products, just be more conscious of how often in the day you use them, and in what portion size.


A Word About Purism and Guilt. Clean eating purists probably wouldn’t call me a clean eater because I still consume caffeine and alcohol and I’m not vegan before six and my salads have feta cheese on them and whatever. To that I say: who cares? My goal for my time here on the planet isn’t to extend that time for as long as possible at the expense of enjoying myself. That’s why these “rules” are really just guidelines and on the weekends I eat whateverthefuck and every night I have a cup of cocoa with whipped cream on it.


I’m also not a fan of “cheats” or “skinny” food or “sinful” cakes or any of that terminology we use to make people (mostly women) feel bad about eating delicious food and having a sensual (meaning: involving the senses) response to it. And by “not a fan” I mean they make me seriously stabby.


I know that eating cleaner- with more whole foods and more time in the kitchen- is healthier and more sustainable, but I want to make sure this message gets across: if you want to eat a bag of Doritos while watching the game or two slices of cheesecake or a plate of bacon, you do you. We all want to be better, but if it’s at the expense of ever enjoying ourselves, we will stop trying. Eat on, my tasty friends.

*YMMV, obviously. I’m not your doctor or a nutritionist or a dietary whatever, I’m a person who cooks at home a lot and is sharing the stuff I make and what works for me.


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  • Danguole Lekaviciute

    This post is proof that GIFs are an art form and aaaaamen.

    Baby Jesus help me, for I have a RANT and a half about “skinny” recipes bubbling up in here. Hate them hate them hate them.

    • Amanda Nelson

      I want this rant. Make this rant happen.

      • kit steinkellner

        On principle, I won’t do skinny desserts. If Danguole doesn’t cover it in her rant, I might do a post about how VANILLA FLAVORED PROTEIN POWDER DOES NOT A DESSERT RECIPE MAKE.

        • Dana Staves

          Okay, WORD. I was indulging in crack (cruising Pinterest) the other day for muffin recipes, and I found a muffin recipe that had a “vanilla protein glaze” on it. WTF is that? It has no place in my muffins. No place.

          • Insatiable Booksluts

            O_O vanilla protein glaze made me think of like…


            okay, imma just be straight: flavored spooge.

          • Dana Staves

            Eww. Now I’m even more horrified.

  • Jeremiah N

    Julia Child, a meat cleaver, a hacksaw, and a giant tuna.

    *Now* it’s a party.

  • Steph Auteri

    I enjoy this. There are all these disparate rules out there, and it all really comes down to: don’t eat processed shit. (or at the very least, eat it in moderation)

    The other week, before they started stocking Cadbury Mini Eggs in stores, I was craving them so much that I actually ordered them online. And okay. I enjoy them. That’s fine. But when I have so many at my disposal, I eat so damn much, I start to feel gross.

    I’m reading Michael Pollan’s Food Rules now, and it’s reminding me: KISS (keep it simple, stupid). Because when I eat less processed shit, I feel a helluva lot better.

    • Amanda Nelson

      I agree, it’s really that simple. And it doesn’t mean you can’t have the foods you love. AND BONUS you learn to cook, which is fun.

  • Samantha Owens

    Sometimes I collect “skinny” recipes, but only because they sound like they’ll taste good. There’s no way I’d be using funky ingredients in them for the sake of making them actually “skinny”. When I find them though, I get a little sad that they had to mar it with that label. :(

    Also, you made clean eating sound so much easier.

    • raych

      Likewise! Sometimes you see a ‘skinny enchiladas’ or whatever, and you’re like, Oh, if I just use full-fat cheese and sour cream, that would actually be pretty good. It feels dumb because it’s probably the exact reverse of what that food blogger did to get the recipe in the first place.

      • Samantha Owens

        I don’t mind if it’s something like adding cauliflower so you’re eating less potatoes (because yum, cauliflower), but otherwise…nah. I don’t even like the idea (or taste) of diet soda.

      • Insatiable Booksluts

        I definitely don’t mind lightening up a recipe here and there to good flavor effect (like, I saw a recipe that called for over half a cup of olive oil when it really needed two tablespoons to be amaaaazing), but if you try to take my full-fat sour cream I will beat you to death with it.

  • Briana Myricks

    I’m trying to get rid of the sodas. I didn’t drink any for a week straight, so that was progress! Good rules here, nothing crazy outrageous. I really need to cook more during the week. Sorry Eat24.

  • jayne190

    Sorry but being on low income means that one eats mostly processed food, especially when the money is tight. Sure it may be cheaper to make large amounts of food but honestly when you have $50/week budgeted for groceries, you are going to getting a lot of processed foods and not a lot of fresh foods. I get about $926/month to pay for my rent, my food, etc. and it doesn’t leave a lot left and in order to have some cash to pay for the other things, I have to buy processed foods, as much as I don’t want to.

    • Amanda

      Nope, disagree. I get so sick of people saying that real food costs more than processed crap. Does it require more work? Yes. Are you going to be buying organic? No. But don’t tell me you “have” to live on Velveeta and Ramen.

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