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.
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.
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.
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.
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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