Clean Eating is a philosophy I’ve adhered to for several years now, so I can say with confidence that clean eating is the secret (or my secret, at least), to feeling and looking great with little effort. I, like many others, have spent my life searching for the balance between staying healthy and loving food. It’s a balancing act that can lead to unhealthy weight fluctuations, emotional highs and lows, and extreme frustration. However, I am happy to say that I’ve figured out a lifestyle that allows me to both enjoy food and love the way I look and feel – the clean eating movement is real and you should be joining in!
Before I get to the three main reasons why I love living the clean eating lifestyle, I should first define what ‘clean eating’ actually is. While definitions may vary, I define clean eating as eating whole, fresh and unprocessed foods as often as possible, and at all other times, sticking to only minimally processed foods. Whole and unprocessed food is a straight forward enough concept. Fresh produce, nuts, seeds, beans, whole grains such as quinoa and millet, and high-quality animal products make up the bulk of a clean diet, with a special focus on fresh vegetables. As a vegetarian, most of my diet consists of vegetables, fruits, beans and high quality dairy, but only eating completely unprocessed foods isn’t very fun for this carb-loving girl. And that’s why understanding the meaning of ‘minimally processed foods’ is also essential when adhering to a clean eating lifestyle.
While a processed food contains excessive sugar, unrecognizable ingredients and/or artificial colors, flavors and preservatives, a minimally processed food is different. Minimally processed foods are also foods that are processed through milling, crushing, heating, etc, like highly processed foods. But minimally processed foods, unlike processed foods, contain no artificial ingredients such as preservatives, colors or flavors. It’s also a good idea to focus on non-gmo and organic products when eating minimally processed foods, just for extra assurance that the ingredients are of the highest quality. In order to determine whether a packaged food is processed or minimally processed, it’s absolutely necessary to check the labels. For any packaged food I buy, I am diligently checking labels for any ingredients that aren’t recognizable or pronounceable.
Another part of clean eating is making an effort to cook meals yourself – using high-quality, whole ingredients of course. It’s unrealistic however, to make everything I eat from scratch, so I am no stranger to using help from the supermarket. The primary minimally processed foods in my diet are whole wheat pasta, whole wheat and all-purpose flours (mostly for homemade pizzas and flatbreads) and store bought sandwich breads and buns. See? Serious carb-lover over here. Mass produced pastas and breads can definitely be super processed, but that doesn’t mean all packaged supermarket foods are off limits. It’s possible to find minimally-processed versions of many commonly processed foods. Now that begs the question, what’s the difference between something processed, like dry pasta, and its minimally-processed counterpart? Short answer, the number of ingredients and the quality of ingredients. When I buy dry pasta, I look for organic varieties with only one ingredient, 100% durum wheat flour. Another example? I love english muffins with avocado in the mornings. So at the grocery store, I look for a whole wheat, organic version and check the ingredient list for anything I don’t recognize or anything I wouldn’t add if making from scratch.
I could go on and on about the ins and outs of clean eating, but we can save that for another day. Because the true reason for this post is to motivate you by listing my three favorite reasons why a clean eating lifestyle rocks. Let’s get to it!
1. no need to count calories and avoid fat*
By centering my meals around nutrient-rich produce, which is naturally low in calories and fats, I’m filling up while giving my body what it needs. Avoiding processed foods, while replacing them with fresh produce, whole grains and other high quality, minimally processed foods, naturally limits your intake of sugar and artificial substances, which allows the metabolism to properly function. Believe it or not, when you put good in, your body works like a machine to get lean, without having to stress over calories.
2. it’s addictive (in a good way!)
While most diets leave you feeling deprived, unmotivated and unsuccessful, a clean eating lifestyle is the exact opposite. You may feel deprived at first (no more cheetos? i know, it seems like the end of the world), but as you continue to eat fresh, whole and clean foods, processed foods loaded with salt, sugar and artificial ingredients will actually become less appealing. Your taste buds become more sensitive to the unnatural flavors in these processed foods, and over time, you will actually want to avoid them. I have zero desire to eat a Cheeto these days, or anything from a conventional fast food joint. Trust me when I say, I’ve eaten more Taco Bell than I ever want to admit. But now, it doesn’t even cross my mind to hit up the drive through.
3. your future self’s health will thank you
Feeling fit and looking lean is great and all, but it’s not just about what’s on the outside. In fact, what’s happening on the inside is the true marker of good health. Consistent consumption of highly processed foods has been linked to heart disease, arthritis, type 2 diabetes and some types of cancer, just to name a few. Inflammation caused by mass consumption of processed foods, along with a genetic pre-disposition for a particular disease, is the perfect storm for allowing that disease to take root. By replacing processed foods with clean and fresh foods that contain natural anti-inflammatory properties, you can potentially reduce your risk of many diseases that are becoming more and more common in today’s society.
Doesn’t this all sound almost too good to be true? Well, it isn’t. Let me know your thoughts on clean eating or if you have any questions in the comments section below!
* In reference to reason #1 – this is true for people who want to maintain a healthy weight or shed extra weight over time. For more controlled, faster weight-loss I definitely encourage counting calories if that works for you!