For those of use who have been eating clean for months or even years, we may not have realised it but this way of selecting natural, wholesome ingredients that are free from added sugar, salt and chemicals has probably become like second nature to us, it’s a way of life, it’s just what we do now. But how do you know when you’ve reached that point where you don’t have to think too much about it and how long does it take to get there? I’m going to look at what changes you need to make when you start your eating clean journey and how things might progress, until your eating and food-shopping habits are just a way of life, they’re just ingrained in you at root level. I also want to briefly ask the question, can we ever truly eat completely clean with the best will in the world, do we even need to, and if we miss the boat occasionally does it matter?
When I discovered eating clean a few years ago, it was at a time in my life when I had suffered from Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) for many years, that would leave me doubled over in agony at the intestinal contractions that were happening in my lower gut. I want to say that eating clean saved my life but that’s a little dramatic as I wasn’t exactly dying. In truth, eating clean did turn my life around from an existence where I would always be sure to have anti-spasmodic tablets with me and would get anxious at the thought of going anywhere out of the ordinary because of fear of an IBS attack, to a life that was relatively carefree and didn’t require me to worry about the embarrassment of an attack when in public. Once I started eating clean my symptoms subsided and a few months later I was celebrating not having had any IBS symptoms for weeks on end. Hurrah! The final single ingredient that I discovered that COMPLETELY made me pain free I will tell you about later in this post.
So what did I do when I started my eating clean journey?
Firstly I did what probably most people do when they begin on this path, I bought Tosca Reno’s Eat Clean Diet book. I read it cover to cover in a few short hours and devoured all the information that seemed like it would change my life forever. Following Tosca’s recommendations, I first stopped eating all white, refined goods such as white bread, pasta and rice and swapped them for wholemeal/wholegrain versions of the same. So in came the brown rice, the wholemeal pasta and the occasional slice of wholemeal, seeded bread.
Secondly, I stopped eating anything that contained added sugar. This, to some, is the hardest thing todo, as most pre-packaged foods come with added sugar, even savoury items such as tomato ketchup or Chinese meals. So the daily chocolate fix had to go. Chocolate was the only type of ‘sweets’ I ate so to cut it out completely in one go was somewhat of a shock, but in all honesty, I was so determined to try this ‘eat clean’ concept that giving up the chocolate was surprisingly easy. I did have a slight head fuzz for a couple of days but it soon disappeared and was replaced by clarity.
Salt was the next thing on the hit list, so examining labels for sodium or salt content was paramount. I knew i had to keep my salt intake to under 5g per day, or sodium under 2300mg per day, so things like crisps and salted nuts were completely out, as were meats off the deli counter (unless they were carved off the bone with no coatings).
The main thing about eating clean is to try to eat as much natural, wholesome foods as possible, so this meant saying goodbye to any microwave meals and hello to lots of fresh fruits, vegetables, lean cuts of meat, fish and poultry. Dairy is not big in the eating clean arena so I moved onto using a milk substitute, the brand I chose was a dairy-free drink made with coconut milk with added calcium. Cheese is out too in the main, due to its high fat content, although the odd grating of low fat cheese is somewhat acceptable.
So all these changes were made, most in the space of a weekend as I’d agreed with 5 friends to try to eat completely clean for 3 weeks, just to see if it had any effect. And boy was I pleasantly surprised! Now I’m only a small woman, 5 ft 2″, and have never been more than half a stone to a stone over weight in my life, and when I started the eating clean trial I was 8 stone 3 (111 lbs), so I wasn’t big by any stretch. But within the first 10 days of switching to this eating clean lifestyle I dropped 4 pounds without trying. All I had done was swap a few foods for better choices and leave out items with added sugar or salt, and there I was, four whole pounds lighter. It was like I’d taken a magic pill and I loved it!
Once the 3 week trial was up there was no way I was going back to those previous food choices. No more ready-meals or packaged snacks containing over-the-top amounts of sugar or salt for me. Eating Clean was my new ‘thing’.
So was it that easy? Really? Well yes and no. I’d given up my beloved chocolate for 3 weeks and to be honest it wasn’t an option to never have chocolate again, so I allowed myself a couple of large squares of very dark chocolate a day, which satisfied the ‘gap’ in my need to treat myself with sugar, but because the chocolate was dark (85% cocoa or more), it meant I didn’t want much of it. It was the perfect compromise. I continued eating clean and kept those pounds off very easily and slowly but surely my shopping habits changed, I spent more time in the fruit & veg aisle of the supermarket than anywhere else, and I sought out new ways of cooking with these ‘clean’ ingredients, that would make tasty meals I knew would also nourish my body.
How long did it take for this to become natural to me? For me not to even think, “Is that item clean or not?”, I think only a few short weeks. Of course the longer you do it the more natural it becomes but a few weeks of consistently buying the right things at the supermarket and cooking them using the appropriate clean additions (spices etc.) and I was well on track. The final hallelujah came when I read about an ingredient called flax seed. In the UK we also call it linseed, but it’s one and the same thing.
Flax seed was coined by Tosca Reno in a little YouTube video I watched as “mother natures scrubbing brush for the insides“. I liked this idea. I liked the fact that this tiny little seed, when ground up, would gently scrub off all the crud that was clinging to my insides, leaving them shiny and new again, ready to be able to absorb even more of the nutrients that I was now feeding myself. So flax seed was purchased and ground up in my little coffee & spice grinder, and a tablespoon of this was religiously added to my porridge oats every morning from then on. Without going into any gory details, let’s just say that it lived up to its name and did indeed scrub off a lot of old caked-on waste from my insides, and within a few days I felt cleansed. My food in->waste out transit time also improved, indicating that this little seed had improved my whole digestive process. And the best bit? No IBS from then on. I literally haven’t had more than a couple of minor attacks in the last 2 years or so. And foods that I used to think triggered my IBS, such as white wine and cheese (highly acidic or highly fatty items), I can now eat with no after-effects at all if I choose to. I feel truly blessed having found flax seed and I would recommend it to anyone who has IBS, feels their digestion is sluggish, or just wants to improve the condition of their intestinal tract in order to improve the rate at which nutrients from food are absorbed. Who wouldn’t want that?
So, the last question to answer is can we ever truly eat clean, I mean 100%? I will answer in short by saying one word. NO. The reason? Even with the best will in the world, even if we buy all organic produce, even if we only eat foods we know do not contain added sugar, salt or chemicals, there will always be a time when we are not in control such as when eating out, or sometimes we might actually take the decision to break from the eating clean model, just for one meal or one event, and that’s ok. It’s great that we have the intention to eat clean to the best of our abilities, but this is real life and all work and no play makes Janice a dull girl, so once in a while I enjoy a so-called cheat, but I don’t call it a cheat, I just call it what it is, food that doesn’t fit into my eating clean plan. I try not to stress over it because I know for a fact that I’m eating a whole lot better than I was just a few years ago, I feel healthier, I am lighter, I am more toned due the resistance training I’ve taken up and I am doing my body huge favours every single day with the amounts of nutrients that I am putting in. It’s all about balance. Yes eating clean is a lifestyle and I have settled into it and never intend to get out of it, but I am human (really!) and I know you are too, so don’t stress if you don’t make 100% every single day, just do your best and you will be rewarded with better health and longevity.
And of course the other great thing to come out of going through this journey of discovery for me was my book. If I hadn’t gone through all the questions about what eating clean really is and how do you cook delicious meals with all these fresh ingredients, I would’ve never had the idea or the incentive to create a book of recipes to help others on their journey too. I think most people start out thinking eating clean involves boring, tasteless food such as chicken and broccoli, but it’s so much more and I urge anyone who doesn’t currently follow the principles of eating clean to take a look at their current diet and see what they can substitute or cut out right away. Anything that is not contributing towards your health is not food you want to be eating regularly.
Sorry this was a long post and if you’re still reading I commend you. I just wanted to lay out what it really means and the process you have to go through to then be able to say, “I eat clean”. And now you know! If I left anything out or you have any comments or questions, please feel free to add them in a comment below.