If you are into keeping fit, it will have been difficult to miss the rising number of mentions of ‘Clean Eating’. Depending on where you read about it, this is both a diet and a lifestyle choice.
I have looked into this area, and to my initial surprise, there is some solid advice out there. As long as you avoid the ‘extreme’ ends of the spectrum, this is also a very easy and potentially very healthy approach to food and drink.
Definitions vary, I’ll go with a general version for the purposes of this page:
“Clean Eating describes consuming whole-foods, and cutting out processed foods and products with additives like sugar, salt and chemical enhancers / preservatives.”
This introductory guide to fitness and clean eating covers the following.
The shortest answer is that clean eating is taking control of the ingredients you consume. It is knowing that the food you eat is natural and not enhanced or altered with processing or chemicals. It is about moving away from damaging artificial additives like trans-fats, added sugar and excess salt. It is about choosing fresh vegetables, whole grains and meat from grass-fed animals.
A lot of good things happen to your body when you stop drinking pop, remove fast-food from your diet (including microwave meals etc.) and cut down on those sugar-filled deserts.
Best of all, this style of eating does not need an overnight shift or sudden lifestyle change. Many diet changes fail for this exact reason. Our busy lives don’t help, nor do our habits, formed over a number of years in many cases.
If you are aware that you are eating some potentially hazardous foods, then the quick-wins below will start you on the path to a far cleaner diet.
You’ll be amazed how many existing diets are clean. Vegetarians, vegans, Paleo diet fans and many others will tell you that clean eating means doing things exactly their way. Sure, many of these diets are naturally cleaner than others… though the concept of removing extras and eating natural foods does not necessarily involve getting strictly involved in any one lifestyle diet choice. Clean eating is a broad choice, exactly how you implement it is up to you!
There are several super-quick wins to see you on your way to a cleaner diet. Remember that none of these necessarily need to be over night. You can start by cutting down, and then cut out.
We always knew that sugary foods were not the healthiest thing to eat. Over time, more and more studies are linking excess sugar to chronic disease. This is thought of as the leading cause of obesity and diabetes – among many other nasty conditions.
Your quickest route to a clean eating lifestyle is to cut out food and drink with excess sugar. Fizzy drinks should be first to go. You should also switch to fresh fruit juices, as processed ‘100%’ fruit juice contains huge amounts of sugar. That extra spoon in your coffee, go to half and then none – once you get used to it, that coffee still tastes great. Cake, chocolate bars and pastry based sweet snacks need not disappear completely – though aiming for having these as the occasional treat and not a daily go-to will be the cleaner option. Replace them with fresh fruit, it tastes great!
Ready meals can contain all sorts of nasty ingredients. Excess salts, sugar (in some cases a ton of sugar), flavour enhancers, emulsifiers, preservatives and trans-fats. Stopping all ready meals and fast food will immediately put you on track for a cleaner diet. Even if you see ‘healthy options’ which are processed, check the labels, you will soon learn to spot the nasties lurking there!
Carbohydrates are not bad per-se, what you will find is that the modern diet has moved towards processed carbs. Bread made with refined white flour and potatoes have a high Glycemic Index. This means it is processed by your body super-fast. You can’t use it up all at once, so your body stores this as Glycerine (fatty deposits). Shifting to whole grain, unprocessed breads is a quick win. As you feel the benefits of clean eating, and want to improve further, then you can start to shift to quality carbs like sweet potato, quinoa and oats.
My final quick-win is not something to cut out, it is something to add. If you stop eating processed food, sugary food and bad carbs, you’ll have some gaps to fill! Try fruit, vegetables and fresh meats. If possible, organic produce is better (no chemical pesticides) and free range grass-fed meats. For the quick win, just making sure you are consciously adding fruit and vegetables to your diet is a brilliant start.
This section looks at how your clean eating lifestyle can work with different types of fitness goals.
Protein comes in many forms, and many of those are processed, come with trans-fats or are mixed with sugar, salt and chemicals. It might not be possible to go 100% organic, free range or grass-fed when it comes to meat all at once – though there is no reason you can’t clean up your intake by avoiding the processed options. Choose fresh meat, eggs and fish – avoid bars and drinks which are concoctions of chemicals and sugar… a lot of protein bars and some powders for shakes are sugar-loaded. Check the labels next time you buy!
If you are burning fats, it can be easy to fall into the ‘fat free’ trap that big business sets for you. Those ‘lean’ ready meals contain crazy levels of salt, sugar and flavourings – the exact opposite of clean food. Replace those bad carbs with whole grains and fresh vegetables, throw out processed ready meals and (continue to) avoid those sugary drinks. Next time you are running on the treadmill, use the time to plan your next meals!
There are two types of food to go clean with in this category. During training, low GI carbs, fresh fruits and vegetables will make sure you are in perfect shape. After a race, you’ll need to replace those carbs fast – otherwise cravings for all sorts of bad sugars will kick in. This is the time to prepare higher GI carb snacks, add in plenty of clean fruits and vegetables. Remember, the day before a race is the worst possible time to experiment with any new eating ideas.
This part might sound contradictory for those people that are used to the all-or-nothing nature of many of the diets of the last 20 years.
Key to getting the benefits from clean eating is that you do not need to do it all at once.
In fact, for most people, incremental gains are the best way to go.
Going 100% clean is going to take will power and for most of us will be a big lifestyle change. That is hard to maintain, especially once the initial enthusiasm has faded. There is also a sense that if you do get hungry while out (for example) and eat something that is not clean, that you have somehow messed up or failed.
A much better approach is to get in the habit of taking the clean food option – and to build on your successes as those habits develop.
For example, you could start by cutting out white breads, soft drinks and those terrible processed fruit juices. Once you feel the benefits, try adding better quality carbs (and less of them in most cases) to your evening meal… next switch your afternoon snack for fresh fruit, and so on.
You’ll feel the benefits, develop good habits and will be a no-thinking-required clean eater before you know it.
Once you take the additives, sugars and trans fats from your diet, you’ll look and feel way better, start now!
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