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Be Well Eat

Eat clean… Because it’s sustainable

The last post in The Case for Eating Clean series will also be the shortest one! Woohoo! In previous posts, I’ve reasoned for why I think eating clean is a simple way to embark on a better-diet-journey and why it is a scalable compared to other diet protocols. The final reason why I think it’s a great place to start is that it is very sustainable, and while it’s not necessary to think long-term when you’re just beginning, I think finding a sustainable approach is setting yourself up for the long-run and long-term benefits trump crash diets in my world.

Reason #3: It is sustainable

The sustainability of eating clean really comes from the fact that it’s both simple and scalable. These two characteristics make it such that you hardly ever fall off the bandwagon wholesale, unless you stuff your face with KFC and deep-fried Mars bars all day long… and chase those with soda. This means that you are always in control of how clean you want to eat . Unlike calorie counting or macro counting, which can be tiring to keep track of over a long period of time (this point us arguable, I agree), eating clean doesn’t cause very much stress. It’s only really stressful when you can’t find clean options outside.

Furthermore, eating clean becomes more intuitive over time. Practicing the principle of eating clean simply becomes a habit, and habits, as we all know, don’t require much deliberation. I’ve instinctively started to gravitate to vegetable dishes, for instance, that aren’t drowned in gravy or cheese. I’d even eat them raw if I could! I’ve also become more aware of proportions of clean foods to processed foods on my plate, as well as the proportion of macronutrients such that I don’t really need to think about it very much anymore. Say my holiday eating strategy is to let my hang ups go for a week but not to have insulin spikes regardless. What I did to achieve this this Christmas was to take smaller servings of the starchy carbs, selecting the rice-based ones over wheat-based ones (unless they’re swimming in cream or gravy), and going nuts with the protein and vegetables. I didn’t really need to think about it. Or takes family dinner yesterday for example: we had one vegetable dish and a whole lot of simple carbs and protein that were either fried or gravy-laden. To off-set the indulgence, I saved space for fruit and went easy on the dessert (bread pudding!). I didn’t have to think too hard to do that either.

Eating clean over time becomes a lifestyle and a mindset. When the principle of eating clean has been internalized, it definitely is a sustainable nutritional approach to adopt 🙂

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Be Well Eat

Eat clean… Because it’s scalable

In my previous post, I wrote about what I mean when I say “eat clean” and why it is a simple principle to begin with if you are looking to take that first baby step into a world of better diets. (I still hate that word, but it’s pretty accurate.)

I believe that simplicity is a crucial reason why eating clean is such a great starting point, but it’s scalability also makes it doable for individuals with different goals.

Reason #2: It is scalable.

Cool.

Wait.

What do you mean by “scalable?”

Scalability just means that you can adjust the degree to which you practice the dietary principle depending on your own starting point or where you’re at at the moment. A more informed person, for example, may jump right in and do a complete overhaul. Someone else who is addicted to processed food, on the other hand, may choose to begin by omitting sugar from her diet, and then cut out white bread, and then eat more whole chicken instead of nuggets. And later on, who knows? Maybe she’ll go organic and grassfed! Since eating clean is really a matter of eating cleaner, you can always decide how clean you want to eat.

Yes, with counting calories and macros, you can adjust the amount of calories and macros you take, but it’s not scalable in the same sense as eating clean is. You can’t just count some calories but not others, for instance. Neither can you decide to count your macros for one meal but not the rest. Scaling either of the above protocols in this sense would simply defeat the purpose!

Furthermore, besides scaling upwards (cleaner) you could also scale downwards (less clean, more indulgent) without being devastated. This is why eating clean really works for me. Recognizing that eating clean occurs on a scale means that I can make the decision to indulge in dessert and sweets during Christmas and New Years without feeling like a complete failure at this nutrition business. I could be eating brownies and log cake while still choosing whole foods for my main meals and that would still be cleaner than if I just chugged Coke and inhaled French fries all day. Knowing that I control how clean I want to eat and that a cheat meal isn’t the end of the world goes a long way in easing the guilt that can come with dieting. Yes, I may have a cheat day or a cheat week, but one (or 7) instances of cheating doesn’t mean I need to throw my better diet out the window. And it doesn’t have to be a full day of cheating. Even if I had mashed potatoes, nut brittle, red velvet cake, and too many slices of pizza for dinner yesterday (pretty close to real life, actually) doesn’t mean I have to feel bad about it. I’ll just have a salad with broiled chicken for lunch today. Easy peasy.

And the beauty is that I know exactly what I can do to ease myself back into a better diet when the holidays are over — because it’s simple 🙂

Beautiful.

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Be Well Eat

Eat clean… Because it’s simple

(If you haven’t read the introduction to The Case for Eating Clean series, you may do so here.)

Before we begin, what the heck do you mean by “eating clean”?

“How do I know what qualifies as clean food?”
“What if there’s an ingredient in there that’s not clean… And I don’t know about it?!”
“You don’t mean making sure that the plate is clean… Do you?”

(About this last point: I kid! I kid!)

The phrase is admittedly vague, but it’s also relatively easy to unpack. (And no, it has nothing to do with the cleanliness of your plate, although hygiene is generally a good idea.) Taken literally, ‘eating clean’ can be understood to mean avoiding foods that ‘pollute’ your system and/or eating foods that are free from stuff that ‘pollutes’ your system. This just means that one needs to choose foods that have greater nutritional value over those that just fill you up without much nutrition (or worse, lead to long term health issues because having these pollutants in your system means that the system is less efficient and more likely to break down. 😦 )

A commonsense indicator of which foods have greater nutritional value is the comparison of the amount of nutrients* in the food. And this step, although rather intuitive, does require a bit of information. For instance, if you were to be choosing between a slice of white toast with jam and a banana and an egg for breakfast, you’d have to think about which of these options has more nutrients. One of these is made up of refined flour and sugar (stripped of nutrients, which cancels the fruity goodness the fruit may have had), while the other is rich in vitamins and good fats. Since vitamins and good fats are nutrients we want in our bodies, the latter — the unadulterated banana and egg — is more nutritious, and therefore, the cleaner option.

With this working principle of eating clean at the back of your mind, this diet and lifestyle change is pretty simple to implement.

Reason #1: Simplicity

If your guiding principle when it comes to food is eating clean, you don’t need to find out how many calories there are in a banana or an egg versus jam on toast, and you don’t need to know how to calculate the amount of carbohydrates, protein, and fat in either option in order to make the change. You also don’t need to know how much protein and carbohydrates you need each day, neither do you need to figure out how long you should fast on an intermittent fasting protocol. All you need to figure out is whether the food you’re thinking of eating is nutritious (or, more nutritious than that other food you’re contemplating). This is what I mean when I say that it is simple. It’s straightforward and you don’t need to learn a whole new language to get started.

There are a couple of ways to start implementing this principle in your life and the internet is rife with advice.

Some good starting points are:

    • Eat whole foods over of processed foods with eating clean because whole foods still retain their nutrients whereas processed foods don’t. Also, the preservatives in processed food could possibly cause long term health problems, which is kinda nice to avoid if possible. (Incidentally, I count fat-free stuff as processed foods because that shit ain’t fat-free naturally, yo.)
    • Eat your greens. Make sure you do! Vegetables have all sorts of micronutrients that do your body good. So eat them.
    • Avoid refined food, such as white bread and white sugar, because every food you eat with refined (and thus, less nutritious) ingredients could be replaced with a version that contains a less-processed (more nutritious!) ingredient. If you were choosing between cookies and an apple, every cookie you eat is one less bite of that apple. But every bite of that apple has more nutritious goodness than every bite of that cookie… So… Yeah.
    • Heck, just avoid sugar. Period. There’s a lot of literature on the harms of sugar overconsumption and a post on that is in the pipeline. If you’re keen to read up first, check out Sugar Shock by Connie Bennett or Salt Sugar Fat by Michael Moss.

Once you have the hang of it, you can move on to other strategies such as figuring out which foods irritate your system, such as gluten, lactose, and cutting them out of your diet. (Link to lactose intolerance and egg allergy mention.)

As you can see, eating clean can be very progressive and you don’t need to overhaul your life necessarily. This is why my second reason in the case for eating clean is that it is scalable. That post is underway as you read this!

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Be Well Eat

The case for eating clean (before counting calories or macros)

You can’t flip through a magazine or click through Facebook these days without seeing some mention of “diets” and “weight loss”, and while I generally shudder at those particular words, I think using nutritional change to achieve your health, fitness, and aesthetic goals is a legitimate pursuit.

That said, as much as ‘good nutrition’ is a great starting point, it is also (unfortunately) a rather vague one. Case in point: While flipping through a magazine during a pedicure recently — digression: I love pedicures! — and I came across an article that listed 50-something dieting tips for this holiday season. 50! And I’m not sure that all of them were consistent. It’s a tough, tough world we live in, and terms like “kilojoules”, “caloric deficit”, and “macronutrients” can be really daunting for someone who’s starting from ground zero.

I know because that was me 7 months ago.

But all is not lost! If “calorie counting” and “macro counting” sound scary to you, or if you don’t have the slightest clue what “paleo” or “80/20/20” mean, then following a general “eating clean” principle is the best starting point for you. I’m fact, I think it’s the best starting point for most people who just want to start making some better nutritional choices for themselves… As vague as ‘eating clean’ may sound. It’s perfectly compatible with any of the other diet paradigms that have been mentioned and is the first baby step into a whole new lifestyle.

I’m going to do a short series of posts to expand on my case for eating clean. I did attempt to compact the argument into one post, but let’s face it: I’d rather not read a super wordy post (even if it’s an interesting topic!) so I shan’t put you through that.

As a preview, though, here are the 3 main reasons why I think eating clean is the best starting point for someone looking to make a change in his/her dietary habits:

  1. Because it is simple

  2. Because it is scalable

  3. Because it is sustainable

As a parting note, it should be pointed out that the three reasons above are not exclusive to eating clean — many other dietary approaches can lay claim to them too! However, I believe that eating clean possesses all three and that’s what makes it a lovely place to start.