I detest diets. There, we’ve got that out of the way. It’s my detest of diets and all they involve including calorie counting, low-fat, artificially sweetened products, and words like cheat and guilt, that made me so interested in finding a healthy balance when it came to feeding myself and my family. While 1 in 3 Americans are indeed overweight or obese and need to make a drastic change to improve their health, most of us don’t really need to diet, but rather simply need to learn how to feed ourselves the right foods. I say “simply” somewhat sarcastically because many days I feel confused and frustrated trying to decipher labels and weed through the information to decide what’s right, and what’s just fear mongering propaganda. By no means do I claim to have it all figured out, but I’ve come along way in my self-taught journey, and I have learned a thing or two, and the most important thing is that feeding ourselves good food doesn’t have to be as complicated as we make it out to be.
Enter the 30 day challenge we’re going to start next Monday May 26th. It’s been a year now since we drastically changed how we eat, and while it didn’t all happen in 30 days, my hope with this challenge is that it will provide some of you with the inspiration, courage, and know-how to get started on your own health journey. Before we begin, there’s a few guiding principles I want to establish for this challenge.
- This is a challenge, not a contract and as such, there are no crazy rules, but only guidelines. This is about making healthier changes and swaps, and learning along the way. I don’t want any of us to use words like “cheat” or other guilt inducing language. The end goal here is to love this way of eating and feeling that you want to continue forever, not just for the 30 days. With that in mind, I want this to be enjoyable and fun.
- You hold yourself accountable, no one else.
- I highly encourage you to get the whole family involved, yet I understand if you want to start with numero uno first. My hope is that your end-goal is to get the family involved though, because we want the whole family to be healthy, and enjoy a healthy relationship with food from the get-go. This includes the whole family learning about food and where/how it is made, so they can all learn to make better choices. And to put it bluntly, why continue to feed your family junk while you’re cleaning up your act?
- Go at your own pace, which means you decide how extreme you want to go. For some people, what works best is to go cold-turkey, but for others, making changes slowly over the course of time is what will lead to overall success. For some people, the loosey-goosey lack of structure may really bug you, and for that I apologize, but keep in mind that not one diet fits all, so with that in mind, you have to decide what’s right for you. I’ll get into what this means more later.
- Because you’re not doing an actual diet, but just cleaning up your act so to speak, be prepared for some questions and some push back from family and friends. It’s traditionally more socially acceptable to turn down food or eat a certain way because you’re following the latest diet craze. Friends may support you or jokingly feel bad for you. But when you say you’re just trying to eat better, eat cleaner foods, etc., some don’t get it. Much of it is them projecting, and so they may take offense. I’ll address this in a separate post, because it’s an important topic, but just be prepared.
- Just because we’re not counting calories doesn’t mean we don’t want to be mindful of the type and amount of calories we’re consuming. Mindless snacking and consuming empty calories from sugary drinks and overly processed foods which leave us feeling hungry an hour later is counter-intuitive to our end goal of eating better. We want to fill up on nutrient dense, whole foods which will give us energy and keep us feeling full and satisfied for an extended period of time. We also need to consider our activity levels and how they can drive our natural processes to eat more or less. On days I’ve been sitting in front of the computer working for hours, I serve myself smaller portions, but on days I’ve been very active, I naturally consume more. If I come home starving from yoga at 9pm, you better believe I eat a great snack, even though some “experts” say not to eat past 7pm. And here’s an easy read that explains why not all calories are created equal.
- Last but certainly not least, we will not be cutting out any whole food groups, and this is important! You are encouraged to eat what makes you feel best, and that can include whole grains, legumes, dairy, etc. With that being said, I’m not talking about continuing to eat flavored yogurts with tons of added sugars and additives or good old white bread. This is about making healthier swaps, not elimination, so you will need to do your due diligence and read your labels, do some research, and feel free to ask questions, and I’ll do my best to answer them.
So let’s talk about some of the guidelines for this challenge, because we do indeed need a place to start, otherwise it really wouldn’t be a challenge. This is where I strongly encourage you to say “no” to certain foods. This could mean cutting them out completely, or at least drastically reducing your consumption.
- Fast Food
- Refined Sugars
- Artificial Sweeteners
- Enriched Foods
- Heavily Processed Pre-packaged Meals & Snacks
- Fake Food Items like margarine and “maple syrup”
If you request all the sciency sounding articles and studies which show why all this stuff is bad to the bone, I can do that. When the Babble site is back up and fully functioning I will go back in and add links to studies and articles which make me not a liar, but for now, you can trust me.
Now let’s talk about the foods we’ll say “yes” to!
- Veggies and fruit in all shapes and sizes and colors, preferably in-season (because it is better for you and helps the planet). Aim to add in as much produce as you can, and make it a goal to have at least half your meal consist of veggies. When possible, purchase organic produce, but not necessary!
- Dairy products in moderation and preferably organic, and grass fed. A study released last year show that organic dairy products contain more nutrients, particularly Omega-3’s, than conventional dairy products, because organic guidelines and principles dictate how much time the animals must graze on pasture versus being fed a diet heavy in grains.
- Grains, legumes, bread!
- Grass fed and pasture raised, antibiotic-free animal meats, if budgets allow. This can include organic meats, but keep in mind that it doesn’t have to be labeled organic to be great. None of the meat I purchase through my farmer’s markets or CSA is labeled organic, but is completely organic in principle and raised humanely and sustainably.
- Caffeine and alcohol in moderation and as simply prepared as possible. This means coffee, minus the Coffee Mate, or a cocktail made with raw honey simple syrup and fresh juices, versus additive and sugar laden premade cocktail mixes.
Throughout this week I will be posting my favorite books on food and cookbooks that will help guide you along the way, brands I love, and other tips and resources that will hopefully help you out on your quest to eat clean, including a Clean Eating Swapping Guide. Please let me know if there are any specific questions or topics you would like me to cover now, so I can get them ready and posted for you all.
You may be wondering why I mention buzz words like sustainability, in-season, etc. Clean eating is as much about making dietary changes, as it is about choosing your food mindfully. This means when possible, knowing where your food comes from and how it was grown/raised. An overarching principle of this “lifestyle” is eliminating the disconnect between our huge food system of mega grocery stores, and becoming better connected to our food source. Bottom line, if the company I’m buying my food from, especially animal products, has no transparency about how they produce their food, I don’t buy it. Nowadays finding out information about companies, farms and their practices is nothing more than a click away on the computer. I encourage you all to do research as you shop for this challenge, or at least start thinking about these topics.
If you don’t have the means to buy grass fed or organic, will you be kicked out of the clean eating club? Heck no! The end goal of eating this way is to eliminate processed foods as much as possible, and get more whole foods in to your diet as much as possible. I wrote all that because I think it is important to add to the conversation, but by no means should that be a deal breaker in whether you choose to participate.
In an effort to be upfront as you join in on this challenge, a few things you can expect if you take this thing seriously:
- You will be spending more time in the kitchen, so prepare yourself, and prepare ahead of time.
- If you choose to buy organic/pasture raised animal products, you will be spending more money, so you may want to consider eating less meat. We have definitely cut down on our meat intake to account for the cost.
- You will need to pay attention to labels, and at times you will feel like you need a science degree, but don’t be intimidated, over time you will become proficient if you keep at it. Remember, this is not a race, but if it were, slow and steady usually always wins.
- You will be saying goodbye to some conveniences. In the past year on too many occasions to count, I realized how much I had become addicted to cheap and convenient. But I have also come to realize that all that cheap convenience comes at a cost. This challenge is about trying to break free of some of our old habits and form new, healthier ones. With that in mind, please don’t ask for a “clean” frozen chicken nugget suggestion, because I don’t have one. I can’t spend my life in the kitchen though, and neither can you, so I will share some of my go-to convenience items I keep stocked in the kitchen at all times. I hope these will help.
Lastly, I want to encourage you all to pace yourselves so you don’t get burnt out, and be patient with yourself and the process. This does take time and there is a learning curve, but keep in mind that Rome wasn’t built in a day, so just do the best you can. Also, I’m not perfect and make no claims to be the leading expert on all things clean. I just do the best I can, and I want to share what I’ve learned with you, and how we’ve been able to change without losing our minds or going into debt. There will always be someone who is doing more than me, or knows more, and I’m okay with that, I just acknowledge how far we’ve come, and it’s miles away from where we started. All that to say, please be kind and offer some grace, meaning I accept helpful suggestions but not downright criticism. Criticism is what keeps people stuck in their old ways, because they’re afraid of doing it wrong. With the right attitude and intentions, there is no way to do it wrong, only learning along the way.
Oh, one last thing, please use the silly, yet funny hashtag #AndreaMadeMeDoIt when posting on social media, that way we can all follow along, be encouraged, be inspired and grab suggestions.
Best of luck all, and please let me know if you have any questions at all! Much love!