Tuesday, May 29, 2012

My Introduction to Clean Eating

I love food. There, I said it. Happy? I love to eat food. I love to make food. Heck, I even love to watch people eating food (yes, Food Network is a strange addiction). Unfortunately, food loves me too, to the point where it never wants to leave.

Recently, I've felt kind of, well, blah. My body hasn't been as responsive and I've been more tired than usual. Whenever I see the doctor about this, he can't find anything wrong. In desperation, I thought, "What if it's my diet that's making me feel this way?" I'd never really thought about it before, but I was willing to make some changes in my diet to see if I did feel better.

For starters, I decided to work on portion control. This is hard. Anybody who can look at a fresh pizza and exercise portion control is working some kind of voodoo magic. But, I forced myself to shrink my portion size, and by shrink, I mean be at the size it's supposed to be at. As Americans, our portion size has crept up over the years and so has our collective waistline.

The first few days were tough, as in want to throw a dinner plate tough, but after that it hasn't really been a problem. I was amazed at how easy it was to make this simple change. At the same time, I also changed my eating pattern. My husband went to the doctor about an illness that had been plaguing him for weeks and the doctor talked about a new way of eating. He drew up a plate and divided it into sections.

He said half of the plate should be vegetables or fruits. One fourth of the plate should be a meat or protein, and the remaining fourth should be a grain - particularly whole grains.

It was completely different than the food pyramid I grew up with but, it made a lot of sense and my husband and I were willing to give it a try, even if it meant changing some of the meals we typically eat and love. As we experimented with this, we found ourselves eliminating processed foods out of our diets and eating only whole grains (wheat bread, brown rice, etc.) It wasn't the plan, but kind of naturally flowed out of implementing more vegetables. As I've done some research on this, I've found a whole movement dedicated to this style of eating; it's called clean eating.

At its most basic level, clean eating is the idea that you don't eat anything that you can't pronounce all of the ingredients on the packaging. For instance, flip over your bag of chips. If it has more than six ingredients, you can't pronounce an ingredient or you're positive that's not found naturally, you really should question what it is you're eating.

This was something I could get behind. There are so many popular "naturalist" diets out there and I know they work for many people: vegetarianism, vegans, rawists, etc., but steak has a siren call for me and I really like it cooked and not bleeding all over my plate.

Clean eating doesn't necessarily eliminate the food you already eat, but it does require you to think before you purchase. For instance, my daughter loves a certain type of crackers. But they don't meet the criteria. The solution? The store had a more natural version with natural ingredients. Best part? It was cheaper than the brand name crackers and my daughter likes them just as much. Not only does she like them, but she is behaving better because she's not hopped up on as much sugar.

Eating a clean diet does take forethought. You really have to think about what you're going to eat for each meal and analyze it. And I think that's one of the big reasons most people eat the way they do: it's convenient. You don't have to think about it. You just reach into the fridge or pantry, grab what looks good and go for it. But convenience often comes with negative health consequences.

Since I've started this, I've noticed I rarely have headaches, my constant joint pain has disappeared, my overall energy level is higher than ever and I'm actually eating throughout the day rather than cramming all my food toward the end of the day. I even wake up in the morning without looking like Night of the Living Dead, which makes my daughter happy.

What about my husband? He's a meat and potatoes kind of guy and he loves his bread. Not to mention his sweet tooth. He has supported me in this. He hasn't jumped on the full bandwagon, but he did eat couscous last night. In fact, because I am eating differently, it naturally moves into his diet. He's finding that he can still eat many of the things he likes, but he's just getting more vegetables and less grains. And he's been cool with that.

It has been a definite lifestyle change for us. Eating is something we enjoy doing, but it hasn't been all that difficult, nor has it been any more expensive than what we normally spend. Often less.

I can't tell you if a clean diet is for you, but why not give it a try? At the very least, you'll find yourself eating more according the guidelines of the food pyramid. And if you have children, you'll likely find a change in their behavior – less hyperactivity and more focus.

Maybe you're thinking, "Great, another food hippy. Move to Seattle and leave us alone." I thought the same way and I'm actually kind of surprised how into this I've become. But when I'm feeling better, have more energy, am eating less junk and losing weight, what's not to like?

Over the next few weeks, I'm going to share some ideas of how to make simple changes in eating habits that can lead to a healthier, cleaner diet. I'll even share some recipes and shopping secrets. So, if you're nervous about giving it a try, perhaps this will give you some inspiration.
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