Eating clean has been a linchpin in my weight loss success. When I eat well, my body responds well and releases retained water, gives me sustained energy, speeds up my metabolism and gives me visible results. Clean eating is a big deal for anyone trying to lose weight and maintain optimum health.
So what does it mean to eat clean? Clean eating means bypassing the processed goods and food-like products that stock many grocery store shelves and are handed out hand over fist at drive-thru windows. Instead choosing to fill up on lean protein, healthy carbs and fats (like sweet potatoes and avocados), fresh fruits and tons of vegetables. Clean eating isn’t limited to foods we chew and also includes opting for good ole H2O instead of sugary sodas and juice and even giving diet sodas (and yes even sugary cocktails) the boot. The best part of clean eating is the fact that it is NOT a diet. It is a lifestyle change and one that almost guarantees successful weight loss.
The goal with clean eating is to focus on consuming foods in their natural state (or at least close to it) rather than those manufactured in a plant. Eat things that have a more direct route from their source of origin to your table versus those that take a detour from the field to the warehouse where they get mixed and matched with preservatives, injected with Trans fats and painted with all sorts of pretty artificial colors.
The best thing you can do as a clean eating beginner is to learn to read the labels. Labels tell us everything we need to know about the quality of what it is we’re ingesting. Look at this pre-packaged processed food label for example:
What the hell is Monosodium Glutamate or Yellow Lakes 5and 6? Most people have no clue and your body hasn’t the slightest idea either. Putting these unnatural (and DANGEROUS- monosodium glutamate aka MSG is an additive that studies have shown cause both weight gain and brain damage) ingredients in your body is kind of like going into the garage and mixing together some car care fluids and putting them in your engine. Would you really expect your car to work well? The same is true for our bodies. We can’t fill it with unknown chemicals and foreign products and expect it to perform optimally. Because it’s so sophisticated, the body will run on this junk and continue to function for a period of time but eventually you will find yourself on the side of the road with a blown engine and in desperate need of maintenance. Only this manifests in your body as disease, sickness, weight gain, and fatigue.
Eating clean sounds simple enough, but when I first started cleaning up my diet I ran into on major road block. I found that I was spending at least FIFTY BUCKS on my grocery bill (for 1) each WEEK (*gasps and clutches pearls*)! I’d scour the internet for tasty healthy concoctions and my eyes and taste buds would conspire and send the signal to my brain to just try it. Next thing you know, it was on the meal plan and all 12 exotic ingredients (for that one dish) would be on the grocery list. I felt like I had to whip up gourmet recipes for each meal of the day. I ended up with a cramped fridge, wasted food and skinny pockets (the goal is to reduce the bulge in my belly NOT the one in my wallet… c’mon, I had smaller sized clothes to buy!).
After a few months of this, my food budget was stretched and my all-day-Sunday-marathon cooking sessions were becoming less fun and felt more like a chore. I was afraid that my stint on the clean eating band wagon was waning. I knew that I couldn’t afford to keep it up but I also couldn’t afford to go back to my old way of doing things. So I decided to dumb down my meal plans, leverage my pantry and will my taste buds to deal with repetition. I had to remember that Food is FUEL for the body. Not something I consumed out of boredom, not something to pacify a bad day at work or a breakup… it’s fuel for the best engine I’ve ever laid eyes on. This doesn’t mean that food can’t taste delicious, but it also doesn’t mean that I have to channel Julia Childs in the kitchen and invest my whole paycheck in each week’s meal plan.
These 5 clean (and budget friendly) tips helped me keep my diet clean and my account in the black.
- Learn to read labels. Before you go any further in your clean eating journey, take some time to go beyond the nutrition list and read the panel of ingredients. Less is best and if you run across something with too many letters that your inner hooked-on-phonics child cannot pronounce, then chances are it’s an additive. When in doubt, whip out your smartphone and look it up! You’ll learn a lot this way and knowing that something is not only fattening, but dangerous to your body over the long term makes it much easier to avoid.
- Leverage your local farmers markets. We have amazing farmers markets here in the Atlanta. My favorites are the Buford and DeKalb Farmers Markets. They have tons (and I do mean tons) of fresh produce for AMAZING prices. I can get a weeks’ worth of fruits and veggies for less than 20 bucks. They also have such an extensive variety of things and there is always something new to try.
- KISS (Keep it super simple). Make a simple plan for the week. A plan is very important and keeps you on track and keeps you focused at the grocery store. Do not, I repeat DO NOT go grocery shopping without a plan!! It’s so easy to end up with a gazillion and one things that you do and don’t need. Remember, you don’t have to be Martha Stewart in the kitchen, find some simple clean recipes that are easy and delicious and go from there.
- The right kind of frozen can be clean too. Stock your freezer with frozen vegetable- not the ones with cheddar butter garlic sauce… Just regular frozen veggies. These are inexpensive (can you say Kroger 10 for 10) and perfect for last minute meals.
- Pay attention to portions. Just because it’s clean doesn’t mean you can eat monstrous portions. Moderation is the name of the game. I was raised cooking for an army (even though there were only three of us in the house… I think cooking big meals is a southern thing, but I digress…) so cooking appropriately portioned meals took some getting used to. But I learned to buy enough for the week, cook everything in one day (my meal prep Sundays) and dish it out in the portion controlled containers for the week. It makes packing my breakfast and lunch much easier and dinner is already done when I come home from work.