My trainer John has a poster up in his gym ‘you can’t out-train a bad diet’ it’s spot on. For a variety of (admittedly poor) excuses, my cardio training has not been up to scratch for a few weeks. It’s too hot, I’m too tired, work is busy, the book, the book … blah blah … fear not, I am totally on it this month!
Fortunately my diet is pretty much always super clean, which most definitely keeps me in shape and helps me ping back super fast! It ensures my skin stays healthy and makes it so much easier when I start training. It’s true, abs are made in the kitchen. Okay, there are possibly genetics and a few hundred stomach crunches involved! But unless you are particularly blessed, diet is absolutely key.
What does ‘eating clean’ actually mean?
The health and wellness community is such a lovely, supportive little collective, it can sometimes be difficult to remember what life was like before I became a part of it. You begin to assume that a clean diet is so common place these days that everybody understands the term. Then I think back to what life was like a few years ago, when I was just beginning this journey, and how overwhelming all these diets, nutrition plans and training regimes actually seemed.
The assumption that everybody automatically understands the premise of ‘clean eating’ was brought home to me this week. I was speaking to a guy about diet, he asked what I ate. I explained in brief and summarised things by saying; ‘basically I eat clean!’
‘Oh,’ he said, ‘that’s a good name for it!’
‘It’s not my name for it,’ I laughed, ‘it’s the name for it!’
Were it a phrase I had coined I’d be raking it in on usage royalties alone!
Let’s take it back to basics. Clean eating is not about being vegan, avoiding dairy or going gluten free. It’s primarily about eating good, wholesome food that will nourish your body and skin from the inside out. A good place to start is by downloading an acid / alkaline food chart online. In terms of optimum health I recommend an 80/20 balance in favour of alkaline foods. Alkaline foods are always ‘clean’.
Forget Counting Calories. Fat does not make you Fat!
Many of my friends and family are still fixated on counting calories, under the false impression that fat means you’re going to get fat and that foods low in fat must good for you. Forget it. A single avocado contains 260 calories and 25 grams of fat – that’s more than a McDonalds big mac! Which do you suppose would be better? Sure, based on calorie counting alone you can actually lose weight eating McDonalds happy meals three times a day. But do you think you would feel good for it? Would your body be getting the right combination of vitamins and nutrients? I’d put money on it that you’d actually feel undernourished, lethargic and generally pretty rotten. Eating clean is not about focusing on calorie and fat content, not all calories are created equal and fat does not make you fat! It’s actually much more beneficial to focus primarily on the list of ingredients. Take butter and margarine for example. Lots of people still subscribe to the old fashioned view that low fat marg has surely got to be better for you! Have you ever read the ingredients list? Trust me, if you eat dairy, opt for full fat butter every time.
Concentrate on the basics; Eat lots of vegetables, fresh fruit, nuts, seeds and healthy grains such as quinoa and rice.
What Can I and Can’t I Eat?
Transitioning to a clean diet is about what works for you and that depends on a few things including; your ethics, personal taste, dietary restrictions and more. Essentially it’s about ditching pre-packaged, processed foods and moving towards healthy, fresh ingredients. It’s about taking the time and making the effort to create meals from scratch. Even if you don’t particularly enjoy cooking or you’re not entirely sure where to start, it’s about making that commitment to change and simply starting somewhere. Whether that’s juicing, blending fresh soups, throwing together a bright, vibrant salad. Honestly it’s very easy once you begin. Invest in a few good recipe books, there are lots on the market (see below). You may need to buy some of the ingredients at whole food shops or online. Or check out the ‘free from’ shelves in the bigger supermarkets for things like chia seeds and rice flour. It may all sound a little alien to begin with, but once you establish the basics, the rest will fall into place.
Give your Tastebuds a Chance
Your mind might be ready but your tastebuds will need a little time to adjust! If you’re used to packet ready meals, lots of sauces, tinned and frozen foods, your tastebuds will have become accustom to heavy flavourings, salt and sugar. It will take a little while for them to appreciate the taste of healthy fresh vegetables. Foods such as dark chocolate may initially taste incredibly bitter. As you continue the transition your tastebuds will catch up and it’s the good, healthy, nutritious stuff your body will begin to crave. Make sure you have lots of dried herbs and spices to hand to add flavour to your food. These are a much healthier alternative to artificial flavourings and sugar.
Clean out the Cupboard
Take a look at what’s in your fridge and store cupboard. How many ingredients do those foods have in them? Have you ever taken the time to stop and read the list? Packet foods, ready meals, sauces and soups are generally stuffed with preservatives, additives, flavourings, salt and sugar. Some of which I can’t even pronounce! That’s not REAL food. That’s something put together in a factory – purporting to be food! I am very definitely not a fan of food waste or throwing things away, but if you’re ready to make the change to a clean diet, put the junk where it belongs – in the bin!
There’s no doubt about it, more and more research every day is pointing the finger at sugar as a key contributor to the worlds obesity crisis. This stuff is bad. Seriously bad. Not only is it bad, it’s addictive. Food manufacturers are growing wise to our worries and have started hiding sugar in their list of ingredients under more than sixty different titles. Corn syrup, dextrose, fructose, maltose etc etc, they all add up to the same thing and it isn’t good. Ingredients on food are listed in order of content, so some manufacturers are beginning to use two or three different types of sugar, splitting the volume and enabling them to place each lower down the list. Avoid anything with added sugar or artificial sweeteners. Make your own cakes and biscuits and use honey, maple syrup or dates to sweeten them instead. If you really struggle with a sweet tooth, a little dried fruit, dark chocolate or ripe banana should take the edge of your cravings. If you have bags of sugar in the cupboard, rather than throw them away, add fresh lime juice and ground ginger to create an invigorating body scrub. Much better on your body than in it!
What about Meat?
I’m not really a fan of pigeon holing. If you want to put some labels on it, I personally follow a predominantly sugar free, plant-focused, semi-vegan, paleo-based diet! It works for me. I have been vegetarian for over twenty years. I believe that eating a plant rich diet full of colour and healthy, live greens radiates life. Vegetables graciously drop to the earth when they’re ripe. Conversely, the horrific treatment of animals bred for human consumption denotes negativity, fear, anxiety and aggression. Meat is no longer the occasional wild beast caught by our hunter gatherer ancestors. These days it’s become a highly consumed staple of the Western diet. Over 53 billion land animals are farmed and killed every year by humans, many loaded with chemicals, antibiotics and disease. This figure does not even include fish and other sea creatures whose deaths are so great they are measured in tonnes. Global fish stocks are depleting at alarming rates, our oceans are in big trouble. 90% of the big fish are gone. Tuna, swordfish, halibut, cod, and flounder populations have been devastated by overfishing. We’re at a tipping point, oceanographers suggest our actions over the next 10 years will determine the state of the ocean for the next 10,000 years. That’s my ethos for not eating meat, it comes predominantly down to ethics and the feeling of energy and contented wellbeing I get from not being a part of the slaughter of sentient beings.
I get all the protein I need from natural plant sources. Eating a healthy combination of fresh vegetables, beans, lentils, legumes, nuts and seeds plus some healthy carbs in the form of sweet potato and grains such as quinoa and rice provide me with all I need to stay fit and well. Far from feeling as though my diet is missing something, I believe I am feeding my body and soul with everything it wants and needs. Avoiding meat has nothing to do with ‘clean eating’. Lots of people following a clean diet include meat. Take paleo for example. This is very much a personal choice. Bear in mind though that meat – especially red meat – and tinned fish and sea food are highly acidic. If you choose to include them in your diet, be sure to balance them with lots of fresh, alkaline greens (see chart below).
Where to Begin?
- Download and acid / alkaline food charts. Alkaline foods are always ‘clean’ aim for an 80/20 balance
- Invest in some new recipe books by Joe Wicks, Deliciously Ella, The Hemsley Sisters, Jason Vale, Lucy Bee and many more awesome clean eating advocates
- Read labels. Fresh veg and fruit doesn’t need a label – it is what it is! If you do buy foods with labels, read them! Check for hidden nasties such as sugar, preservatives, flavourings and ingredients you can’t pronounce.
- Ditch fizzy drinks. These are the worst of the worst – especially the ‘diet’ or ‘zero’ ones. Replace them with still or sparkling water, freshly pressed juices (not the shop bought cartons) and herbal teas
- Begin juicing. The best way to start your day with a ton of fresh, alkaline greens. Juicing is the perfect way to begin the morning with a ton of vitamins and nutrients.
- Experiment and don’t be afraid! Try out some new recipes, use ingredients you haven’t tried before. The journey is meant to be fun not restrictive.
- Ask questions. The health and wellness community are a lovely bunch. We’re all here to help. No question is considered pointless or dumb! Tweet, email and ask away 🙂