This post isn’t to convince you of the merits of eating clean and how wonderful it will make you feel. This is for people who are already aware of that, they just aren’t sure where to start. This post is inspired by a conversation I had with my cousin’s wonderful wife on Thanksgiving, who was asking me questions about how changing my diet has affected my health and how I feel. She, too, has stomach issues, pain, and even joint problems due to inflammation in her body. I think a lot of health journeys, including my own, start with this dilemma: I feel like shit, but I don’t know how to change. I know I need to change, but I don’t know if I can.
Excuse me for sounding cheesy AF but let me tell you: you can change. Does it suck? Yes. Is it hard? YES. But think about how you’re feeling now, or how you feel after you eat or when you wake up in the morning or after a few hours of work. Is that feeling a good one? If not, it’s probably time to start switching things up. I think clean eating can feel like a huge endeavor to people for many reasons. For some, it’s so drastically different than the way they have grown up eating or are used to eating, it’s like…. what am I even supposed to eat? Maybe it sounds like a lot of work, or you don’t know if you’ll be able to keep it up. Maybe you’re the main cook in your house, and you think your spouse/kids/roommates won’t be down to try some new healthy food. All of these fears are simply that: fears. There will always be a reason not to do something. BUT, the biggest thing you need to remember is that you need to put you and your health first. Read on for my tips for how to get started with clean eating.
MAKE IT A PRIORITY
This is so simple and so difficult at the same time. You need to make clean eating a priority. Think of meal prepping as an appointment, and keep that appointment. Same with grocery shopping, and cooking dinner. If you “schedule” these events into your day and tell yourself it’s getting done today, there’s a lot greater chance it will actually get done today. Making all your food yourself takes a lot more time than buying pre-packaged foods or hitting up the drive-thru, but when it comes to your health, the time is really worth it. Here are ways to spend less time in the kitchen while eating clean.
FIGURE OUT WHAT YOU LIKE…
This part can be fun! Experimenting with new produce or spices is a good way to see what you like. Alternately, making adjustments to foods or recipes you already know you enjoy can be a little bit less intimidating. For example, if you love spaghetti and meatballs, but are looking to cut out gluten and dairy, here’s what you can do: Sub out the pasta for spaghetti squash, make your own sauce with tomato sauce and veggies, and pick a meat that is a little healthier than the classic 80/20 ground beef (such as grass fed ground sirloin or ground turkey!). I know this can sound difficult at first, but after a few weeks once you get the hang of it, it gets a lot easier. You need to find a good baseline of foods you like (several from each group, ie fruits, vegetables, proteins, snacks), which will make it a lot easier to cook without spending a million hours grocery shopping and reading recipes.
AND WHAT YOU DON’T LIKE
Forcing yourself to eat foods you hate WILL NOT WORK. Do I need to repeat that? I feel like so often people’s idea of eating clean is stuffing themselves full of kale and unseasoned chicken. Not only can eating clean be absolutely delicious, but it’s easy to make changes to recipes to the proteins and vegetables you prefer. I hate brussel sprouts, so if I find a recipe that looks great but has brussels in it, I’ll simply swap out cauliflower or broccoli. Boom. Easy.
Meal prepping for the week can make or break your diet. If you know you’re exhausted after work and will not want to cook, having something ready to go before you come home is going to be a lifesaver. Whether it’s grilling up a bunch of chicken, cooking a giant batch of soup for the week, or sticking something in the crockpot before you head off to work, you need to plan ahead. Even smaller things, like putting together little snack bags full of nuts, dried fruit, pre-cut veggies, etc, can make a huge difference. Depending on my schedule, I utilize Sundays or Mondays to make my lunches for the work week and plan out my dinners.
Elimination diets are a great way to figure out what foods you are reacting to, but they take a lot of work. If you can’t commit to it fully, there’s really no point in going half-in. This post from Precision Nutrition breaks down an elimination diet into easy to understand steps. If you’re embarking on an elimination diet, I’d recommend writing down several ideas for breakfast/lunch/dinner that you can make easily and have the ingredients on hand so you don’t get hangry and overwhelmed. Keep it simple. If eating clean is a complete 180 from your current diet, it might be a good idea to get used to eating clean before starting an elimination diet to ensure your success.
REMEMBER WHY YOU STARTED
Inevitably, there will be a point where you will get tired and there will be pizza. Probably on the same day, because life can be a cruel joke sometimes. At these moments, you’ll need to remind yourself why you are changing your diet and lifestyle and how that pizza is going to make you feel. Are a couple of cheesy slices of deliciousness really worth the backtracking you’ll have to do? On the other hand, if you do slip up, don’t beat yourself up. Again, just remember why you started, get back on your feet, and keep going.
Here are some websites to get started with some clean eating recipes or other information:
This is by no means an exhaustive list, just a good place to start if you’re feeling a little overwhelmed. Eventually, I’ll work on compiling more resources about eating clean, but for now, I hope this helps!