Clean Eating Basics

Clean eating basics

I entered my fourties with 25 extra pounds, and I couldn't tell a carb from a protein to save my life.  I came to clean eating as a way to shed those extra pounds, but during the journey, I realized that my relationship with food was pretty unhealthy.  I had elevated food to a level that it was never intended.  I like to tell people that I used to "live to eat, and now I eat to live."  I think of food as a way to feed the machine and not a source for happiness or comfort.  Making that shift in thinking is certainly no easy task, as I have witnessed many times while nutrition counseling women, but when someone is able to make that switch in thinking, they are able to be successful losing and maintaining weight loss.

Clean eating tries to incorporate healthy nutrition in a way that it can become a lifestyle, not something that is used for weight loss and the disgarded.  If you eat the foods you have always eaten, you will weigh what you always weighed.  Meg and I also really want you to understand the reasoning behind these clean eating principals.  We are firm believers that when a person understands why something is a better nutritional choice, they will be able to make better choices in the long run.  I often use the saying, "you can give a man a fish, and he eats for a day, but if you teach him to fish, he eats for a lifetime."  If you try diets that have a list of do's and don'ts, but never understand the science behind them, you will have no knowledge to fall back on when you are trying to maintain your weight loss.  Below are some basic guidelines of how to incorporate "clean eating" into your lifestyle, and some information to help specifically with weight loss.  

Clean Eating is a life style, not a diet.

80% of weight loss is about what you eat, 20% is exercise.

Basic Clean Eating:

  • Eat 5-6 meals per day. Try to shoot for every 2-3 hours.

The goal is to avoid big swings in your blood sugar, and by eating several small meals a day, you minimize the ups and downs.  Eating frequently will keep you feeling full longer, which will help with mindless eating and snacking.  When you try to only eat one or two meals a day, by the time you actually eat, you are starving and it's so easy to make emotional and unwise decisions.  

Clean eating basics
  • Include a carb and protein with every meal.

Carbs are your body's source of energy, and protein helps your body repair and build muscles, both are critical for your body to perform at it's peak.  Unfortunately, carbs digest quickly, which causes that rise in blood sugar we were trying to avoid...but protein on the other hand is digested slower and doesn't cause the same spike.  By eating a protein and a carb together, you slow the carbs digestion, which will helps keep that blood sugar more stable.

Clean eating basics
  • Drink lots of water - a minimum of 8-10 glasses a day.

Water, water, water!  I don't think there is anyone alive that hasn't heard the benefits of drinking lots of water.  A good guideline to shoot for is half of your body weight in ounces.  For example, someone who is 140 pounds would drink 70 ounces of water a day.  The benefits for weight loss are great; water helps fills you up, and is reported to help boost your metabolism and increase fat burning.  Replacing sugary drinks with water can make a big impact in your total calories for the day.  Drink up! 

Clean eating basics
  • Only complex carbs - whole grains, brown rice, beans, legumes, sweet potatoes, whole wheat pasta. Just remember: “Nothing White” - no white flour, white rice, or white sugar.

There is a long scientific explanation for why whole grains and complex carbs are more beneficial for your body, but I will just give you the high points.  Processed grains and carbs are digested fast, really fast!  Complex carbs have more nutrients in them then processed carbs, and they are just as their name suggests, more complex to digest, which means a lower glycemic index.  Avoid foods with enriched wheat flour as the main ingredient and look for foods that have the whole grain logo on the front.  In general I tell myself that when I eat "white grains," my body processes it the same way it does sugar.  This helps motivate me not to stick a piece of white bread in my mouth!

Clean eating basics
  • Eat lean proteins, like chicken, turkey, fish, and plant based protein. Shoot for eating one gram of protein for every pound of lean body mass is good for weight loss.

Protein is the body's basic building block for bone, muscle, skin and cartilage.  Eating protein, especially  directly following a workout, will help your body build and repair muscle.  The less body fat you have, the higher your metabolism will run, which means you burn more calories everyday.  Protein will also keep you feeling full longer and helps to slow the digestion of other foods.  Most animal protein is high in fat...which means it is also high in calories, but filling your diet with lean meats and plant based protein will give you the added building blocks that you need to build a lean body, without the added fat. Great sources of lean protein are egg whites, chicken, ground turkey, fish, beans, soy products, and quinoa. 

Clean eating basics
  • Become a label reader - look for sugars, serving sizes, ingredients, ect.

The first time I buy any new food, I read the label.  I try to see if this is an item that would be a healthy addition to my family's nutrition or not.  Newer labeling provides basic information right on the front and it gives a good picture of a food's basic nutrition.  How much sugar does it have?  Is it a whole grain, or is the first ingredient enriched wheat flour?  How much protein does it have?  Is the fat saturated or unsaturated?  What are the calories, and a really important item to check is how many servings are in the package?  Many people don't realize that packages often have more than one serving, which means a lot more calories, sugar and fat than they believe, this is especially true with drinks.  Many drinks contain 2 servings...which means double the calories!

Clean eating basics
  • Avoid all dairy except cottage cheese and greek yogurt. When looking for greek yogurt, watch the sugar levels, some are very high. A good option is plain 0% fat Fage or Chobani Greek Yogurt.

I loved cheese - it was my best friend!  I couldn't imagine a life without it.  A very strange thing happened when I cut out all cheese, I started to taste the real flavors of food and I realized I didn't miss the cheese at all.  Cheese is really high in fat, and not the good fat that everyone is talking about, it's high in saturated fat, which means it is also very high in calories.  If you cut out mayo and a slice of cheese from a sandwich, you can cut over 200 calories, which could be calories you use for a snack of greek yogurt and some fruit later in the day.  Both greek yogurt and cottage cheese are good sources of protein and not high in fat.  The main thing to be careful with greek yogurt is the sugar content in flavored yogurts.  Getting plain yogurt and adding your own flavoring allows you to really control the sugar, flavored yogurts are usually over 20 grams of sugar, which is way too much!

  • Try to avoid highly processed foods, such as deli meats.

Most highly processed foods have all the natural nutrients removed and are full of sugar, fat, and sodium.  In general, the less processed a food is, the more healthy it is for your body.

Clean eating basics
  • Eat lots of produce. Fruits and vegetables are a good source of nutrients, fiber, enzymes and carbs.

Vegetables and fruits are overflowing with nutrients that will keep your body healthy.  They pack a ton of fiber which fills you up and helps lower your risk of a host of diseases.  They are low in calories, which means you can eat a lot and not blow your caloric intake for the day.  Fruits tend to have more sugar,  but lower sugar fruits like raspberries, blueberries, and blackberries are a great source of cancer fighting compounds.

Clean eating basics
  • Keep your pantry and refrigerator stocked full of healthy foods! If you don’t have healthy food options, you will find yourself making unwise choices when you are hungry.

This is one of the most critical points to remember.  You will eat what you have in your house - so if it is stocked full of healthy foods, you will eat healthy foods, if it is stocked full of processed foods, you will eat processed foods!  One helpful rule to live by, is that if you know that you love sweets or salty snacks like potato chips, just don't bring them home.  Remember, if they are in your house, you will eat them.  Your best line of self discipline is at the grocery store, once a food enters your home, emotional and mindless eating will take over.  This is one of the things I see people failing to incorporate most often and one that ultimately sabotages their lifestyle change.  I see people rationalizing the food choices by telling themselves that they are buying the foods for their family...but two things happen, not only do they now have access to the processed foods, but their family is also eating unhealthy as a result.  Ask yourself if your family really needs donuts and potato chips?  

Clean eating basics
  • PLAN PLAN PLAN!! Always plan ahead. You may need to pack a meal to take with you or keep protein bars handy, so you have healthy options while you are on the go.

Planning is key to success in just about everything and this is no exception.  The times I don't plan ahead, I find myself stuck with very few healthy meal options.  Prep work ahead of time helps planning meals and snacks so much easier.  When I make most meals, I make extra so that I have healthy food available in my fridge to grab when I need it.  I make a several pounds of chicken and have that sliced or shredded so I can use it over whole grain pasta, in a wrap, on a salad, etc.  When I make any pasta, quinoa, rice or other complex carbs, I always make extra so I can use it for lunches or quick meals when I need it.  Precutting veggies is a great prep that will make your week run much more smoothly.

Clean eating basics
  • Do not skip meals - skipping meals slows the metabolism. Always eat breakfast within an hour of waking up, your body is hungry!

Skipping meals send the message to your body that it isn't getting the nutrients it needs, it goes into a self preservation mode that slows your metabolism down.  That is the exact opposite of what you are striving to achieve.  The other danger of skipping meals is that when you do finally eat, you are starved and make unwise decisions and tend to overeat.   

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Weight Loss Tips:

You don't have to eat clean because you want to lose weight!  Eating healthy is a great way to feed your body the food it needs to be the happiest and healthiest version of you - but if your goal IS to lose weight, here are some tips for you.

  • Use a food logging app and record your food daily, like Lose It or My Fitness Pal. Make sure you are recording the right portion sizes and include everything you eat. There is a saying, “Your body keeps an accurate log of what you eat, whether or not you do.”

That is no lie!  Whether or not you record something you eat, or most often drink (think wine), it will be deposited someplace in your body.  Yikes!  Keeping accurate food logs while you are trying to lose weight is one of the best tools you can use to achieve your goal, it helps you stay honest with yourself.  I literally did not eat anything that I did not record, it kept me from mindless eating and it helped me have an accurate picture of exactly what I was eating.  Logging uncovers some eating patterns that you may not even realize exist.  I found I was not getting nearly enough protein in my diet and probably more fat than I needed.  Actually, it has been my experience that most people I help eat more fat and sugar than they realize, both of which sabotage weight loss.  

  • Buying a food scale will help you figure out what is really an accurate portion size.

It's hard to log your food accurately if you don't have the correct measurements, having a food scale helps you be sure you are actually logging what you are eating.  Once you do it several times, you will begin to know what 6 oz of chicken looks like.


Just The Facts - download the PRINTABLE version with highlights of clean eating.