As the size of waistlines grow across the globe and the rate of disease increases, many people are seeing the benefits of eating healthy. Having a clean diet can help you maintain a healthy weight and protect against medical conditions such as heart disease or cancer. If you didn’t grow up eating a clean diet, which consists of “real” or natural and whole foods that are minimally processed, it’s not too late to change your habits. By reflecting on your eating patterns, replacing “un-clean” habits, and maintaining them throughout your life, you can reap the many benefits of consuming a clean diet for life.
Reflecting on Your Eating Habits
1Learn about the concept of clean eating. Clean eating sounds like a fairly simple concept, but it entails some specific conditions about how food is processed. Learning about these conditions can help you to change your diet and eat clean for life.
2Evaluate your eating habits. You won’t be able to eat clean unless you have an idea of your current dining patterns. Evaluating how you eat will help you identify good and bad habits as well as foods or behaviors that trigger unhealthy behaviors.
- The best way to evaluate your eating habits is to keep a food diary for two to four weeks. Write down everything you eat for this time, including snacks or foods you eat in passing. You might want to note how processed or refined your foods are (e.g. store-bought white bread instead of homemade wholegrain).
- It’s a good idea to make a note of how you’re feeling each day. Write down how you feel before and after meals, which can help you identify triggers for unhealthy habits more easily.
- Note what is clean in your diet from your diary. For example, “I eat a lot of healthy salads,” or “I consume a large number of industrially processed foods.”
- Highlight what whole and real foods that consume. This will serve you can keep these habits as you move forward. Recognizing your successes can help encourage you to eat healthy.
3Identify your unclean habits and how you can change them. After two weeks, you should be able to identify unclean foods and if there are any specific triggers for your eating them. Figure out how you can change these habits with elimination or substitution.
- See if there is anything that is causing you to eat unclean. Do you go out for happy hour and eat bar food instead of a proper dinner? Do you eat more processed foods when you’re stressed or tired?
4Make a plan to switch your diet so it’s cleaner healthier for life. Once you’ve identified your eating habits, create a plan to continue your healthy patterns and replace unclean behaviors. Consider making a lifestyle plan that includes clean eating, exercise, and time to rest and relax.
- As you develop your plan, incorporate your clean habits from the food diary. You could create a plan around three solid, clean meals and two wholesome snacks a day.
- Your plan should include meals that meet all of your nutritional needs to sustain your health and well-being. For example, you need to make sure you’re getting enough protein, vitamins, and fiber through foods such as lean meats or nuts, and fruits and vegetables. Aim to eat food that are either processed minimally or that require little cooking or changing their form.
- Make sure to allot time for physical activity, such as walking or jogging, for at least thirty minutes a day. You’ll also want to make sure to include time for rest and relaxation, such as reading a book. These will help reinforce your clean eating habits and contribute to your overall well-being.
- Be aware places or situations where you are more likely to “sin,” such as walking past candy dishes, donut packages at work, or simply just feeling bored. Actively try to avoid eating during these situations or divert yourself if that’s easier. Keep clean snacks such as apples or cut vegetables at your desk to help avoid derailing your clean habits.
- Consider allowing yourself one day to cheat and eat foods that aren’t a part of your clean plan. One day of conscious cheating may keep you from bad behaviors on other days.
5Talk to a doctor or dietician about your eating habits. If you’re unsure of how to eat more cleanly life, consider talking to your doctor or a registered dietician about how to replace processed foods with natural choices. They can often help you identify problem areas and develop the most reasonable eating plan for your lifestyle.
- Your doctor or local hospital can suggest a registered dietician or you can find one yourself using the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics online search tool at http://www.eatright.org/find-an-expert.
- If you don’t want to consult a doctor or dietician, there are many quality resources on the Internet that can help you develop the best eating plan for yourself.
Switching to a Clean Diet
1Be aware of proper nutrition. Informing yourself about the basics of proper nutrition can help you understand what your body needs to be healthy for life. It will also help you identify the best clean foods for your eating plan.
- You will get proper nutrition if you incorporate clean foods from the five food groups every day. The five food groups are: fruits, vegetables, grains, proteins, and dairy.
- You need 1-1.5 cups of fruit per day. You can get this from eating whole fruits such as raspberries, blueberries, or strawberries, or from drinking 100% fruit juice. Make sure to vary the fruits you choose so that you get a range of nutrients and don’t process them in any way. For example, eating a cup of pure berries is much cleaner than eating berries on top of a cake.
- You need 2.5-3 cups of vegetables per day. You can get this from eating whole vegetables such as broccoli, carrots, or peppers, or from drinking 100% vegetable juice. Make sure to vary the vegetables you choose so that you get a range of nutrients.
- Fruits and vegetables are easily incorporated into a variety of dishes including soups and stews, stir fry, or even something as simple as a cup of Greek yogurt with fresh fruit for a dessert.
- You need between 5-8 ounces of grains per day, of which ½ should be whole grains. You can get grains and whole grains from foods such as brown rice, whole wheat pasta or bread, oatmeal, or cereal. Remember to keep these foods as minimally processed as possible. For example, brown rice and whole wheat bread are far less processed than white rice or bread because the germ hasn’t been separated from the rest of the grain.
- You need 5-6.5 ounces of protein per day. You can get protein from lean meats including beef, pork, or poultry; cooked beans; eggs; peanut butter; or nuts and seeds.
- You need 2-3 cups, or 12 oz., of dairy per day. You can get dairy from cheese, yogurt, milk, soymilk, or even ice cream.
- Avoid excessive amounts of sodium in your diet, which is prevalent in mass-processed foods.
2Clean out your kitchen. Look around your kitchen and remove unclean and unnatural items. This will help reinforce your clean eating habits. Half the battle here is removing tempting junk foods from your environment. Your home should be a safe zone full of healthy options.
- You don’t have to throw away every item from your kitchen. Get rid of junk and overly processed food including chips, cookies, candy, and cakes, or pre-made or frozen meals.
- Consider donating any unused foods to a local food pantry.
3(Re)stock your kitchen. Once you’ve had a chance to remove unclean foods from your kitchen, restock it with healthy and clean options. Having nutrient-rich and clean options on hand will help reinforce healthy eating habits and help you avoid unhealthy patterns.
- You may find that keeping clean foods requires you to food shop more often. If this isn’t feasible, consider options such as frozen fruits and vegetables, which are as healthy as fresh food and minimally processed. These can easily be incorporated into any dish such as a stir fry or Greek yogurt.
- Make sure to stock non-perishable whole grains such as whole wheat pasta, oatmeal, brown rice, so you can make easy, go-to meals in a pinch.
- Purchase dairy products such as yogurt, milk, or cheese to ensure you get protein and calcium.
- Buy protein rich foods such as beans, nuts, and fresh meat.
- Stock healthy oils such as olive, walnut, and sesame instead of butter or margarine.
- Keep a variety of herbs and spices on hand to jazz up any meal and offer different flavors depending on what foods you crave.
4Make changes to your diet gradually. While you may be excited to completely overhaul what you’re eating, it’s important to gradually make changes to your overall diet. This will help you stick to eating clean for life.
- Aim to eat clean at every meal, but you can slowly replace processed foods. For example, if you eat white rice with every meal, switch to brown rice and then gradually add more vegetables and less rice.
- Remember to allow yourself to cheat occasionally so that you stay on track.
Maintaining Your Diet and Health
1Plan meals as often as possible. Planning your meals in advance will help you to avoid regressing towards unclean habits. It will also help ensure that you’re getting plenty of nutrients and may even save you money.
- For example, plan your breakfasts to help start off your day on the right foot. If you don’t have lunch meetings, packing a clean and unprocessed lunch can help you avoid buying unhealthy fast foods. If you do have a lunch meeting, order the least processed and most natural food on the menu. Salads are a good and clean choice.
2Allow yourself cheat days. No person is perfect and sometimes you crave unhealthy foods. Allow yourself occasional cheat days to enjoy junk food or foods you wouldn’t normally eat on your plan.
- There is increasing evidence that allowing yourself to cheat occasionally and consciously will help you maintain your diet in the long run because you’re not denying yourself anything.
- You may even find you don’t unclean foods as often when you’re eating a clean diet.
- Never berate yourself or let mistakes or cheat days derail your overall healthy habits. Setbacks are normal.
3Eat clean at restaurants. Eating out can cause a major setback for many people’s otherwise clean diets because of processed, high fat and calorie dishes. Consciously avoiding certain foods and making good choices at restaurants can help you reinforce your good eating habits.
- Avoid unclean pitfalls like breadbaskets, fried foods, or dishes in heavy sauces such as fettuccine alfredo.
- Salads or steamed vegetables and steaks are good choices of minimally processed, clean foods.
- Avoid buffets, which are often filled with unhealthy and processed food choices and can encourage you to overeat.
- Have whole fruits for dessert, which are healthy and clean.
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- Consult with your physician before beginning a new nutrition and exercise plan.
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