Eating Clean 101

There are a lot of different ways to eat clean. Supporters of each individual path always state that their way is best, but the reality is there are many ways to be “right” and stay healthy.

Stick with whole foods that have expiration dates.

It is really, really easy to overeat on an American diet. We have so much food, good and bad, available all the time. Most of the time, the worst stuff is also lowest cost, so it can be tempting to just eat the cheap junk to save money. Don’t!

It is always worth the cost – if you can honestly afford it – to eat the better foods. Why? Because preventative health care like good diet and regular exercise help prevent expensive, possibly debilitating medical issues down the road.

Here’s a great report that illustrates the issue based on data from 2009-2013 on healthcare spending.

And here’s the “Too Long; Didn’t Read” summary…

  • The average annual healthcare costs for
    • Diabetics: $14,999
    • Non-diabetics: $4,305
  • The average OUT OF POCKET for…
    • Diabetics: $1,922
    • Non-Diabetics: $738
  • The hardest hit populations, financially, are…
    • Children (ages 0-18)
    • Pre-Medicare Adults (ages 55-64)

So next time you try to decide if you should save $1 to eat junk when you could spend it to eat healthy, choose wisely!

Avoid processed junk whenever possible.

Much like eating whole foods, this side of the coin specifically has you avoiding the crap foods as a rule.

Should I eat cookies for lunch? No. Have a salad.

Should I eat ice cream tonight? No. Have some fruit.

Should I guzzle down eight beers at the bar? No. Have one or two, then call it good.

It’s all about self-control.

Never eat anything with “hydrogenated” or “partially hydrogenated” on the label.

There are a few kinds of dietary fat that I’m sure you’ve heard of. Saturated fats are good in moderation. Mono- and Polyunsaturated fats are pretty good for you and should make up most of the fat in your diet.

Then there’s trans fats. These are terrible, awful, no good constructs of modern science that should be burned and forgotten. They combine the worst of both fat types and they occur so rarely in nature that most people would never eat them at all. Foods with our trigger words on the label contain trans fats, and should be avoided. Period.

Make a clean eating plan

Planning is a good first step towards success in most things in life. Your diet and eating is no different. For many, coming up with a plan gets them a start into eating well and then over time they adapt their routine so that it becomes second nature. For others, you’ll need a plan for the foreseeable future to help you stay on track.

Why the difference? In my opinion, people seem to fall into two categories: easy changers and hard changers. The easy changers can pick up a new good habit and turn it into a part of their “self” much more easily than a hard changer. BUT the hard changer has the benefit of having a plan, so all they need to do, really, is follow the guidelines they’ve chosen and roll from there.

Whichever you are, plan out your meals for one or two weeks at a time. Decide on what you’ll eat, when you’ll eat, when you’ll cook it, etc. Plan. It. Out. Then, stick to the plan!

Stick to your clean eating plan at least 80% of the time.

The average person eats 3 meals per day, 7 days per week, for a total of 21 meals every week. This rule simply means that in every week, make sure that 17 meals out of every 21 are healthy. This leaves you with 5 meals (almost one per day) where you can be less than perfect and. Does that mean you get a full blown “eat whatever you want without consequences” cheat meal almost every day?

NO! It just means that if you stray a little bit a few meals a day, then don’t get crazy and depressed about it. Just eat better the next meal.

Take personal responsibility for your meals.

There are very few people in the world who have ever been forced to eat something they don’t want to eat as an adult. Chances are really great that no one is holding a gun to your head and demanding you eat that cupcake or second serving of dinner or whatever when you’re not hungry or don’t need it.

It is entirely your responsibility for what you put in your body, and you need to act like it.

Don’t blame the situation or the restaurants you go to for you eating like crap. If you’re serious about eating healthy, then do it. After a decade of experience coaching people, I can tell you that this is one of the top indicators if someone will be successful or not. The people who make excuses, do poorly. The people take responsibility, do well.

Pick one.

Do not blame others for any reason when you eat poorly.

This goes along with our last point, but I want to call out a specific feature of not taking responsibility: do not blame anyone but yourself for your bad eating habits. This means that your spouse, kids, parents, coworkers, etc. are never to blame for what you eat. You are. People with bad habits like to blame other people with similar habits as being the reason why they can’t do better. This is a huge, self-depreciating cop out.

Think of it this way: not only are you excusing bad habits by blaming someone else (which is unfair to them), you’re also telling everyone that you’re too weak to make your own decisions (which is unfair to you and counterproductive). Take the responsibility – and the power – onto yourself, and you will see tremendous benefits.

Find an accountability buddy to help you stay on track.

This is the next step to taking responsibility: ask for help! Find a person you trust to be the one who helps keep you honest and on track. This could be someone who is going through the same thing, or someone who has succeeded at it already. Your spouse or best friend are great options as long as they help you stick to it.

Along with this, still remember that you need to respect your buddy enough to not blame them when you screw up. Which you will; it happens. Let them help you when it does. Also keep in mind that this respect extends to not getting mad at them when they do what you asked them to do. When you inevitably get called out for making a bad eating choice, remember that they’re helping you, whether you like it at the time or not.

If you’re bored, have some water. Don’t eat.

This is really simple: before you stuff your face with food out of boredom, have a tall glass of water, then wait 10 minutes. Chances are, you’re brain is telling you to eat because you just need something to do, and eating is fun. Many, many people are obese because they don’t know the difference between “real hunger” and “boredom hunger”. This is especially true between meals, when you’re most likely to be still satiated from your last meal.

Eat until you’re Satiated, but not Full.

Along with knowing the difference between the “hungers”, we also need to know the difference between being Satiated and being Full. The body enters a state of Satiation when the feeling of hunger is no longer present. You have eaten enough to satisfy what you needed, and now it’s time to move on. In contrast, feeling Full is actually being over-satiated, where your stomach is filled with so much food you will inevitably feel discomfort. If you can say with honesty after a meal, “I couldn’t eat another bite” then you’ve eaten too much. Here’s how to not overdo it:

  1. Eat slowly, one bite a time, and chew thoroughly. Wait a few seconds between swallowing one bite and taking the next bite. This gives your body time to respond to what you’ve eaten.
  2. When you are no longer hungry, stop eating! Wait a few minutes and see if the hunger response returns. If not your meal is over.
  3. Your eyes are hungrier than your stomach. Do not give in to the compulsion to finish everything on your plate.
  4. Never finish the whole plate at restaurants. Try asking the server to put half of your meal in a To Go box before they even bring it to your table. This goes along with #3.