Clean eating. Paleo. Gluten free. Low carb. Low fat. Intermittent fasting.
Chances are you have heard at least one, if not all of these terms. They can be a little bit intimidating especially if you haven’t done your research. Like everything, there are pros and cons to each of them as well as die hard spokespeople.
I have tried nearly all of them at one point or another in my quest to find my ideal lifestyle. Reducing my carb intake to super restrictive calorie limits. I’ve been through the diet gauntlet and just barely survived. For me, clean eating paired with portion control has been what has worked the best for me but even within that space there are those who flounder and drown in the intensity of trying to maintain a clean lifestlye.
Now let me disclaimer here… I don’t pretend to be perfect. I don’t eat clean 100% of the time. I have cheat days. I drink wine. That being said, I’m also very happy with my nutritional lifestyle and don’t feel like I am on a diet for the rest of my life. Take that as you will.
Today we are going to talk about how to live a (mostly) clean lifestyle without losing your mind. No breakdowns at the grocery store, no obsessing over food labels, no needing to shell out hundreds of dollars a week at high end organic food stores. To me, clean eating is about finding tasty, simple recipes that don’t call for things like arrow root flour or eye of newt (kidding). I don’t want to spend several hours planning my meals for the week and even longer hunting down pages of ingredients for recipes I’m not sure of. Below you’ll find MY strategy for how to eat clean. I’m healthy, my body is fueled by quality food and most importantly, I’m not stressing my self out every week over my grocery run.
Tip 1: ALWAYS Make a Grocery List
“Don’t worry, I have everything I need in my head.” Those are the famous last words of someone who is bound to buy a bunch of garbage at the grocery store. I admit it, I used to be this person. It caused me to consistently purchase pre-made or frozen foods because I couldn’t think on my feet fast enough to come up with healthy meal options while at the store.
I have a two step process in creating my grocery list. This may sound tedious but it has worked for me time and time again. We have a magnetic tablet that sticks to the side of our fridge and a pen that sits right on top. Throughout the week as I run out of things or think of items that need to be picked up, I write them down on that pad of paper so I don’t forget them. Sometime toward the end of the week I search Pinterest and my recipe books for whatever I’m going to make for lunch that week and add those ingredients to the list.
Next, usually the morning before I go shopping, which for us is usually Saturday or Sunday, I sort out my list of items based on the area of the grocery store they are in. Produce together, canned goods, meat or deli items, dairy and bakery and then a miscellaneous section. “That sounds like a lot of work,” you might be thinking. But it is really not. Think through the order in which you normally walk through the store and sort them that way. Or, if that doesn’t work for you, sort them in a way that makes sense to you. Organizing them by section allows me to check off a big chunk of a the list as a time instead of standing in the middle of the produce section reading over every item of my list to ensure that I haven’t forgotten anything.
Tip 2: Simplify the Items on Your List
One of the greatest keys to my clean eating success is keeping things ridiculously simple. This may sound boring to you but I eat the same thing every day for breakfast, snack and lunch within one week. Monday-Friday the same thing all the way up until dinner. Normally that consists of a shake for breakfast, some cashews/almonds/some other type of nut for snack, whatever I made for lunch that week plus a greek yogurt, then an apple and natural peanut butter for afternoon snack. Maybe this is too extreme for you but it makes planning extra easy and reduces the amount of groceries I purchase as well. If you think this would get too mundane for you, try alternating every other day; three days of one thing, two days of something else.
The second thing I do to simplify my list is to coordinate ingredients between lunches and dinners. This means if I’m making a chili for lunches for the week that includes green pepper, I also add green pepper to the casserole or main dish for dinner on one night of the week. How often do you end up with half a green pepper or an onion after making a recipe? Does it ever get used? For me, I usually ended up throwing it away after it turned some disturbing color in my crisper. Now, I just plan for my food “waste” to be used in some way. It takes a little practice to coordinate recipes but it has allowed me to drastically cut down on the amount of food that goes on my grocery list.
Tip 3: Keep It Simple Sweetie
Pinterest is amazing but it also has a way of making us think that executing a recipe with 2.5 pages of ingredients on a week night is a brilliant idea. News flash; it is not. Simple cooking does not mean bland cooking. Yes, there are nights where my dinners consist of baked chicken, veggies and rice. That is mostly out of convenience more than anything.
When you are preparing your grocery list, look for recipes that are either quick and easy to throw together or are friendly to early preparation. Think meat in marinades, crock pot recipes, veggies/potatoes/rice or quinoa that can be chopped or cooked ahead of time. Take a look at the prep and cook time if it is listed in a recipe or for instructions that say something like, “remove from oven and let set for 30 minutes” as a middle step. That might be one that you want to try on a weekend as opposed to a week night.
Tip 4: Pick a Day and Prepare as Much as You Can
If I had to pick, I would say this is the MOST important tip on this list. I strongly believe that meal prep is your greatest tool for success. I do mine on Sundays since I work a Monday-Friday schedule and it is when I have the most time. This is the day I cook or prepare anything I’m going to eat during the day throughout that week. I also try and do as much as I can to get things ready for recipes that I’ll be making for dinners during the week as well. If a recipe calls for cooked quinoa, I pre-cook it. Veggies get chopped and meat gets seasoned.
Once my lunch has been prepared and cooled, I portion it out into five containers so that it is easy to grab and go when I am packing my lunch bag for the next day. As mentioned before, I normally have cashews or nuts as a snack. I do not just bring the bag with me. I would eat the entire bag if I did. I portion out the proper amount into a container or a snack size baggie. The easier you make things for yourself on your prep day, the better your week will go.
Tip 5: Moderation
The thing about moderation is that it is meant to be used as a guideline, not as an excuse. I am a firm believer of the idea that the more you restrict yourself from something, the more you will crave it and leave yourself open for a binge. Find ways to build moderation into your lifestyle so you do not fall into this trap. Here are a few ways to do that:
- Allow yourself a small amount of something on occasion. I have about 10-15 dark chocolate chips a few times a week.
- Schedule your cheat meal. (Let’s be real, we all have them.) Choose when you are going to have this meal; date night, Friday night pizza, Sunday brunch, business dinner out?
- Find a healthy alternative. This isn’t entirely moderation but it is a great substitute. Love ice cream? Make frozen banana ice cream instead.
- Be honest with yourself. Are you using “moderation” as an excuse to eat a bag of chips daily? If so, you’re doing it wrong.
Tip 6: Find an Accountability Partner
Finding a buddy that you can share your journey with is a HUGE help in attaining clean eating success. Having someone to plan with, share recipes, commiserate with and celebrate victories with makes the transition to clean eating that much easier. Seek out someone you know who may be interested in shifting to a healthier lifestyle and set times to check in with each other. If you are looking for a community of support, join my free Facebook support group for a whole bunch of accountability partners!
Clean eating doesn’t have to be scary or complicated. By following these steps, you can successfully navigate the waters and maintain a lifestyle you feel comfortable with and not feel as though you are chained to it.
If you are struggling with your weight loss journey or are just looking for some accountability, I’d like to extend a personal invitation to join my free Facebook group that is officially launching today! Join us for support, tips and community!