A couple months ago, my husband and I decided to get “hardcore” with cleaning up our eating. We ate healthy MOST of the time – probably 70-80 percent, even. But when we cheated, we thoroughly enjoyed it and didn’t look back. Our biggies were alcohol--a large glass of wine for me every night, a huge mixed drink for him--and sweets. I love to bake, have two young children who love treats, and have had a sugar addiction I think my whole life. And besides, when you’ve eaten such a healthy dinner, don’t you DESERVE dessert? No harm done, right? The problem was, this was seriously a regular, daily indulgence for us, and I KNEW—I get paid to study and preach this stuff—this wasn’t the healthiest way to eat to look and feel your best. At times I even felt like a hypocrite.
The first change was obvious to me: get rid of the sugar. And let me tell you, it’s EVERYWHERE. Our grocery shopping trips picked up because we were eating much more natural, unprocessed and fresh foods. Not only did we cut out white sugar and flour, we were also careful to eliminate artificial sweeteners. If we wanted to get a sweet fix, it was fruit or something made with a little stevia, honey or agave.
Sugar is addictive. It is a drug that your body truly does not need for anything, unless perhaps you’re a marathon runner. When you eat it, your body craves more and you’re caught in a vicious cycle. Sugar also suppresses the immune system (hello back to school germs), taxes your liver and causes unstable blood sugar levels. So getting this out of our diet was a no-brainer. But let this sugar addict tell you – it was TOUGH! You’ve heard me say “21 days to make or break a habit," and it truly took 21 days to detox myself from sugar. I wanted it, craved it and missed it for a full three weeks. Sure, I was starting to feel better without it, but I still thought about something sweet in the afternoons and evenings every single day.
Next was alcohol. My husband is very headstrong, a do-it-100 percent-or-don’t-do-it-at-all kind of guy, so he cut out alcohol right away. Me? Not so much. So I didn’t eliminate alcohol right off the bat. Besides, I was a red wine drinker, which has so many health benefits! And I didn’t drink myself to a drunken stupor every night, either, so I was fine with it.
After a couple weeks of cleaning up my eating, I began to really pay close attention to what my body was feeling and “listening” to it, if you will. Once you get in tune with your body, either through clean eating or adding an exercise program, you really don’t feel great reverting back to your old ways. I allow clients to have a cheat meal if they’ve eaten well for six days in a row, and they usually feel so gross afterwards, it’s less tempting to do it again. Our bodies feel so great eating clean foods, when you dump in the garbage that perhaps we used to eat, it says, “Whoa! What are you doing?” I was feeling great about my new, clean meals, but wanted to give cutting out alcohol just a chance to see if I felt any difference. I knew the facts about alcohol and fat loss…they don’t go hand-in-hand. Again, the more you tax your liver with other processes (like alcohol breakdown), the less it will spend on breaking down body fat. I have had some problem areas literally my whole adult life (thank you genetics), so if I wanted to give it my all to reduce or eliminate those, I needed to be like my husband and give it 100 percent. So alcohol became a treat about once a week, not a daily indulgence. Immediately, I had more energy later in the day and slept better at night.
So aside from feeling better, what did I gain (or lose)? After a couple of months of eating this way, I’ve lost….ZERO pounds. In fact, some days I’m even up a couple pounds from where I started. Pretty awful, right? That’s what I thought! Now, this wasn’t enough to make me throw it all out the window and revert back to my old loosened way of eating, but it WAS discouraging. My husband was losing weight at a great rate, but he also had more weight to lose than I did.
Lecturing people every day in my job about body composition, fat vs. muscle, etc., I knew I needed to go by those measurements instead of the scale. After measuring, I had lost over four inches and my body fat dropped nearly four percent. So I am satisfied. Add that to the fact that I feel so much more energetic and healthy, I’m paying closer attention to what I’m feeding my children, and my husband’s fat loss results; I therefore declare clean eating a winner that will become our new lifestyle.
What is cleaning eating, exactly? As defined by Clean Eating Magazine:
The soul of Clean Eating is consuming food in its most natural state, or as close to it as possible. It is not a diet; it's a lifestyle approach to food and its preparation, leading to an improved life - one meal at a time.
* Eat five to six times a day - three meals and two to three small snacks. Include a lean protein, plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables, and a complex carbohydrate with each meal. This keeps your body energized and burning calories efficiently all day long.
* Drink at least two liters of water a day
* Get label savvy - clean meals and foods aim to contain just a few ingredients. Any product with a long ingredient list is human-made and not considered Clean.
* Avoid processed and refined foods - such as white flour, sugar, bread and pasta. Enjoy more complex carbs such as whole grains instead.
* Know thy enemies - steer clear of anything high in saturated and trans fats, anything fried or anything high in sugar.
* Shop with conscience - buy humanely raised and local meats.
* Consume healthy fats - essential fatty acids, or EFA's
* Learn about portion sizes - and work toward eating within them
* Reduce your carbon footprint - eat produce that is seasonal and local. (Buy organic when possible, particularly foods on the Dirty Dozen list).
* Drink water with a lemon wedge instead - a glass of red wine for a special occasion is ok but it should be a rare indulgence. The health benefits of red wire are reversed after more than one glass a day.
* Slow down and savor - never rush through a meal. Food tastes best when savored. Enjoy every bite.
* Take it to go - pack a cooler for work or outings so you always have clean eats on the go.
* Make it a family affair - food is social glue that should be shared with loved ones. Improve the quality of your family's life along with your own.
Eat and be well, neighbors!
American Council on Exercise
ACE-certified Personal Trainer
Lifestyle & Weight Mgmt. Consultant
Regan Case is an ACE-certified personal trainer with continued education in pre- and post-natal fitness, back, shoulder and knee injury rehabilitation, osteopenia and osteoporosis and is a lifestyle and weight management consultant. She has been contributing health and fitness articles to local magazines and online sites such as The Patch, eHow.com, allexperts.com and Livestrong.com since 2006. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.