Since I’m planning to blog a little bit more about healthy living, I thought it was important to share where I am these days, specifically around diet. And by “diet,” I mean my “diet” as in what I eat. Although I totally understand that diets are very effective for some people, I’ve learned that they don’t work for me. I’ve struggled with restrictive eating in the past, so I choose to focus on a more open approach. For the last couple of years, I’ve turned my attention towards eating clean, which I like for many reasons. For starters, clean eating reminds me of the way my dad encouraged us to eat growing up. He was always big on avoiding processed foods, growing our own vegetables, and supporting local farmers. I also like how clean eating is pretty simple, flexible, and tends to focus on the positives of healthy eating – enjoying beautiful, whole foods that make you feel great.
My approach to clean eating is a non-restrictive strategy that balances choosing whole, organic, local foods with everyday stress, money considerations, and a busy schedule.
If time and money were no object, I’d eat clean, locally-grown, organic food all the time. I’d grow my own vegetables, have my own chickens in the backyard, and shop the farmer’s market daily. I’d make everything from scratch. Chicken broth à la Ina Garten? Done! Homemade gnocchi à la Mario Batali? Done! Grind my own wheat to make bread? Well, maybe I wouldn’t take things quite that far.
But, I’m a busy, working woman with one too many hobbies on her hands. I’m in the office Monday – Friday at my 9-to-5, and after hours, I teach Zumba, blog, and am trying to re-learn how to program. Did I mention that I’m so not independently wealthy? So, I’m constantly trying to balance my schedule and money with my desire to eat clean, local, and organic food.
I’ve done the extremes…on both ends. I’ve eaten almost all processed foods (from fast food to even when I was even eating in), and then I’ve eaten almost no processed foods. I’ve found that I’m not happy with either extreme. I probably ate the most processed foods during or just after college, and since then, I’ve worked my way towards eating more and more clean. But, there was a time I went too far…at least, too far for me.
Spending too much time and money to eat clean became overly stressful. It made me reach a point where I almost wanted to give up. Have you been there? Where you find yourself thinking, “I just can’t do this…why do I even try?” When you find yourself wanting to quit, you may have just pushed yourself to an extreme. Instead of quitting, I believe you have to find the level of clean eating that works for you…and by works for you, I mean, the level that makes you happy and has you enjoying eating clean.
To me, the key to happiness with clean eating is striking a balance between eating as clean as possible and not driving yourself crazy by being too prescriptive. I just don’t see things as black and white. It’s not eat processed food or eat clean. I don’t think to enjoy eating clean that you have to eat clean 100% of the time. I think there are levels. Over time, I try to work towards eating more and more clean and I try to make the best decision possible on a daily basis. Though I prefer to not use them, I do use some processed foods. It’s just that over time, even my processed foods have become more clean. The trick is paying attention to the labels and learning how to check and read them so you can make the best choice for you. I have an upcoming post with some label-reading shortcuts for busy people, so hopefully, some of you will find that helpful.
My everyday approach to clean eating:
- First and foremost – strive for doing your best, not being perfect. No rules. No restrictions. I just focus on doing the best I can at any given time. I try to eat as clean as possible, but I don’t beat myself up about not being perfect.
- When time/schedule/money allows, make things from scratch using whole (unprocessed) foods/ingredients. Bonus points for using organic and/or local ingredients!
- If you need help, take as little as possible. if you can grill some chicken and steam some broccoli but just need a little help, then a box of rice pilaf can go a long way. Or if you want to make soup with fresh, local vegetables but don’t have time to make your own vegetable broth (Who does?! If you do, make me some!), then use a boxed broth. It will still be 10 times better than cracking open a can of soup.
- If you use processed ingredients, make the best choice you can find and afford. Not all processed foods are equally processed or are the same by level of quality. One box of macaroni and cheese is not the same as the other. Canned beans can vary greatly, as can boxes of vegetable broth. Learn how to read ingredient lists, and pick the cleanest you can.
- If someone else makes it, it can still be clean. I like to take a little help from grocery stores with similar eating philosophies to mine. Whole Foods, Earthfare, Healthy Home Market, and local health food stores often offer prepared foods. I’ve gotten pre-made chicken salad and put it on Great Harvest bread and called it a day for lunch. Yea, I didn’t pluck any of it from the ground, but I look at it as them making food the same way I would, I just paid for the time-savings and their expertise.
Any other clean eats enthusiasts out there? What’s your approach to clean eating?