A few weeks ago, I sent my top five tips for transitioning to cleaner eating to the fine folks over at Jule's Wellness, an awesome Canadian wellness company on a mission to help you feel healthy, strong, and more conscientious in your life. (Love their stuff! I've got my eye on their monthly subscription box!)
Eating "clean" isn't nearly as complicated as you might think, but with all the different points of view and diets out there, it's easy to get overwhelmed and confused! I know I used to be.
It took getting sick (asthma, IBS, allergies, acid reflux, relentless colds), taking a bunch of meds that didn't work, and feeling hopeless, for me to finally find my way.
And I'm still learning every day! But that's, I'm quite confident, how it's supposed to be.
There really is no one-size-fits-all diet. Not in my book, anyway. We are all individuals with unique bodies and needs, so it only makes sense that we would need to take a similar approach when it comes to food!
Here, I'm breaking the whole "eating clean" thing down into five simple steps. Start where you are, and remember: It's not a race. It's a journey.
The idea here is to do a little better all the time.
1 - EDUCATE YOURSELF
I have a Bachelor's in Secondary Education, a Master's in Science, and 5+ years working as a Trauma/Emergency Department registered nurse, and I still had to go back to school to figure all this stuff out!
Your story, surely, will be different from mine. And I'm not saying you need to do everything I did! But in some form or another, you're going to need to begin to dig a little deeper and explore a little further than what you've always heard about health and wellness. (Hint: Counting calories, buying non-fat, and opting for "magic pills" will not be getting you to where you want to be, my friends. At least not in any lasting way.)
For me, it all started with the documentary Forks Over Knives. (You might like Fat, Sick & Nearly Dead or GMO OMG!) From there, I devoured book after book on the subject of food as medicine. A few early favorites were The Omnivore's Dilemma, Keep It Simple, Keep It Whole, and UnDiet. If you haven't read these yet, I assure you they will shed new light on old "truths".
Having experienced what felt like was my own "health miracle", I craved expert guidance, to deepen my understanding of nutrition. And I felt a very clear calling to help others begin to take back their health, too.
I enrolled in T. Colin Campbell's Plant-Based Nutrition course, followed by the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, which truly expanded my vision of health (so much more than food!) and taught me the concept of bioindividuality, that what works wonders for one person might not be what's best for another. It was throughout my time at IIN that my vision of health and wellness (and happiness!) began to take shape.
If you're anything like me, you'll find that what makes you feel happiest and healthiest may (and likely should!) change over time. Be gentle with yourself as you explore and, ultimately, discover what works best for you. Consider hiring a coach to help you along the way. There is truly something extremely powerful about having a loving, supportive, empowering person in your corner, especially when you're taking on big changes like these.
2 - THROW AWAY THE CRAP
As soon as you start re-educating yourself, you'll likely begin to feel like there's a lot in your fridge and pantry (and perhaps hiding under the bed or some other secret stash location?) that simply must go!
Warning: This could be a little painful. You may want to enlist the help of a supportive friend (maybe after watching one of those awesome documentaries together!), family member, or coach.
But, I promise you, this is a critical and crucial part of getting you feeling amazing again!
You must must must get rid of the bad if you wish to bring on the good. (And I know you do!) If it hurts too much to throw it away, consider donation. Remember: The longer you keep it around, the longer it will take for you to get healthy again! This is something you're going to want to go "all in" on.
CRAP: I mentioned earlier than I'm of the belief that what's best for me might not be best for you. That being said, my experience and education has taught me that there are a few key offenders that seem to cause a lot of trouble for people. If only for a while, I urge you to consider removing things like dairy, gluten, and processed sugar/sweeteners. Processed anything, really, should go!
What you want left over is, quite simply, real food. (Not the creations of the food "industry", not those long ingredient lists of unrecognizable items, and definitely not those "fake" and "imitation" animal products laden with processed soy, sodium, and other questionables.)
3 - REPLACE IT WITH THE GOOD STUFF
Hint: Good stuff = Real food.
And here's where it gets fun again! (And the produce department of the grocery store becomes your new best friend!)
Think seasonal, local, and organic whenever possible.
Wary about spending more on organics? This little video on The Organic Effect will inspire you to choose "cleaner" options. I also love the Environmental Working Group's Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen lists, which help you choose the cleanest options while also being budget-conscious.
Shopping the perimeter of the grocery store is another great tip! (Allows you to skip the a bunch of the processed stuff in the middle sections.)
A couple of my favorite rules of thumb from Michael Pollan (and your great-grandma) that I like to use are: (1) Eat food. Mostly plants. Not too much. And I also love Rule No. 19 from his fabulous book Food Rules: (2) If it's a plant, eat it. If it was made in a plant, don't.
Beyond these, if you're eating animals, please be mindful of their source, what they were fed, and how they were raised. Always look for words like pastured, organic, and non-GMO. If you'd like to learn more about conscious "clean" farming, check out the work of Joel Salatin.
And if you're looking for another all-around excellent guide to help you identify the crap (and get rid of it), check out Meghan Telpner's down-to-earth and inspiring take-back-your-life book UnDiet. You will love it!
4 - EAT THE GOOD STUFF
And make it delicious!
After throwing together random "plants" for a year or so, I realized I should probably actually learn how to cook! As much as I'd always loved food, I'd never really felt comfortable in the kitchen - until I found Meghan Telpner and the Academy of Culinary Nutrition.
Mind = Blown!
I learned that health-supportive, nourishing, healing food can (and must!) taste mouth-wateringly delicious. And I learned that even I could make amazing food! (This shocked me, I tell ya!)
I started by just watching her free videos, reading her blogs, and experimenting with some of her recipes, which are - to this day - some of my favorites to recommend to clients, friends, and family!
If you're not used to cooking with a lot of plants and doing it in a way that is nourishing and healing to the body, just do what I did and start trying out a bunch of different recipes - until you find the ones you looove!
Over time, as you practice and play and experiment in the kitchen, you'll develop a natural intuition about food and ingredients, and you'll begin to find it easier and easier to throw together something that's both delicious and nutritious for you and your family.
I've got a bunch of recipes here! A couple other favorites (I have so many) are Rachel's Nourishing Kitchen, Green Kitchen Stories, and Sondi Bruner. Oh - and definitely take some time to browse through all the awesomeness in the Academy of Culinary Nutrition's Top 50 Clean Food Blogs!
5 - REPEAT (WITH FRIENDS!)
And there you have it! Educate yourself (lots of great books, documentaries, and classes out there to explore), get rid of the bad (seek support if you need it), bring in the good (lots of plants, think seasonal, local, and organic), make it delicious, and eat it - with friends!
That's how you transition to cleaner eating. In a nutshell.
But the learning doesn't stop there, and there are certainly going to be ups and downs as you find your way. So, I'd like to say a word about your support system.
Finding a group of supportive, encouraging, like-minded folks will do wonders for your health, both mental and physical! If you can't find one you love, join mine!
Making changes to the way you eat isn't always easy. You're going to need to have someone(s) to turn to when you looking for an answer to What the heck do I do with rainbow chard?, or your husband isn't exactly thrilled about your newfound plantiful ways, or you just want something sweet to eat, for God's sake! - but you don't know which ingredients are best.
Why? Because this is the important stuff. This whole "figuring out what to eat" thing will keep you living and thriving and loving life for a very long time. It's completely changed my life, and I have a feeling it will do the same for you!
YOUR TURN NOW
Now it's your turn to share!
Where are you in this whole process? Wherever you are, I hope you've found something useful here. What's been your biggest takeaway, and where would you like more support?