Eating clean for beginners – 6 steps to wholesomeness
Eating a healthy diet should be a no-brainer, since it is linked with important health improvements, such as a lesser risk of premature death, heart disease, cancer and chronic diseases, just to name a few. A clean, healthy diet should be focussed on minimally-processed food and reduce the intake of industrially processed food to a minimum. Ultimately, eating clean means avoiding anything packaged.
Sounds extreme? In those days of supermarket, long shelf life and convenience food, that’s how it looks.
Sounds impossible? Not really. This is a guide to start eating clean for beginners in 6 easy steps. Follow them, and you’ll be well on your way to new clean eating habits.
“Failing to plan is planning to fail”. Alan Lakein
As you’ll see, the best way to start eating clean is to prepare for it. This doesn’t need to take long, but it will equip you with the right tools to change your habits in the long run and make the most of your new diet.
Step 1 – Decide Why
Before you embark on your clean eating journey, ask yourself why you want to do this. This is a vital step. Deciding on why you want change to happen will keep you motivated when your willpower is being challenged.
Have you got health problems that need you to change your lifestyle? Did you sign up for a sports challenge and could do with adjusting your diet? Have you decided to take charge of your health in the long run, to age gracefully? Is someone close to you embarking on the same journey and you feel compelled to join them? Do you want to teach your children how to eat healthier? Do you want to lessen your environmental footprint?
Whatever the reason why you want to start eating clean, pinpoint it. Better still, write it down somewhere. So you can revert to it when you’re feeling in doubt.
Step 2 – Decide How
As I have covered in this post on Starting clean eating, there is more than one way one can kick-start their healthy eating journey. But not all of them will fit you and your lifestyle. Read about them, think about them, and decide on the best method to clean up your diet.
This is particularly important if you are starting from a highly refined, industrial diet. Your body will need time to adjust to your new meals and cleanse itself inside out. Give it time, allow for it to be de-gunked gradually, one step at a time.
Also, if you decide to start with just a clean breakfast, for example, it will also allow you not to feel guilty about your evening meal being still highly processed. Instead, you will feel proud of your achievement so far and this will spur you on.
Step 3 – Give yourself SMART goals
Oh, you’ve heard about those before, the corporate world loves them. But there is some definite truth behind them, and reasons why they work so well. Let’s go through them, applied to your new clean eating resolutions. Try and make your goals:
Once you’ve picked a method to start eating clean, decide on which meal or food to change first. Or which shop you will do your shopping in from now on. Or which industrial food you’re going to replace by a cleaner one.
This one is a bit more difficult here as we’re not dealing with numbers or hard facts. But you can still set yourself targets and check against them. It could be sport-related since a healthy diet will improve your endurance and your energy. Or if you buddy-up (see Step 4), you can decide on the next common “challenge” to tackle. Or decide on the weight you’re aiming to get to.
Be realistic. Yes, some people have managed successfully to use the Great Purge method, radically changing their lifestyle. But I don’t know any who didn’t battle with it, and I’m pretty sure this “All or nothing” approach is the reason behind quite a few failures.
It takes time to make effective long-lasting changes. For a start, your body will detox, which can lead to a few uncomfortable days or weeks. The more gradual the changes, the shorter these will be.
You might also end up giving up on some of your favorite food. And they are so because their composition makes them so addictive. Think sugar-salt-fat, add a bit of MSG for the umami flavor, and you’ve got the perfect recipe for a food you just won’t be able to stop eating.
Clean eating will help you get rid of those cravings. But if you remove these highly processed foodstuffs all at once, you’re setting yourself up for junk food withdrawal symptoms. And for failure, if those become too strong.
If you decide to eat clean, focus on this. Eating clean and going vegan at the same might be just too much at once. Or eating clean and gluten-free.
The idea is to give your body (and the environment) a rest from added processes and additives. If you introduce too many changes at once, it might be more difficult to stick to your new habits. Give yourself a chance and make one change at a time.
Read my post about starting clean eating for ideas on how to introduce those changes.
Be realistic about how quickly you will manage to implement those changes. Once you’ve decided how you will transition to clean eating, think about how long each change, big or small, will take. Based on your life, your family, your work, etc.
But once you’ve set those timeframes, try and stick with them. Write them down somewhere. You’re more likely to stick to resolutions if they’re written down in your agenda.
Step 4 – Buddy up
We all know that it’s easier to stick with changes when you are part of a team. Why? Because the goals are set together, everybody works toward the same targets and this holds you accountable. It is particularly important when introducing major changes in your life.
There are bound to be times when you will feel tempted to fall off the wagon. And in those times, remembering that you are part of a team and that you’ll have to somehow “report” to them will make a difference.
Your clean eating team can be real and close to you, like family members or friends. This makes it easier to go shopping together, team up to trawl farmers’ markets and sample each other’s’ recipes.
But in this era of all things virtual, it can also be a Facebook group, an online challenge group or an app like MyFitnessPal. The main point is to be inspired by others, to be reminded of your goals, and to have to “report” regularly, through weigh-in or another progress report.
It’s also important to get regular reminders and feedback from others going in the same direction, facing the same difficulties and asking the same questions.
Step 5 – Get the Right Tools
Starting to eat clean by yourself can be daunting, especially if this is a new concept for you. So here are a few free apps to help you along (please note that, being an Android user, the links are for the Google Play store, but all these free apps are also available on iTunes for Apple users):
…is a great one to get started. It’s user-friendly and allows you to log in a meal in a couple of clicks. Plus, its food database, with over five million entries, is sure to contain just the one ingredient you’re eating or want to eat.
Although it’s more of a calorie-counter and diet-tracker, it’s easy, free, comprehensive and a great tool to check your nutrients. You can also easily link up with fellow buddies, exchange tips and follow each other’s progress.
…allows you to get healthy recipes based on dietary and taste preferences, and even shop online for them with Instacart.
You can select what’s currently in your fridge/pantry and get ideas of meals to do with it, based on your cooking skills, your personal taste preferences, and your dietary requirements.
…is a simple app that encourages you to introduce little healthy changes every day. It’s fun and easy, and it sends you reminders to drink more water or eat a fruit throughout the day. You can also use it to give you easy meal plans.
This app allows you to order healthy foods online at wholesale price. What’s not to love? If your local supermarket isn’t particularly well stocked up in healthy food, this could be your next best option.
…helps you decipher labels and tells you how good or bad a specific food is. It reads a barcode to access the info for that particular product, so it’s great for any packaged item you still need to buy. Or if you’re just starting and ponder how “clean” your standard shopping basket really is.
The Dirty Dozen app
…lets you know exactly which fresh produce you should by organic, and which ones are pretty much devoid of pesticides, even if grown traditionally. Not sure what I’m talking about? Read this post to find out more about the Dirty Dozen and the Clean 15.
Step 6 – Learn about clean eating food, shopping, cooking etc.
The prospect of switching from a highly processed diet to a cleaner one can be daunting. But if you take baby steps and understand the logic behind it all, it actually makes a lot of sense.
So stick around. Read up a lot about the ins and out of clean eating. SimplyGoClean is here to help you with just that.
Follow your Why.
This is an important step (see Step 1 above). You might want to lose weight, improve your general health, teach your kids how to eat cleaner food, save money on food or lower your environmental footprint. These are all valid goals.
Depending on your target, you might not approach clean eating in the same way. Lowering your footprint might involve eating more local and organic food and reducing packaging to its bare minimum as a priority. Whereas teaching your children to eat healthier will have you focus on finding tasty and easy recipes to satisfy their taste buds.
Figure out How.
Figure out what will work for you in your current situation. Then research this. Chances are, somebody else will have been in the same situation and will have found the answer. This is how Simply Go Clean was created, to pass on all the answers I came across. So keep on sharing, using the Comments section below.
Clean eating is not about eating plain food day in day out. It’s about discovering new ways to cook and taste whole natural ingredients. There are loads of delicious clean recipes out there, should you want to stick to your old favorites, or try out new flavors and textures.
You’ve thought about your SMART goals (see Step 3), and you’ve worked hard toward reaching them, whatever these might be. When you get there, be proud of it. Shout it out on your clean eating network (real or virtual). Take a minute to reflect on how hard or easy it was getting this far. On what you had to change. And how you changed it. This will help you plan your next move and reach your next target.
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Everybody’s clean eating journey is different because we’re all different. Feel free to share your journey or give us more tips on eating clean for beginners in the Comments below. They’re bound to be useful to someone else out there.
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