Nothing makes me more sad now than to see friends get on a nutrition/health kick BUT announce it by saying things like “I’m going to get back on track and lose this extra weight! Time to break free from sugar and carbs and bread and pasta and cake and candy and cookies and bagels and ice cream and… and… and everything else that once made my tastebuds happy! I’m going to EAT CLEAN!!!”
For a brief moment (sometimes a few days, sometimes a couple of weeks, and sometimes even a whole month), they claim how wonderful they feel, how much energy they have, how 5-10 pounds melted off their bodies, and how happy they are with their new diet. However, 99.99999% of the time these same people will eventually: A. fall off the new wagon, “cheat” (I HATE this term but thats a story for another day) on their new fabulous diet and perhaps even go on an all out binge and/or B. they realize that depriving themselves of ALL the food they once loved is simply not the way to live so they give up, resort back to their old ways and habits, and that 5-10 pounds of melted off weight comes back (and probably more).
These people miss being able to enjoy normal meals & food with their family and friends (because 9 times out of 10, those around them aren’t being forced to eat the exact same way). They struggle daily (even hourly) to stay on track. They are constantly tempted by “off limit” foods. They begin to view food as “bad” or “good”. Foods they loved their entire lives’ are now absolutely forbidden to eat. And most importantly, they realize that this new lifestyle is not sustainable for them: long term. They may have started with good intentions to make create healthy PERMANENT habits, but I have seen VERY VERY VERY few friends who stuck to it for longer than 3-6 months. Maybe like one friend, if that.
If you have spent time reading my older posts or “about me”, you will know that I am no longer a “clean eater” but take a more “flexible” approach to my diet/eating. When I first started my own journey almost two years ago, I was under the impression that the ONLY way to achieve the body I wanted (at the time) was to label every single food that existed as “good” or “bad”. If it wasn’t a “whole food” or packaged item that contained less than 5 ingredients that I had to be able to pronounce, organic, and non GMO, I wouldn’t go near it and I certainly wouldn’t put that “garbage” in my body. After all, I had goals right? Can’t reach goals eating crap every day. Like I have said before, I was a total food Nazi and in a very short time, developed a relationship with food that was extremely disordered. I looked down on people who didn’t eat the same way as me and God forbid they purchased or ate food that was from a box? Oh, they certainly were not serious about their health and on the same “level” as me. I felt a certain level of superiority to those who didn’t eat as “clean” as I did and at the time.
Dear God, what in the world was wrong with me?
Even just thinking back to those times and how I viewed nutrition makes me cringe. I feel guilty for making my family feel bad for things they ate and for lecturing them on the importance of ALWAYS and ONLY eating “whole food”. It’s one thing to CHOOSE to eat a certain way (“clean”, Paleo, vegan, keto, etc.) because you truly love it, do it for ethical principles/ideologies, AND can see yourself eating that way for the rest of your life, but another thing entirely when you struggle sticking to it on a daily basis. It doesn’t help resenting “have” to eat that way either.
After 5-6 months of not eating a single solitary “bad” food, I for one was over it and began to resent people who were able to eat and not have anxiety about the food they were putting in their body. Coincidentally, I also began to see that my body was in a plateau and despite my attempts to eat “cleaner”, changes to my physique were not reflecting any of my extra “clean” efforts. So basically, I hated how I viewed food, I was tired of forcing myself to eat a certain way, I desperately wanted to eat a regular sugar filled, gluten filled, butter filled processed cookie (and cake and pizza and any bread that was NOT Ezekiel bread) AND I stopped seeing any progress. I certainly didn’t feel any better physically/mentally either so what the heck was the point? I was making myself crazy for nothing. Sure, eating “healthy” is needed for long term well being, but mental well being is just as important and I certainly wasn’t healthy in my head at the time.
That’s when I changed my entire outlook surrounding food and nutrition. I began to count my macros and opened up my mind and body to eating ANY and all foods I wanted (in moderation of course). I remember the day I made the decision, 18 months ago to be exact. I had gone to Costco with my husband and we got all of our usual house staples, BUT I also saw their new pretzel buns in the bakery section out of the corner of my eye (something that I wouldn’t previously allow him or the kids to buy because they were “processed”, “unclean” and contained gluten after all). I decided to grab a bag. My husband looked at me totally shocked, looked at me as if I had put explosives in the cart. When I thew them in, he asked “Who are those for?” With a BIG smile on my face, I replied “US”. Puzzled at first, he smiled back. It was almost as if he was thinking “Thank God, my wife is back!”
Cereal AND store bought, “unclean”, gluten filled pretzel buns in the same meal? Hell had frozen over BUT I swear it was the most delicious lunch I had in a long time. All I could think to myself was “Why oh why had I deprived myself for so long?” From that day on, I began to slowly incorporate ALL of the foods I wanted/craved and haven’t looked back since. I saw drastic improvement in my mental well being, I no longer had a fear of any foods, I stopped lecturing everyone around me about the importance of ALWAYS eating a certain way, and I fell back in love with my fitness journey. All that being said though, back to my original question…
“If I could go back, would I skip eating “clean”?
Corina, you just spent more than 1/2 of this blog post saying how horrible life was when you were a clean eater and how sunshine and rainbows miraculously appeared when you started incorporating a more flexible approach to nutrition.
Let me explain…
Although things weren’t fun and roses towards the end of that phase (nor would I EVER go back to it), when I look back there are MANY things I took away from “clean eating” that I find absolutely invaluable. Things that I still incorporate every single day when I eat, plan my meals, grocery shop, or am in the kitchen baking/cooking for myself and my family. I learned SO much during that phase of my journey about nutrition in general that I certainly do not regret AND would not have been made aware of otherwise.
Here are some of things I can think of at the moment…
1. There was no doubt that I was eating SO many more fruits and vegetables every single day (something I did very little of my whole life). I actually developed a LOVE for veggies, even ones I truly despised as a child like mushrooms! Now, I eat them EVERY day. Same goes for cauliflower. Never had it up until those clean eating days and now I buy and eat it at least once a week. I honestly crave fresh vegetables all day long now and eat them with EVERY meal.
2. I learned to look closer at nutrition labels, ingredient lists, and what I was putting in my body. Although I personally don’t freak out about eating things from a package anymore, I do know that they should be somewhat limited. I much rather stock my body up with mainly whole, unprocessed foods anyways. I just feel better eating that way BUT not being AFRAID to eat things like store bought cereal is key (for me) now.
3. Through my restricted eating, I was able to determine foods and ingredients that upset my stomach, something I struggled with my whole life. Now I know exactly what triggers stomach aches, pain, gas, bloating, etc. Splenda and certain artificial sweeteners KILL my stomach. Certain dairy products hurt my tummy and cause major bloating (if I take a Lactase pill I’m fine though). Whey only protein and I do not sit well together whatsoever. I would not have been able to realize any of this without having a limited diet.
4. I learned how to volume eat= maximizing the amount of food you are eating in a meal or snack by adding in certain ingredients like vegetables! This is HUGE when you are dieting. I talk about it a lot on my Instagram and on recipes here on my blog. I mean really… who doesn’t want the ability to eat MORE without sacrificing the calories elsewhere? No brainer there.
And most importantly…
5. Eating “clean” opened my eyes to a whole new world of food/s and ingredients I wasn’t previously aware of. I would have never tried certain ingredients in the past, let alone incorporate them into my cooking/baking. Prior to “clean eating”, I was always scared to try new things. When you are forced to eat in a fairly limited capacity, you have to get a bit more creative to make food interesting and fun. I discovered that for nearly every single less nutrient dense ingredient there was a much “healthier” option that could be used. This is big when it comes to my recipe development and eating in general. I make a very conscious decision when I prepare food to have nearly all “healthy” stuff included!
So, even with just this small handful of things I learned from my clean eating days, it was a phase I was happy to go through. At the time, I know I needed to get on track and clean up my diet a bit. Going from eating everything out of a box to not eating anything packaged was a HUGE change and unfortunately, I chose to go all in 100% and 100% of the time for almost half a year. Going to ANY extremes is never good a good idea and more than likely will come back to slap you in your face. That’s exactly what diving into the pool did for me anyways.
While I don’t regret my clean eating days per se, if I could go back 2 years, I would take a much more realistic and sustainable approach. The 80/20, 85/15, or even 90/10 rule is where its at! Eat a wide variety of foods every day! Incorporate a ton of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains BUT don’t ever be afraid to enjoy that new flavor of Oreo’s either or enjoy a meal out with your family & friends!!!
Life… and food should be enjoyed ALWAYS!!! As you can see from my Intsagram feed HERE, I enjoy tons and tons of it 🙂