Eating "clean" isn't nearly as complicated as you might think, but with all the different points of views and approaches 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, and 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!
Here, I'm breaking the whole "eating clean" thing down to five simple steps. Where would you say you fall in the process? Still researching? Feeling lost? Making changes and feeling the difference in your life? Wherever you are, I hope you'll find something helpful here. Remember, it's not a race. It's a journey, and 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 experience 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 certainly 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 the non-fat options at the grocery store, and popping "magic weight-loss 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 favorites are The Omnivore's Dilemma, Keep It Simple, Keep It Whole, and UnDiet. If you haven't read these, I assure you, they will shed new light on old "truths".
Having experienced what felt like was my own "health miracle", I wanted expert guidance, to deepen my understanding of nutrition, and felt a very clear calling to help others 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 "bio-individuality", that what works wonderfully for one person may 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 every step of the way. There's 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 begin to feel like there's a lot in your fridge and pantry (and perhaps hiding under the bed or in the piano bench?) 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 documentaries together!), family member, or coach. But, I promise you, this is a critical and crucial part of the process of getting you feeling amazing again. You must must must get rid of the bad if you wish you bring on the good. (And I know you do!) If it hurts too much to throw it away, considering donating it. 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 that 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. Processed anything, really, should go! What you want left over is, quite simply, food. Real food. (Not the creations of the food "industry", not those long ingredient lists of unrecognizable items, and definitely not
3 - Replace it with good stuff.
Here's where all the real food comes in!
And the produce department of the grocery story becomes your favorite place! 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 will help you choose the cleanest foods while also being budget conscious. Grab your copy here! Shopping the perimeter of the grocery story is another good guideline. (Skip all the processed stuff in the middle spaces.)
A couple of my favorite rules of thumb from Michael Pollan (and your great-grandma) that I like to use are: Eat food. Mostly plants. Not too much, and Rule No. 19 from his fabulous (and highly recommended) book, Food Rules: 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're interested in learning more about conscious "clean" farming, check out the work of Joel Salatin.
And if you're looking for another excellent guide to help you identify the crap (and get rid of it), check out Meghan Telpner's easy-to-understand and super inspiring take-back-your-life book UnDiet. You will love it!
4 - Eat the good stuff.
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 felt comfortable in the kitchen, until I found Meghan Telpner and the Academy of Culinary Nutrition!
Mind = Blown!
I learned that delicious, nourishing, healing food can (and must) taste mouth-wateringly delicious! And I learned that even Icould make amazing food! (This shocked me, I tell ya!) I started by watching her free videos, reading her blogs, and experimenting with some of her recipes (which are, to this day, my favorites to recommend to clients, friends, and family!).
If you're not used to cooking with lots 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 both delicious and nutritious for you and your family!
I've got a bunch of recipes here! A couple other favorites are Rachel's Nourishing Kitchen, Green Kitchen Stories, and Sondi Bruner. Oh, and definitely take a few minutes to browse 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, organic), make it delicious, and eat it!
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 encouraging, supportive, 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. And you're going to want to have someone to turn to when you're looking for that amazing recipe for rainbow chard, or your husband isn't exactly thrilled about your newfound plantiful ways, or you're wondering if that new "all natural" sweetener is really all it says it is.
Why? Because this is 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 know it can do the same for you.
Katie Hussong is a Baltimore-based Registered Nurse turned Holistic Health Coach and Culinary Nutrition Expert. Certified by the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, American Association of Drugless Practitioners, and Academy of Culinary Nutrition, Katie is a firm believer in the transformative power of all things natural, from vibrant, nourishing food to living a life of passion and purpose. Through her writing, coaching, and classes, she offers a healing hand and loving heart to help stressed out folks get healthy, naturally. Connect with her on Facebook and Instagram, and sign up here to keep in touch as she explores good food, mindful living, and the power of gratitude throughout the year.