What "clean" eating means in the real world

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This is the story of simplifying a very confusing subject while working long hours, training as often as possible and raising three kids under the age of seven.

Eating "clean" has long been a moving target for my wife and me. We are two very different people, with two different overall goals in mind – making this a difficult task to accomplish as a team. So we sat down and tried to make things as simple and unscientific as possible.

Determine potential "problem" foods

We read the books and listened to the podcasts on all facets of clean eating, from keto to carnivore to vegan. We tried to look for the factors they all had in common, and identified the following:

  • Grains: These foods can be very difficult for our body to break down, and they have been genetically modified, making them a foreign substance to our bodies.
  • Dairy: This is another product that can be very difficult for our body to break down, and potentially filled with dangerous hormones and antibiotics.
  • Refined sugar: This product can be addictive, and provides zero nutritional value.

Now, we found information that demonized essentially every food known to man, but those listed above where the ones that most agreed could pose a problem.

Determine our individual goals and requirements

My wife is naturally thin, and does not have any perceived food sensitivities. I am much bigger than her and have definite food allergies, including nuts and eggs.

Her goals were:

  • Lose the last of the baby weight and gain energy.
  • Generally feel better.
  • Increase longevity to be able to watch our children grow up.

My goals were:

  • Maintain my weight and strength at the gym.
  • Lose some of the recently added belly fat.
  • Eliminate chronic, daily headaches.
  • Eliminate the afternoon crash in my day.
  • Increase longevity to be able to watch our children grow up.

Eliminate potential "problem" foods

We went through the research on how to best accomplish this, and again found wildly varying viewpoints. So we tried to come up with a realistic plan that would work for us.

  • Eliminate all refined sugars, and foods that included refined sugars.
  • Eliminate all grains completely.
  • Eliminate all dairy completely.
  • Spend one full week this way and discuss any changes in how we felt.
  • Determine which eliminated foods we really did miss during this time frame.

This was the hard part, especially around the weekends and on the work days that I would spend on the road for the better part of the day. Thankfully, we realized early on that we had not properly prepared and did not have a wide enough variety of menu options established. We spent a few feverish hours online one day finding recipes that fit within our new plan, another scrambled hour at the grocery store gathering the necessary foods, and we were finally ready to go.

One week in

We both had similar results, similar thoughts and slightly different future plans.

Her results:

  • She lost 5 pounds in one week and felt less bloated.
  • Her energy improved throughout the day.
  • She enjoyed the process more than expected just knowing she was improving her health.
  • Her cravings for the worst of the eliminated foods significantly decreased as she felt better.
  • She enjoyed healthy food as much as she had previously enjoyed unhealthy food due to our expanded menu.
  • She was forced to eat more vegetables and fruit, and source more variety.

My results:

  • I lost 6 pounds in the first week, and definitely felt less bloated.
  • My energy improved throughout the day and was markedly improved in the morning.
  • After the initial two-day adjustment, I had zero headaches for the remainder of the week.
  • I was able to sustain my strength at the gym, even with the weight loss.
  • I also enjoyed healthy food as much as I had previously enjoyed unhealthy food due to our expanded menu.
  • I was also forced to eat more vegetables and fruit, which was long overdue.

Our thoughts and ongoing applications

After the first week was completed, we both indulged a bit during the playoffs. We realized very quickly that we went right back to the way we had always felt in the past. With this in mind, we sat down and established the following game plan:

  • The results from just one week were compelling enough to make a change.
  • Cravings for sugar and grain-based foods were reduced more by the day.
  • We are going to adhere to a 90/10 rule for the majority of our time, eating very strictly at least 90 percent of the time.
  • We are going to slowly add in some dairy items to see how we feel, making sure all dairy is from cage-free sources.
  • We are going to stay away from grains other than white rice for now, as we do not feel the need to re-introduce the removed options.
  • We have found plenty of "clean" dessert and snack options, minimizing the need to indulge severely.
  • We will continue to enjoy the "unhealthy" foods when we go out to eat with friends and family; we will just minimize the events. We now know how to clean up in the following days and return to feeling great quicker.

Now, on to cleaning up the food choices for our children. This ought to be fun.

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