People often tell me that they are interested in eating clean for lots of reasons, but that they are having trouble actually starting or taking the first step. Sometimes they don’t even know what that first step is. To think about making a complete 180 degree change in the way you eat is overwhelming and the process can be intimidating, especially when you feel like you have a lifetime of “bad” habits to overcome and a demanding schedule. Also, there are many definitions floating out there about what constitutes “clean eating.” In my own lifestyle, I define clean eating as choosing minimally processed, whole foods (heavy on the plants), organic when possible, and staying away from heavily processed restaurant food.
Here are some simple tips if you’re interested in transitioning to clean eating, but have found yourself blocked by the idea of getting started.
1. Start small.
While it might feel cliché to say that the journey of a thousand miles starts with one step, it’s 100% truth. Look at what you are eating now. Do you have a soda addiction? Are you constantly going through the drive-thru for dinner? Do you rely on microwaveable, TV-dinner type meals? Choose just one of those areas to focus on. Reducing your consumption even by a small amount is a great first step to eliminating it all together. For most people, going cold turkey is unrealistic for long-term success. In the case of being hooked on soda, try reducing your consumption during the first week by 20%. Or stop ordering soda when you’re at a restaurant and choose water or plain tea instead. When you are comfortable at that level, keep going.
2. Have an arsenal of recipes.
You won’t be able to sustain any kind of lifestyle change if you aren’t eating things you like. Think about the foods you really enjoy and look for recipes that fit in that category. Find some go-to websites or cookbooks where you can easily locate a recipe, especially when a craving strikes. When I have a craving for Chinese takeout, I know where to look for a homemade knock-off recipe that satisfies the craving without all of the extra chemicals and added salt, sugar and fat. I print out recipes that interest me and put them in a three-ring binder that serves as my own homemade cookbook – that way I don’t have to dig around online when I really need something. We’ve also invested in some physical cookbooks that I consider our workhorses. For some clean eating resources, check out this post.
3. Stock your pantry, including your freezer.
We’ve all had nights where your best laid plans for dinner fall through. Maybe you get home from work late or you sat in traffic for an hour and can’t deal with the idea of cooking. If you keep your pantry stocked with basic items, you can throw together an incredibly quick meal. When you make a great chili or soup in the crock pot, freeze half of it for those nights when your plans just don’t work out. It will take you less time to reheat frozen chili than it will to swing through a drive-thru or call for takeout. (Your stomach AND wallet will thank you.)
4. Don’t beat yourself up.
You can’t go from a diet heavy in processed foods and junk to a clean, wholesome diet overnight. Your body almost has to detox from the things it comes to rely on and that it craves. Even when you’re committed, you’re going to have areas that aren’t perfect or that are harder to give up than you thought. Just accept that there will be bumps in the road from the get-go and let them just be bumps – not off-ramps.
If you’re eating clean, what got you motivated to start? How have you kept with it?