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In a previous article, I gave some information about eating clean. I explained a little about what clean eating is and why you might want to give it a try. But once you’ve decided to try out the clean eating lifestyle, how do you make the change?
It can be difficult to change from the Standard American Diet (SAD) to clean eating, but it’s definitely not impossible! And in my opinion, it’s definitely worth the effort.
Here are a few steps you can take to help yourself and your family make the transition to clean eating. Don’t try to make all of these changes at once. Choose one or two things from the list, and make those changes this week. Make another change next week. Keep going until you’ve made the transition.
- An easy step to take is to simply drink more water. I live in the South, and we love our sweet tea! I didn’t completely cut sweet tea out, but I did cut way back on it and decide to drink water 90% of the time and have sweet tea as an occasional treat. It took me several weeks to get over my craving for sweet tea, but I finally overcame it and got used to drinking water most of the time instead.
- Instead of starting by cutting out fake foods and junk foods, begin by adding real foods. If your family members are used to eating a lot of fake foods (like chips, crackers, candy, and other highly processed foods), don’t take them all away at once! It might be better to add in some real foods for snacks and during meals first and then begin to phase out the fake foods.
- If your family loves a particular kind of food, try to find real food options as substitutes instead of cutting out their favorites. If your family loves meat, start having meat from grass-fed cows or free-range chickens. If they enjoy fruits or veggies, start buying locally grown produce or organic produce from your local grocery store. If you can’t afford organic, just buy fresh fruits and veggies as often as possible and use frozen if you have to. Look for the ones that don’t have added sugar or salt. If they like rice, start adding in some brown rice (not the instant kind) with the white rice until you eventually use all brown rice and no white.
- If you have to have some junk food/processed food, look for the ones with the fewest ingredients and those that include 100% whole grains. If you don’t think you or your family can give up junk foods or highly processed foods all at once, read the labels and buy the ones with the fewest ingredients and the ones that include 100% whole grains. These may not be healthy choices, but they’re still better than highly processed foods with a long list of ingredients.
- Start cooking more and eating out less. It’s much easier to eat clean at home than it is at a restaurant. And it can be nearly impossible to eat clean at a fast food restaurant! Clean eating requires more effort and less convenience food, but it’s worth it! Just plan ahead to make it much easier to stick with it! You don’t have to give up eating out altogether. Just cut out a few fast food or restaurant meals a month (or a week) as you slowly move toward your goal of eating clean.
- Cut down on sugar. Start eating foods, like fresh fruits, that don’t have added sugars. You can eventually move to eating unsweetened yogurt (to which you can add 100% real fruit or some raw honey) and baking your own cookies and cakes (as occasional treats) using raw honey or real maple syrup.
- If you can, grow (or buy) fresh herbs and spices to make your food more flavorful. It’s much easier to avoid sugar, excess salt, and other unhealthy food additives when your food tastes great without them! For example, I mentioned that it was hard for me to give up sweet tea. When I make my tea with fresh mint from my herb garden, though, I don’t miss the sugar nearly as much! When I make homemade spaghetti sauce with fresh oregano and basil from my herb garden, I need much less salt.
- Use fresh substitutes when possible. It’s much easier for my family to go without extra salt and sugar (to cut down on the acid) in my homemade spaghetti sauce when I add in some cooked mashed carrots to the sauce. They don’t know the carrots are in there, and it makes the sauce flavorful and a little bit sweet. Other substitutes are even easier—like butter from pasture fed cows instead of more processed butter from the local grocery store.
- Allow yourself and your family to cheat now and then. Forming new habits is difficult, so you don’t want to cheat all the time. If you cheat on a daily basis, you’ll never form the new habit of eating clean. If you want to allow your family to have a sweet snack or favorite processed food once a week, for example, that’s ok! In my opinion, it’s better to eat clean 6 days a week and cheat one day a week than not to eat clean at all! If one cheat day helps me stay clean the rest of the week, I’m good with that.
- If you mess up, give yourself grace! Especially in the beginning, give yourself some grace if you mess up and eat junk food or sweets when you hadn’t intended on it. I’ve found that the longer I eat clean, the less I want to cheat. I feel so much better when I eat clean that cheating has lost some of its appeal because I know how it will make me feel.
The main thing to remember is that even tiny little steps toward clean eating mean you are making progress! It’s better to make slow progress and little changes than to give up before you even get started. You can do it! Just allow yourself to go at whatever pace you can handle so you don’t get overwhelmed or discouraged, make a plan, and enjoy your progress!
Do you eat clean or are you planning to start? What ideas and tips do you have to share?