What is clean eating? How to start eating clean? How to eat healthy? These are questions we’ve probably all asked ourselves at one point or another.
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OK first off: I don’t call my way of eating clean eating even though I often tick many boxes, because it sounds like there’s dirty eating. Also, it’s pretty much become a faddy diet, and if there’s anything I’m against, it’s diets!
I believe in food freedom, I believe in nourishing every aspect of my life, I believe in zero guilt around food and I believe in donuts. No, make that doughnuts because I like grammar and spelling 😉
If you’ve landed on this post because you actively want to be obsessive about your diet, then it’s time to click the back button. If you want to know how I stopped obsessing over food and how I live a happy and balanced life without ever stressing over what I eat… Read on 🙂
Because I believe in balance and guilt-free eating, always, I can’t throw a list of hard and fast rules I follow at you here. That’s not my place to do anyways.
Instead, these are 8 simple ideas about eating a balanced diet I always try to keep in mind to nourish both my body and my soul – and to keep myself free from compulsive thinking around food.
What is Clean Eating? Forget about the fad. Here is how we eat a balanced diet as a family:
1. We cook our own food
That’s the number one thing my husband and I talked about when we decided to get married and start a family: We want to cook from scratch, as often as we can, because that’s the kind of food that makes us feel good.
But you’re busy, I know. I’m busy too, and trust me, I know exactly what it’s like to cook with multiple tiny kids wheezing around. The struggle is real.
BUT we enjoy home cooked food a lot, so we make it a priority.
I know it’s not always possible and you want to go out and have a nice meal at a restaurant (and we definitely do these things fairly regularly, guilt-free).
Because I have come to love food so much, and because I want to celebrate that love in the kitchen, and because I enjoy it and because it is my business, I cook.
Do we eat at McDonalds sometimes? You bet. Do we buy frozen fish sticks? Sure do. The important thing is that we don’t beat ourselves up over it (because at the end of the day, I’ve come to believe there’s nothing to beat myself up over, anyways), but just continue on with our next meal when we’re hungry again.
2. We eat a rainbow (almost) every day
And by rainbow I do not mean a unicorn milkshake. Sorry, unicorns.
We try to make fruit and vegetables a part of our diet every day because they make us feel good. It definitely doesn’t happen with every meal (did I mention I have three little kids? 🙈), but we try to eat as many different colors over the course of a week or so as we can.
PS: When I recovered from disordered eating, I didn’t touch much fruit or veg for months because for the longes time, I focussed on eating nothing but low-energy fruit and vegetables and needed to get out of that mindset. Now I happily eat them in abundance, but I also eat ice cream without fear. So…
3. I buy ingredients that excite me
I buy ingredients to nourish both my body and my soul. Everything we buy and eat are things we enjoy eating.
Fresh fruit and veggies – anything and everything we like! We also enjoy starchy veggies like potatoes, sweet potatoes etc., but we do treat them as a starchy side vs as a vegetable.
Grains like different rices, oats, quinoa, rye flour and wheat products (GASP!). We don’t avoid wheat at all, but we like to eat a variety of grains over the course of a week vs eating mostly wheat. Otherwise it gets pretty boring.
Legumes like kidney beans, black beans, chickpeas and lentils.
Proteins like chicken, turkey, pork, beef, fish, seafood. We practice moderation and enjoy a few vegetarian meals and keep meat portions smaller instead of loading up on meat and fish three times per day. This is mainly an ethical choice, though. But I could never give up animal proteins completely, my body goes into full-on rebellion every time I try.
We eat dairy products, too. Most of our dairy consumption comes from Greek yogurt or cheese.
Healthy fats: Unsalted nuts and seeds, such as cashews, almonds, walnuts, sunflower seeds or sesame. Extra virgin olive oil. We also use organic grass-fed butter, because I prefer it over any margarine. We don’t use things like coconut oil etc often, because it comes from places so far away, and I prefer local and more sustainable alternatives my grandparents already knew and cooked with.
Highly processed food: Yes, we buy and eat highly processed food. Every week. It’s not the bulk of our diet, but it’s a regular occurrence. It’s stuff we enjoy (real ice cream!) or stuff that makes our life easier (Annie’s Homegrown Bunnies for kiddie snacks!) and that’s what my balance is all about.
4. We don’t replace our refined food choices, but add variety with more natural foods.
I don’t believe in full-on restriction for us (because we don’t have any food allergies etc). But I believe in using a variety of different foods.
Instead of only having refined white sugar, we also buy pure maple syrup and honey. I consider naturally sweetened desserts still desserts.
Some things I make with whole wheat flour, other things I make with white flour. I would never consider making a healthy whole wheat birthday cake for my kids – celebrations are not for worrying about unrefined food, if you ask me.
If I want to eat dessert, I want the real thing. And then move on with my day without overthinking everything seventy times!
5. I generally don’t read nutrition labels.
I don’t read them because they mess with my head and drive me crazy!
I’m a firm believer in the 80/20 rule, if I cook my own food from scratch 80% of the time with ingredients I easily recognize, then I don’t care if I don’t read nutrition labels the remaining 20% of the time 😉
Of course this only applies to me, and everyone is free to read as many nutrition labels as they want. But if it drives you crazy, then maybe think about the fact WHY it’s driving you crazy?
6. I hydrate regularly
You know it, you know you have to drink water to stay hydrated.
But it’s SO easy to forget. I know I will never forget to make my morning coffee, ha!
But drinking water all throughout the day? Between work, toddler tantrums, baby cries and a house that always seems to bring itself in disorder, I forget to take care of myself. Sounds familiar?
If you have trouble putting yourself and your health first, think of it this way: Who’s going to keep everything running if YOU don’t keep on running?
I try to stay hydrated throughout the day versus chugging a ton of water right before bed because I “have to”. I always feel foggy in my head and get snappy when I dehydrate, and drinking too much at bedtime keeps me from having a good nights’ sleep.
P.S: That’s delicious Basil Peach Agua Fresca in the pic!
7. I eat when I’m hungry!
I used to be hyper-focussed on when my next meal would take place, because I was constantly under-fed.
Now I eat whenever I’m hungry, and because my body is well-fed I can pretty accurately get hunger signals. But it’s definitely something I had to learn!
What generally helps me with staying fueled:
- I have regular meal times for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and I’m usually hungry when those times roll around
- I snack in between meals when I get hungry, especially when I’m nursing a baby – and my kiddos need regular snacks, too!
- I keep myself from feeling guilty when I need a snack an hour after a main meal – some days just require more energy than others, and sometimes I can’t figure out why, but my body knows
8. I try to enjoy food!
I wouldn’t be happy and balanced if I didn’t enjoy my food!
This should really be my number one principle here. If we don’t enjoy what we’re eating, life gets pretty dull and stupid, if we’re being honest.
Embrace your changes. Involve the whole family in your food prep. Buy a new veggie every time you go grocery shopping.
Whatever it takes, find true happiness in the way you eat!