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One Small Change

8 Things You Need to Know About Eating Clean

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For the last month I’ve been trying to eat clean, which for me has meant avoiding processed foods with more than five ingredients. During this experiment I regularly swung from feeling noble (take that you unconscionable peddlers of trans fats and high fructose corn syrup) to feeling weak (I’ll give you ten bucks to smuggle me a cheesesteak). The final word on whether eating clean is something I recommend (and will be continuing) lies somewhere in between. Here’s an honest wrap-up of what I experienced, plus my advice if you decide to try what's shaping up as the next big eating trend:

1. It’s a whole new level of shopping.

If you normally spend an hour at the grocery store, get ready to nearly double that. This is no longer shopping; it’s research. I spent more time studying labels than a dry cleaner who misplaced his bifocals. But don’t get me wrong. That’s good. Most of us need to become more mindful of what we put in our mouths. This diet made me a more disciplined eater.

2. It’s a whole new level of spending.

Unfortunately, the more unprocessed the food, the higher its cost, which doesn’t make any sense to me. If you’re not applying chemicals to grow it, adding ingredients to enhance it, or trucking it in from thousands of miles away, shouldn’t it be cheaper? Not so. My weekly food bill jumped by 30 percent. Use the “10 Meals for $50” articles on this site to help keep your food bill low while eating clean.

3. The more support you have, the easier this is.

If you’re attempting to eat clean when everyone else in the house has a dirty diet, you’re going to be challenged and tempted (and ridiculed) even more. I wouldn’t have been able to stick with this eating plan if my wife hadn’t helped me shop, cook and be strong when holding a take-out menu. Make sure you have a support network.

4. Five ingredients or less is too strict.

This number was not arbitrary. That’s what Michael Pollan recommended in his book In Defense of Food. But trying to hit five or less caused me a lot of stress. A better rule is to buy processed foods with as few ingredients as possible. Then if some bread has 10 natural and recognizable ingredients, you don’t have to ignore it. It’s still clean. To me, that’s more practical.

5. It’s the only diet you need—really.

After all the eating fads we’ve been through, it’s encouraging to see that we’re finally moving toward an eating plan that’s simple and logical. So instead of getting hung up on percentages of carbs, fat and protein, just try to eat as cleanly as you can. By doing so, you’ll automatically eliminate cancer-causing chemicals and excess calories while boosting your intake of nutrients and fat-fighting fiber. To my way of thinking, eating clean is the end-all.

6. It’ll give you more energy.

I can’t say that a month of eating clean transformed me physically or psychologically. Since I wasn’t eating highly processed foods, which often contain more calories and are ingested mindlessly, I lost a few pounds. But the biggest difference was that I had more energy late in the day. That’s because clean foods have a lower glycemic index, which works to minimize mood swings and fatigue. I didn’t expect to experience that as much as I did.

7. The 80/20 Rule saves the day.

At Athletes’ Performance, this rule pervades all. Whether delivering advice on eating or working out, it always carries this caveat: If you can follow through 80 percent of the time, you’ll still enjoy significant benefits. This is just being realistic. There will be times when you’re out with friends, and you can't (or don’t want to) eat clean. Relax. Order the cheesesteak. There’s no need to be obsessive about this.

8. It could be the start of a life philosophy.

When it comes to declaring war on things that are overly processed, why stop at food? Perhaps we should strive to go to the source for everything. Head directly to the boss when work rumors fly. Talk with your spouse whenever you have doubts. Watch more independent films and listen to less Top 40 radio. Avoid chain restaurants and big-box stores. And, of course, never get all your news from Fox.

Here’s to not just eating clean but living clean as well. That’s what I’ll be doing.

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About The Author

Joe Kita – Joe Kita is a noted writer, editor, motivational speaker and teacher. He authors the blog "One Small Change" for CorePerformance.com.

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Tags: Health, Eating Out, Cooking, Food