Why Clean Eating Should Be Your First Step To Getting Strong And Lean For Women Over 40
About 3 years ago, I had a wake up call about my body and realized I needed to make some major changes or I would not be here for my kids. Let me give you some background. I used to be pretty active in high school and college – I was on my high school rowing team, I ran track my freshman year in college, and became a group fitness instructor in grad school. Exercise has always been a part of my life. Healthy eating, not so much :> I would eat well and then “fall off the wagon” several times. Things all came to a crashing halt, though, after a routine day of exercise.
I couldn’t move. I did my regular cardio and weight routine at home and then about 2 hours later I was in bed with a low grade fever, aching joints, and basically felt like I had the flu. This pretty much happened every time I would try to exercise, even if it was just a simple walk around the neighborhood.
So I stopped exercising. Unfortunately exercise helped keep my chronic anxiety and mild depression away and helped me to be a sometimes better eater.
So when I stopped exercising, I was miserable and if I asked my family, I’m sure they would say I made them miserable as well.
So after about 6 months of staying in bed and not wanting to go anywhere or do anything with my kids, I decided to make some changes.
I had tried to make changes to my diet and exercise before with Weight Watchers, Atkins, South Beach, Whole 30, etc. You name it and I tried it. The problem was that I am not a crash course, dive right in kind of girl, and it was hard to maintain in gains I made with my personality. Not to mention trying to change the habits of my 3 kids and husband as well.
So I decided on 2 things:
1. I would only try to change myself.
2. I would make one small change at a time
And so began my journey into habit change and clean eating. After many classes and certifications, I started with what many experts say is the best way to permanently lose weight and improve your health:
Start small and clean up your diet.
And that is how my journey to clean eating and exercise began. I am now back to exercising 30 – 60 mins, 4-5 times a day, on average. Some weeks I do nothing, some, I’m lucky if I squeeze in 15 mins. But I listen to my body and work if I’m in a good place mentally and physically and stop when I need to take a break.
It’s not easy and I definitely don’t look like a fitness model, but I feel better and love what I do.
And I want that for you. I believe in you and that you can get to a healthier lifestyle. I want to make it simple for you and not overwhelming. I hope this guide will help you do that.
So I hope this guide will help you get started with one of the steps that I took – clean eating. On with the show….
What Exactly Is Clean Eating (i.e. Isn’t This Just Another Diet?)
- Eating clean is not a diet – it’s a way of life
- Eating clean is generally part of a diet program- paleo, ketogenic, Atkins, Weight Watchers, DASH, Mediterranean – all of these diets use clean foods as their foundation
- All you need for a clean eating meal is a healthy protein, vegetables, and a healthy fat. This can be as simple as half an avocado and some grilled chicken on a bed of greens.
- clean eating is eating food in its most natural state. It comes from the ground or a plant (fruits, veggies, oils, oats, rice, quinoa, etc), it eats from the ground (cows, chickens, pigs, etc). Yes, oils and some fats like dairy are listed in clean foods as they are minimally processed.
- It’s a scale – some minimally processed foods (dairy, oils) and everything else has just one ingredient to fully organic and self – sustaining farm. Choose your level!
- foods with the least amount of ingredients possible. Earth grown foods are best!
- aim to eliminate processed foods from our diets, and foods with added chemicals and artificial colors and sweeteners.
- Organic doesn’t mean clean (organic gummy bears and chips, anyone?)
- Minimally processed and as close to nature as possible
- Free from additives, colorings, flavorings, sweeteners, and hormones.
- Some sweeteners are ok – again, it depends on how far you go on the spectrum – honey, stevia, maple syrup are good but white sugar and other artificial sweeteners are not
Why Should You Eat Clean
- You could lose weight (you can lose up to 4-5 lbs around the WAIST!)
- You will feel satisfied & ditch the cravings
- You will sleep better and have more energy
- You will increase your fitness levels
- You can strengthen your immune system
- You can reduce inflammation
- You will have great skin
- We are what we eat – it makes up our cell membranes, bone marrow, blood, and hormones. We lose billions of cells each day that must be replaced. – reference
- You will eat less calories. Clean foods have more fiber and water to help you stay and feel fuller for a longer period of time.
How To Get Started With Clean Eating
- Slowly change your diet – change one food or one meal at a time or jumpstart with a clean eating challenge. After the challenge, modify it to meet your lifestyle one meal at a time.
- Shop the perimeter of the store
- See where your at on the clean eating spectrum and start making better choices.
- Ex – “I don’t normally eat breakfast” – make a smoothie, overnight oats in a jar, or toast with peanut butter and a banana on top will work
- Ex – “I eat fast food in the car or at my desk” – make a food swap each time you eat out – water for soda, a side salad for french fries, a small hamburger instead of a large one
Tips For Success With Eating Cleaning and Getting Lean
What To Buy in the Grocery Store
- Buy foods with less than 5 ingredients
- Buy foods that use ingredients that you use at home
- Buy foods that have ingredients you can pronounce
- Buy organic as much as possible – I have a love/hate relationship with organic farming. It’s a great idea in theory but as a farmer I know it’s, one, hard to sustain, and two, there are a lot of loopholes that organic farmers can use to claim “organic” products but still use non-organic chemicals on their crops and animals. The best bet is grow it yourself. If you can’t do that then go to a farmer’s market, food co-op, or small local farm to buy your food. If you can’t do that then get what you can, within your budget, at the supermarket.
How To Lose Weight Fast With Clean Eating
- Here are the facts on weight-loss and why diets do not work:
- 50% of Americans are trying to lose weight
- Two-thirds who lose weight on diets gain it back within 3 years
- 5% of crash dieters keep the weight off
- Portion control instead of counting calories
- Food labels aren’t always accurate – reference
- It’s creates too much stress
- Intuitive eating is better – follow your hunger signals instead – reference
- Eat on smaller plates and use smaller spoons.
- Get a multivitamin
- Get a probiotic (I like Align)
- Eat refined carbohydrates like bread, white rice, and pasta with some protein. The protein will help the carbohydrates take longer to digest.
- Eat up to 3 servings a day of whole grains and limit fruit to 2 servings a day.
- Eat more fiber filled carbohydrates like legumes (beans, chickpeas). These will keep you fuller longer.
- Move your body as much as possible or choose an exercise that you enjoy. Take the stairs, park far away, chase your kids, clean your house, etc.
- Make most of your meals/plate at least 50% plants and vegetables.
- Distract yourself from any cravings. Take a walk, watch a funny cat video, listen to some upbeat music. After 15 minutes, if you still have the craving, have a small portion of what you are craving or a healthier alternative. For example, if you are craving chocolate then have the 70% or more cocoa bar instead of the standard candy bar. Or I set aside one serving of a treat each night (my favorites are Lily’s chocolate or Lindt’s dark chocolate truffle balls).
- Read the food label.
- Start cleaning out your pantry and find a clean substitute for your favorite processed pantry food (more below). You can do this slowly or “Marie Kondo” it and clean everything out at once. Do what fits your personality and home the best. I personally find that slower is better with my family. It’s going to be hard enough to change yourself, trying to change your family at the same time can make life (and clean eating) unbearable.
- Cook more meals at home
- Follow the 80/20 or 90/10 rule – 80% of your meals/food are “clean” and 20% are for times when you can’t get access to a “clean” choice.
- Veggies are the new and improved comfort food! They are high in heart healthy fiber, which helps you feel full. They are low in calories, so you can eat away, without guilt! 2.5-3 cups are recommended each day for adults. Add veggies to your morning omelette to increase your daily dose of veggies.
- Benefits of veggies:
- vitamin dense
- veggie rich diet helps protect against arthritis, heart disease, stroke, dementia, cancer, and can even slow down the aging process
- veggies contain nutrients that improve resilience to stress
- Lay off the sugar – The American Heart Association recommends no more than 6 teaspoons of sugar daily for women. Eat fruit instead. Eat 1.5 – 2 cups per day. Choose whole fruit over fruit juice as the fruit has fiber.
- Go for whole grains like quinoa, oats, and brown rice. Studies show people who eat 3 or more servings of whole grains daily have a lower body mass index and less belly fat.
- Here are some meal prepping tips that I personally use on a weekly basis.
- cut/season meat, label baggies by date and meal
- smoothie bags – these are amazing! Throw your fruit into baggies, label with date, and freeze
- wash/chop/portion produce
- prep/portion your snacks, throw into baggies, and label
- lettuce – cut, wash, spin dry – store in a baggie in fridge with paper towel to keep fresh
How To Eat Clean on a Budget
Buying bulk may save you money – reference (what clean foods are cheaper in bulk)
- Make a menu and a list
- Have a healthy snack before shopping
- Not everything has to be “clean” – get the best choice for your buck.
Easy Substitutions For Your Favorite Processed Foods
- Fruit Seltzer or fruit infused water instead of soda – you’ll cut out 39 grams of sugar
- Sprouted breads and tortillas instead of regular bread – they are packed with more nutrients and can be easier to digest than regular bread
- Avocado for mayonnaise – Avocado has more nutrients and less fat than mayonnaise
- Cacao Nibs and powder for chocolate – it has micronutrients, can lower your cholesterol, and make you happier
- Brown rice, cauliflower rice, or quinoa for white rice — brown rice because it is the whole grain unlike white rice, quinoa because it has more nutrients and is a complete protein, cauliflower because it is nutrient-dense as well, is low- carb, and is high in fiber
- Spiralized vegetable noodles for boxed noodles and pasta – They are nutrient-dense, low carb, and low calorie(so you can eat more!)
- Beans for meat – it helps the climate, and they are low fat and high fiber
Kitchen Essentials For Clean Eating
- instant pot/crockpot
- Food processor
- Measuring cups
- Food Scale
- Mason Jars
- Portion control containers, plates, to go containers
- Food chopper
- Mandolin slicer
- Zester and grater
- Cast iron pans
- Dutch ovens
- Salad spinner
- Cutting boards (one dedicated to raw meat, and one for veggies/other foods)
Clean Eating Away From Home
Snacks To Take With You
- Berries or other fruit
- Apples or apple chips
- Kale chips
- Flax crackers with guacamole
- Yogurt or kefir with cinnamon
- A smoothie
- A green juice
- A handful of raw seeds or nuts
- An apple with tahini or sunflower seed butter
- Veggies and a dip (hummus, nut butter, or guacamole)
- Check the menu before you go so you can plan your meal ahead
- Do a search online for “Clean Eating in _________” Just fill in the blank for your area
- Ask for water with lemon
- Hold the dips, dressings and sauces or have them on the side
- Ask for an order (or two) of steamed vegetables
- Go al la carte and choose a clean protein, vegetables, and a healthy fat
- Opt for grilled, baked or broiled meats and fish instead of fried
- Choose whole grain options like quinoa, brown rice and sweet potatoes instead bread, rice or white potatoes
- Salad bars are perfect for building a clean meal on your own
- Feeling like a burger? Hold the bun and ask for lettuce instead
- Choose lean cuts when eating meat
- Don’t fall for portion distortion – take home the extras or share a meal
- Don’t be too shy to ask for special orders – remember…you are the customer!
How to Eat Clean With Kids
- Slowly make changes to your favorite recipes or processed foods.
- Remember the 80/20 rule. Let them have some of their favorite processed foods on occasion.
- If you find that you end up binge/stress eating a particular food and you are allowing your family to keep it, then ask them to hide it from you. Tell them if found then it will be trashed.
- Make eating out or eating processed food a treat or family event, like take a walk to your favorite restaurant or ice cream shop. One of my favorite things to do with my kids is go on a “date” once a week and take them for a treat or snack to their favorite restaurant or coffee shop. I take them individually and it gives me a chance to spend some one on one time with each of them.
- Change yourself first. I started with just changing my diet then started to find substitutes and changes for their favorite meals.
- Have them help you with cooking if possible. My kids started eating better when they helped me pick out recipes to try and helped me in the kitchen.
- Have ready made clean snacks for them. One weekend I cut up a bunch a veggies and fruit with my kids and then left them out for them to snack on all day. They ate better and I didn’t have to make lunch or snacks for them. Or get the dreaded – “Mom, I’m hungry!”
Is Clean Eating a Diet?
No but a lot of successful diets have clean eating as their foundation. That’s why it’s a good place to start. Then try a diet that appeals to you and that you have had success with before. You will find that it’s easier to follow and you will have greater success if you have changed to clean eating first.
What food groups are allowed? Can I eat carbohydrates and still eat clean?
All food groups are allowed. Some are just better than others. Refined sugar and processed foods should be limited or removed altogether (but that’s hard to do). Carbohydrates are fuel and your body needs them. But most people are eating too many processed carbs (french fries, anyone?) and not healthy, high fiber, carbs like legumes (beans) and vegetables.
Do I need to eat organic to eat clean?
No you do not need to eat organic to eat clean. There is a huge debate in the food world about clean eating and organic vs. non-organic. I say eat within your budget and what you enjoy. I personally don’t try to eat everything organic but I do use grass fed beef where I can and buy products without antibiotics or hormones.
Do I have to eat clean 100% of the time?
No, definitely not! I personally don’t eat clean 100% of the time unless I am doing a challenge or a program with my friends. And even then it’s more like 90% clean and 10% processed. I try to follow the 80/20 rule that I mention in this guide – 80% clean and 20% processed.
Will I lose weight if I eat clean?
Probably. When you start to eat clean, you will naturally cut out refined sugar and eat more fiber. This means that you will eat less calories, especially if you follow the food portion sizes listed above. So you should start to lose weight. If you are already close to your goal weight then you might not see much of a difference. You will see a greater change in weight if you have more weight to lose.
How do I begin?
Follow the guidelines listed in this article. I personally started with one small change and then went from there. I switched to stevia in my coffee instead of sugar. I gave up regular soda and sweet tea and now drink unsweet tea, water, and one diet soda a day. I allow myself a treat each evening (my favorite is Linda Dark Chocolate). I eat smaller portions when eating out. Look at what you are eating at each meal and see if there is one small change you can make for that meal, for that day, that week, or that month. And make it fun!
Will this take a lot of time and cost a lot of money?
Maybe. If you decide to make everything yourself (pasta, sauces, bread, etc), then yes it will take more time to do that. And grass fed, no antibiotic, organic meat can get pricey. But if you take five minutes each day to cut up some vegetables or boil some eggs for a quick snack, take 5-10 minutes each night to plan or make your breakfast, and take 15 mins to plan out your meals for the week, then you will make huge gains in your health, energy and weight loss goals. You will eat out less and eat less junk food. That will definitely save you money :>
The Last Thing You Need to Know About Clean Eating
Whew!! That was a lot of information! The most important thing you need to know about cleaning eating (or getting a healthier lifestyle) is progress over perfection. Take it one small step at a time and celebrate your victories each day.
I believe in you and know you got this :>
What’s one small change you can make today? Let me know in the comments below so I can help cheer you on!