I am so thrilled to be welcoming a fabulous guest today who will be sharing something that *I* have really needed to learn more about – clean eating! I am a junk food junkie and I feel awful more days than not. Reading these tips have me motivated to change my diet and to start looking and feeling better in no time! Take it away, Jen!
I remember looking through health and lifestyle magazines in years past and coming across samples of healthy daily diets and thinking to myself, “These people must be starving themselves with this food.” I thought that eating eggs with vegetables for breakfast and chicken on a veggie-loaded salad for lunch and salmon with greens and oranges on the side for dinner and even almonds as a snack equated to total body deprivation. I was convinced that no one on this Earth really ate this way in his or her everyday lives and he or she certainly wasn’t staying full from it.
I was completely wrong.
Let me back up and say that I’ve always loved healthy food. I’ve considered myself a decent eater for most of my life (well, you know, except for those lovely college days). I can’t even say that I’ve had major issues with my weight, other than gaining 30-something pounds with each of my 3 pregnancies (and, well, you know, in maybe some of those lovely college days). But before the start of this year, my knowledge about what food can do for your body, nutritionally, was far more limited than what I thought I knew. My thoughts about what I put into my body weren’t fine-tuned. I looked at food like a means to survival and just ate what tasted best, regardless of what it did to me or of how it made me feel. It wasn’t that I considered myself unhealthy during this time, but I ate to eat.
Now, I eat to fuel.
In January of this year, I decided to clean up my and my family’s diet. I was tired of feeling sluggish every day… feeling cranky, moody and puffy all the time (even if I didn’t outwardly look it). I have three young daughters to keep up with and trying not to fall asleep at 2:00 in the afternoon was becoming a struggle. (If any of you have a middle child, you’ll understand why napping is not an option.) I knew I needed to get my act together and get back to that active, healthy person I was before I began having children. I’ve fanatically exercised my entire life (minus the 5 year hiatus while having my girls), but this year is the first time I’ve thought about exercise and food collaboratively. And how, together, they can transform your life.
Everyone’s idea of clean eating is different. The general idea of eating whole, real food is the same, but details vary from person to person. My idea of clean eating is asking myself if the food I’m about to eat is going to do anything for me nutritionally. If the answer is no, I don’t eat it. For our family, it means that we eat lean meats, chicken, fish, nitrate-free pork, tons of veggies, nuts and seeds, good fats, complex carbs, some fruit, beans, some dairy, and only use olive, avocado or coconut oils. We also try to stay away from refined sugars, processed food, fake sugar substitutes, “low-cal” or “low-fat” and anything that’s been genetically modified. We choose to buy organic as much as possible and we buy grass-fed when we can. I read labels closely and buy items whose ingredients I can pronounce.
With that being said, I take my coffee with cream and sugar. I make popcorn once a week in coconut oil (get yummy coconut popcorn recipe, here). I eat pizza at a summer cookout on the weekends and eat a small bit of dark chocolate almost every day. I hate to use the word “cheat,” because I don’t feel like you’re cheating if 90% of your diet is clean. I feel like you’re just “living.” In all the other “non-cheating” moments of my life, I make choices. It’s those choices that dictate if I’m going to feel like a million bucks or like a rusty penny tossed down a sewer. I now enjoy going to a restaurant and ordering a delicious piece of salmon instead of a gigantic pasta dish that will leave me looking for my bed. I enjoy skipping the bread on the table and opting for a great fish taco meal instead. I am completely OK with never drinking soda again, but I would never be OK with never having an espresso martini again. It comes down to choices.
I know people say it’s about balance, which is true, BUT, that balance needs to be weighted heavier in the direction of the good, healthy stuff. Much like the rest of life, if you’re evening out the scales, you’re only ever doing something halfway.
Push it all the way. I promise you won’t regret it.
Eating clean can be easy. You don’t need to gather exotic antioxidant-filled wild currants from eastern South America to put in your salad. You can maintain a healthy lifestyle with common ingredients! Our weekly shopping list is mostly always the same, with some small adjustments each trip. We shop primarily in the outer perimeter of the markets, where the most nutritious food is shelved.
A sample shopping list goes something like this:
Proteins: Chicken Breast (or an entire chicken roaster), grass-fed ground beef or turkey, nitrate-free bacon, fresh fish at the seafood counter—usually salmon or cod, “clean” sausage (like Applegate brand), eggs, almonds, almond butter, natural peanut butter, coconut (anything, as long as it’s not processed), almond milk.
Veggies: Asparagus, carrots, sweet potatoes, fresh broccoli, brussel sprouts, zuchinni and summer squash, green beans, mushrooms, red and green peppers, onion, garlic, kale, broccoli slaw, mixed salad greens, olives, scallions.
Fruits: Bananas, berries, apples, peaches, pineapple, avocado.
Nuts/Seeds: Almonds (usually Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods brands). Gerb’s Superseed mix.
Herbs & Spices: Cilantro. And more cilantro. And maybe some cilantro. (Dill, basil or thyme are great to add to almost everything, too.) Cinnamon.
Dairy: Greek yogurt (we use Chobani or FAGE), full-fat cottage cheese, sometimes shredded cheese.
Other Carbs (aside from what’s in already-mentioned foods): Quinoa or brown rice, steel oats, black and garbanzo beans, good granola, local honey.
From this list, I can make endless meals for the week. I always take some time on Sunday or Monday to prep for the week.
We are pretty straightforward when it comes to recipes. Being a work-at-home mom of three, I need my version of healthy to be easy. Here’s a sample from each meal of the day.
Breakfast- Cinnamon Cottage Cheese
1 cup full-fat cottage cheese (which I believe is 4% milkfat)
1 banana, sliced
2 tbsp. natural peanut butter or almond butter (unsalted & unsweetened)
2 tbsp. local honey
1 tbsp cinnamon (adust to your taste level. I LOVE cinnamon so I tend to add a little more).
Lunch- Broccoli Slaw with Chicken and Pesto
1 ½ cups of broccoli slaw (bought pre-cut)
5 oz (about a palm’s worth) of grilled chicken (that I made on Sunday)
1 avocado, diced
A handful of superseed mix (it’s a mix of chia, sunflower, pumpkin, hemp and flax)
1 scallion, diced
Cilantro Pesto: A large bunch of cilantro, juice of one lime, 1-2 cloves of garlic, a dash of red wine vinegar, sea salt, cracked pepper, olive oil. Place all ingredients into the blender, except for the oil, and as the mixture is pureeing, slowly add the oil from the top until the pesto is the consistency you prefer.
Dinner- Steak Stir Fry
1 Flank steak, or any kind of grilling steak
1 bunch of asparagus
4 red peppers
1 each zucchini and yellow squash
Marinate steak a few hours before grilling (my marinade is usually some olive oil, crushed garlic, a little bit of worcestershire sauce, a dash of montreal steak seasoning—or you can google clean marinades and find some great ones). Grill steaks and set aside for slicing. In a large pan, sauté onion, asparagus, peppers, zucchini and squash in some olive oil (or coconut oil). Once the veggies have cooked down to your liking, throw in the sliced grilled steak and scallions. Saute until it’s all warmed through and serve.
Eating clean is not about starving yourself. Or getting rid of any food that will ever taste good again. Or worrying about counting calories or points or tracking every single piece of food you eat. If you adapt it as your lifestyle, your body and mind will respond kindly. I can say that since we started becoming more conscious about the way we eat, I absolutely feel my best. The food I take in dictates my performance everywhere else in my life—in the gym, as a mom, as a wife. The more aware we are of the food we eat, the more in tune we become with our bodies, mental health and well being.
I don’t think those magazines are so crazy anymore.
Jen Senecal is a mom of three girls, blogger, writer and graphic designer. She is the co-founder of fitness blog The F Word, which will launch this week. Find her on Twitter and Instagram at @JenSenecal.