Clean eating used to seem so inline with goals. Eat foods as close to a minimally processed state as possible, eat 5-6 meals a day, drink 2 liters of water, avoid products with sodium or sugar, only eat ingredients you can pronounce, give yourself one treat meal a week. It sounded so streamlined and ideal, but what I found is that instead of eating with ease, it actually created a lot of stress with eating, creating a dynamic that food was either good or bad, on or off plan.
In the past year or so I really have turned from labeling myself as a “clean eater” to more of an intuitive eater. Eating based on what is in line with my goals, making me look, feel and perform my best.If I want dessert I have it, if I decline I feel ok with it. I might make paleo cookies but that doesn’t mean I won’t eat my greek yogurt later. I might try a gluten free recipe but that does not mean I will not eat pasta the next day.
While I realize I have complete control on how I choose to view food here are a few ways why I think the concept of clean eating, and other forms of set, standardized eating, sets us up for failure and a few ways I have learned to shift my mindset, and how you can too.
1. It gives food a good or bad name. Chicken and steamed vegetables = good. Cookies and pizza = bad. If you have chicken you are on plan, if you have cookies you are off plan. I do not want to be on or off a eating plan. I may have moments where I want to get back on track, if I eat too much and notice my jeans a bit tighter or my energy levels suffering, but ultimately I want food to be food.
2. It is impossible to have a social life. How many times have you stressed about having to go to an event where you know it will be difficult to make good food choices or any food choices at all because they are “off” plan. You may fear that one night of food that is off plan, you will ruin your diet all together. That may even be the reason you choose to follow a certain way of eating because you don’t trust yourself that you will be able to stop at one cookie or one glass of wine. You may fear you must have a plan or else you whole way of eating will go down the drain. You are not alone, I have been there. But I have also learned that being super strict leads to less enjoyment with food and the social joy that goes into celebration with food. The good news is you can still make healthy food choices where you go, or a bring a dish yourself. And this is the perfect time of year to practice TRUST in yourself and your eating choices. That you can go out and enjoy food and drink without going overboard.
3. It can develop a poor relationship with food or how you think about food. Sometimes eating turns into defining who we are. When we eat “good” food, we are in turn good. When we eat “bad” food, it defines our worth as bad. When we cannot stay on plan we feel guilt and anxiety and when we do stay on plan we are worthy. Here’s the best thing you can learn to do. Eat in a way that is in line with your goals, and when you have that cookie (because you can still have that cookie) do not stress over it.
4. It is not sustainable. It doesn’t matter what type of eating you choose to follow, clean eating, zone, paleo? The question is, can you stick with it day in, day out, without anything “off” plan. Why? Because dictated types of eating do not align with our lives and our desires. Birthday parties, vacations, drinks with friends, holidays etc., are all a part of life. And I can’t think of ANYONE who follows a certain way of eating exactly to a “T” every single day of the year. How do you know if your diet is working for you? You can sustain it 365 days a year! If you can good for you, you are one step ahead of the game.
So what do I do to counter what I have been practicing for so long?
If you have followed me for some times you know I talk about my AES (Automatic Eating Strategies) quite a bit. My Wine and Cupcakes newsletter was probably the best way I could possibly explain to you how I think about food and my day ahead, and while it may have seemed complicated, it really is effortless to me. These tools I have developed help me eat in line with my goals, while not feeling deprived. Super strict is not the answer but eating with reckless abandon is not either. I know if I eat that way I will not feel well either.
1. Use my Automatic Eating Strategies. Some include thinking about my day ahead and making my choices in advance, always taking an apple or protein bar with me wherever I go, so if I am in a bind and need something to hold me over, I am covered. I eat lean protein and vegetables often throughout the day and something with protein and carbohydrates post intense workout. I always have something chocolate every single day.
2. Sample bites. I love taking bites of other people’s foods and this usually works best with people I am super close with, ha! I think sampling my boyfriends foods has been one of the best things that have happened to my eating habits because I get to taste everything but binge on nothing. My boyfriend is also pretty good with moderation when it comes to sweets. He can make a pint of ice cream last two weeks. Just a bite a day. For other tips on eating out click here.
3. Do not give food a name. Sometimes I still have a hard time with this one. I really try not to label food as good or bad, on or off plan. When it comes down to it, it is just food. It is food that is used as energy for our body. It is food that we use to enjoy social gatherings and it is is food that allows us to live our daily lives, and yet so much stress surrounds food now a days. Our food choices can keep us healthy or not, but they surely do not define us.