My burgeoning body was a rotting maelstrom of sugar, protein, and toxic chemicals at the peak of eating dirty in my twenties. I grew up in a lower middle class house with enough to eat, but a mix of processed junk and healthy whole foods. When I started making food choices as a teenager, I ate what I thought was good. “Cocoa Puffs. They’re a grain, right? Grains are the bulk of the food pyramid. It must be good for me…”
Fast forward to college when I started lifting weights. My brother gave my a box heavily processed whey protein packets. The packaged protein was the start of my turn towards eating healthy. Eating clean started with eating dirty because it raised my awareness of what I was eating. I wrote down everything I ate including the carbs, protein, and fat. That food journaling pays dividends to this day, since I always have a sense of what’s in the food I eat.
Between thinking Cocoa Puffs were grains and realizing protein powders were not very clean, I ballooned to a max weight of 210 pounds of bloated muscle. Without lifting weights my weight would be around 160 to 170 pounds. With clean eating and strength training I hover around 185 pounds. 210 pounds without eating much fat required a monstrous injection of heavily processed high-carb foods, protein powders, and creatine. I felt strong as an ox and as disgusting as vomit.
I changed by defining a my new goal. I didn’t want to be that big or strong anymore. I wanted to be healthy. I read Real Food by Nina Planck and learned that very healthy indigenous groups eat fat in much higher quantities than recommended in the US. Suddenly, I felt full. I broke out of the vicious cycle of hunger cravings every three hours. Processed carbs are convenient, but reducing them stabilized my glucose levels and allowed me to step off the ‘Energy Rollercoaster’. Eating more fat cleared a path for me to eat clean.
As I detoxed from my heavy processed food lifestyle I read Food Rules by Michael Pollan. This gave me a list of actionable tips for how to eat clean and eat well for the rest of my life. This wasn’t the end of my journey. I transitioned from eating very dirty to mostly clean over five years. I still learn and experiment every day. Before my shopping cart was filled with Coke, White Bread, Fat-Free Dairy, Cheese, and Protein. Now my shopping cart has Bananas, Spinach, Almond Butter, and High-Quality Protein with Fat.
If eating cleaner sounds appealing, watch for a post with some actionable small habits you can take to start your transition. For now here’s my personal my Top Ten tips from Food Rules.
- Eat food, mostly plants, not too much
- Pay more, eat less
- Break the rules once in a while
- Eat animals that have themselves eaten well
- Eat well‐grown food from healthy soil
- Eat your colors
- Avoid food products containing ingredients that a third‐grader cannot pronounce
- Avoid food products that have some form of sugar (or sweetener listed among) the top three ingredients
- Avoid food products that have more than 5 ingredients
- Avoid food products with the word “lite” or the terms “low fat” or “nonfat” in their names
Read the habit inspired by this story on how you can start eating clean here.