You might have noticed that I enjoy motivational fitness sayings. I post ones that really strike a chord with me here on the blog. I’ve noticed something though – if you look at fitness motivation often enough there is a phrase that pops up over and over: Eat Clean.
I get the idea. I understand that the fitness community is trying to find something motivational that works for everyone regardless of their diets. “Eat Clean” can cover Paleo, Atkins, Vegetarian, Vegan or whatever your plan is. Basically, eat the foods that fit your plan and stay away from those that don’t. In particular, of course, things like lean protein and vegetables seem to fit under “Eating Clean” and sugar, caffeine and white flour usually don’t. I also understand that there has been a lot of baggage tacked onto words like: “Healthy”, “Fit”, and most especially, “Good.” All of that totally makes sense to me.
So, a few weeks back, I tried my own experiment with eating clean. My boyfriend Julian and I had gone up to my cabin. One of the things I love to do up there is try new recipes, as I typically have more time to play and experiment in the kitchen, (which is one of the many reasons I love being at the cabin.) Two of the recipes I wanted to try were for salads. One was for these: Avocado Egg Salad Lettuce Wraps and another was for a Thai Salad. I don’t have a link to the recipe, but here is one to the dressing.
Anyway… the salads were terrific and when we came home, I had a lot of leftovers, plus a whole refrigerator full of other fresh veggies. I decided to try eating clean for a week. It was both an experiment in changing my diet and a practical way to make sure all the delicious produce got eaten and didn’t go to waste. I thought I might try eating Vegetarian for a week.
But then the words “eat clean” started getting in my brain. I decided that I would also give up dairy. I eat a lot of Vegan meals – why not a week of them? It wasn’t long before I also decided to give up caffeine, alcohol and sugar. It sounds extreme, but these aren’t things I have every day. Oh, I usually have a cup of coffee, but I am just as likely to have herbal tea instead. As for alcohol, I have a glass of wine or port occasionally, but it is easy enough for me to skip. Chocolate, which hits a couple of these categories, is another “couple of times a week” thing, but again, not essential. The tough one was dairy. I am fond of cheese as a midday protein snack, so I knew that would be a little bit of a struggle.
I’m telling you this not to brag, but rather to explain why I thought “eating clean” for a week would be a snap. I decided not to exclude eggs so I could still get that protein for breakfast, plus I had a whole fridge full of awesome food that I loved. My goal was simply to make sure I ate it all, and stayed away from some of the other things just for seven days. I mean, how hard could that be, right?
I lasted one day. And at the end of that day I was an angry, angry woman.
The problem was that phrase, “Eat Clean.” I’m a person who likes rules. If I was going to do this, I needed to know what those rules meant to me. What about those eggs? I usually have locally raised organic eggs in the house, but it just so happened I had used those all up in the egg salad and now just had some plain old grocery store eggs. Were those clean? What about egg yolks? Should I do just the whites? What about my herbal tea? Could I use a name brand tea, or did I have to have the local peppermint tea? I like the peppermint, but is that the only one I could have? I said no sugar, but what about organic agave nectar or local honey?
Then there was lunch. I realized my Thai salad dressing had sugar in it. It also had fish sauce. Is fish sauce clean? I didn’t have any more bacon for the avocado salad, and that was okay, but wait… should I eat eggs at two meals? Also, what about La Croix? At work our office fridge is stocked with it, and I enjoy a sparkling water at lunch. It doesn’t have the things I was avoiding, but was is clean?
This just kept happening over and over and over. I know the intent of the phrase is not to make people paranoid, but that is exactly what was happening to me. As the day progressed I went from confused, to frustrated, to grumpy to downright pissed off.
After eating my dinner in a huff, wondering how clean it was, a simple thought popped into my brain: I didn’t lose weight by limiting the kinds of foods I ate… so why in the world I am I doing it now? In fact, I know that one of the big reasons I was able to lose weight at all was because the only thing I limited was calories – not the type of food I ate. If I start putting arbitrary rules on myself, it isn’t long before my inner rebel comes out and goes crazy with demands and cravings… which was exactly what was happening.
Once that hit me, I walked back into the kitchen and poured myself a glass of port and grabbed a bit of dark chocolate. It was delicious. The anger disappeared like magic.
The next day a coworker, (who had no idea about my “eat clean” experiment,) placed an entire bag of York Peppermint mini patties and one full-sized patty on my desk. They are one of my absolute favorites. I assume she did want to work next to Grumpy McGrumpPants anymore.
I think that eating clean can work for a lot of people. I also think most people can just use the phrase as a simple shorthand reminder to eat well and not eat stuff that makes them feel bad. They don’t get as tied up in knots about it as I do.
As for me, over the past couple of weeks I have been trying a few different dietary things. I’ll write about them soon, but what I’ve found is that if I am going to be successful, I have to be myself. Manageable changes that aren’t too restrictive are fine, but I can’t try to live by impossible rules, even for a day.