Why “Eating Clean” Makes Me Angry

Eat clean, get leanYou 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.

I eat cleanSo, 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.

Eat CleanBut 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.

eat-cleanThe 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?

how to eat cleanThen 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.





I Want ALL the Fruit!

Fifty of these, delivered immediately, will be a good start...

Fifty of these, delivered immediately, will be a good start…

I’ve been craving fruit – incredible quantities of fruit. I can’t stop eating it. It’s like I have an insatiable hunger for fruit. In the last week or so I have eaten:

  • Apricots
  • Cherries
  • Raspberries
  • Strawberries
  • Oranges
  • Clementines
  • Peaches
  • Cantaloupe
  • Watermelon
  • Pears
  • Apples
  • Kiwi
  • Mango
  • Nectarines

I’ve eaten several of these in one day, in fact, several in one sitting, and still I want more fruit!

Usually when I have a craving, I can guess why. When I am low on iron I crave red meat. When I am low on fatty oils I crave avocados and tuna. When I am low on happiness and the ability to punch people, I crave chocolate. Right now, it’s fruit.

And as you can see, it isn’t even any particular kind of fruit. It’s pretty much whatever is looking good at the store. I’ve put away countless clamshells of raspberries and strawberries and an entire cantaloupe – by myself. Okay, it wasn’t a very big cantaloupe – but still!

Is my brain craving something sweet? Is my body craving fiber? Is my immune system craving aid against a cold? Is my heart craving summer?

It’s not that it is a bad thing. This is an easier craving to indulge in than say, exotic caviar, and far better for me than the great Funions craving of 2011, but still… it doesn’t stop! See, the thing about all of my cravings is that, up until now, usually once I give in a bit, the craving goes away. This time it is like I am a bottomless pit of fruit yearning. I know there are all sorts of health gurus that say that the whole “Fruit is nature’s candy” thing is literally true – that we should moderate our intake of all sugar, including natural ones. I’m not worried about it though, I am sure it is temporary thing, and I am still getting lots of proteins and fats. So, nothing to do but ride it out.

Now, if you will please excuse me, I need to go buy a honeydew.

The 24 Hour Myth of Weight Loss

Take Time to Decorate a Chicken Salad - French Clock Chicken Salad

“This chicken salad (!!) is decorated to look like a clock, with the hands set at the serving time.”

Since starting my own weight loss journey, I’ve been reading a number of blogs from other folks looking to lose weight. I keep hearing the same phrase over and over, and it goes something like this, “I had a really good day yesterday, but the scale didn’t change today.” There are a few variations, but essentially, there is an expectation that if we do something today (eat well, exercise, etc.) that it will pay off the next day.

Since this hasn’t at all been my experience, I started suspecting something was wrong with this line of thinking. It seems so logical on the outside – we do something, we sleep, and next day we see the effect. The truth is far more complicated.

Let’s start with eating. I had suspected that food stayed in our bodies longer than we thought, and in fact, I have proof. Now, I don’t mean to get too intimate with you, but I happen to love beets. And those of us who eat beets know when they are in our system, as they have the propensity to dye everything a rather vivid shade of magenta. This takes place over a couple of days, and that got me thinking. So, I did a little research (AKA looked it up on Google) and found an article on the Mayo Clinic website stating the average time for food to pass completely through the system was roughly 53 hours. There are some differences for men and women, and for the types of food you eat, but roughly, figure things take a couple of days.

So, let’s say you indulged on Monday, but decided to eat healthier on Tuesday. If you hop on the scale on Wednesday, you’re likely to still be seeing Monday’s splurge. Of course, that’s super simplified. Did you indulge on carbs? It might leave your system faster. Was it a big steak? It might hang out a bit longer. All of this is also effected by your own metabolism as well, so there just aren’t any guarantees.

I think exercise is the same way. I’ve read several books on running and on weight lifting and they all suggest that you want to give your body 48 hours to build muscle. That suggests that if you exercise your heart out on Sunday, you aren’t going to see a difference on Monday, which fits with my personal experience. In fact, a lot of times my weight goes up a bit after a run day because I make sure to drink water afterwords and stay hydrated. I may not see changes for a few days.

That’s why it may make sense to weigh yourself once a week – all this stuff fluctuates so much that people can get discouraged pretty quickly. Of course, if it is two days after “one of those crazy days” we all have, and you starve yourself before weighing in to make up for it, you might just end up really ticked off. You just have to keep everything in perspective.

As I’ve said before, I like to weigh every morning (just once a day at roughly the same time) and track it. I’ve seen patterns in my weight and that really helps me figure out what is going on. It’s never perfectly predictable, though. Sometimes I see changes 48 hours later, sometimes 36, sometimes not at all.

I think weight loss is a lot like investing in the stock market. The experts will all tell you that if you try to time your investments, you will ultimately lose money. The way to succeed is dollar cost averaging – basically putting in the same amount of money in, on a reliable schedule, all the time. You will get the highs and the lows, but over time, it works out for the best. With losing weight you have to do what works, and we all know what that is, right? You have take in few calories than you burn. What diet plan you use or what type of exercise you get doesn’t matter nearly as much as picking something that makes sense to you and sticking with it consistently.

Oh, and don’t expect changes the next day.

Photo credit: jbcurio

Eating Well While Stressing Out

I love this idea! Dance your errands indeed.

I love this idea! Dance your errands indeed.

I did it! I hit the big 3-oh in weight loss! I am officially down 30 pounds. I am incredibly happy and I love the way I feel and the way I look. Now onto the hard part – maintenance.

And of course, this week is crazy. I do some freelance work, and this week is the culmination of a big project. The good thing is that I have an amazing partner in all this, Red. Red and I have been friends forever. We both do the same kind of work, and have helped each other and paired up on projects in the past. Now she and I are working together as a team. It’s been great to split the work, but it has still kept me hopping. My lunch hours are spent in meetings or in running around taking care of last-minute details, and immediately after my day job, I am running errands or heading to the freelance location to work. Which means that, basically, all my meals are all kind of up in the air and I’ve had to get very creative. I don’t eat fast food, and I want to stay on the healthy side of things, so here’s how I’ve been able to swing it so far:

Plan Ahead. I use the calendar function on my phone to track where I have to go and what I have to do. That helps me keep on top of my schedule so I can plan accordingly. The more planning I can do, the less stressed I am – which is better for me all the way around.

Pack Snacks. I have started carrying multiple snacks with me. I have a couple of cute lunch bags that people have bought me that are insulated and even a small soft sided mini cooler. I keep them filled with things I can eat on the fly: string cheese, rice cakes, crackers, almonds, easy to eat fruit and veggies (like Mineolas, strawberries, carrots and celery) and even a small amount of chocolate. Everything is measured out ahead of time, so it is easy to track. This keeps me from crashing from hunger… and from eating all the unhealthy snacks that are lying around the workplace.

Indulge in Beverages. We’re getting some beautiful weather here in the Midwest, and its making me crave iced tea and coffee. I try to not have caffeine after 7pm, but before that, these are two easy indulgences for me. I also love La Croix for some fizz and keep a plain old water bottle handy as well. At the freelance location there is a lot of “hurry up and wait” and those wait times are prime munching hours. Having a tasty beverage nearby helps me fight those urges.

Eat at Work. I am lucky, I can eat at my desk at my day job. So another way I have been regulating my meals is by bringing both lunch and dinner to work. I eat lunch while I am working (and then use my lunch hour to run around getting things done,) and then eat dinner during my last hour at work. It’s a little early, but it is better than feeling compelled to grab something and eat it on the way.

Track Everything. I am so busy that it would be super easy to slack on the tracking. Now is exactly when I have to track. The other day I was out at a lunch meeting and ate way more than I should. I didn’t mean to, I thought I was making a healthy choice, but when I put it into My Fitness Pal I realized how wrong I was! That happens, it isn’t a big deal – as long as I know about it. I ended up just going lighter the rest of the day, but without tracking it, I wouldn’t have known to do that. I’m still new at all this and restaurants are fairly complicated to negotiate. Tracking helps me so much.

As for going forward, I don’t exactly have a maintenance plan yet. I know I will keep tracking and eating well – those are lifestyle choices. I’m planning on doing them for the rest of my life. I know I want to keep learning how to run. As for the rest, I don’t know yet – we’ll just see how it all goes!

Photo credit: theslowlane

Variety is the Spice of Life

Weight Loss Update:

Yes, even these started to look good.

Yes, even these started to look good.

I haven’t written about my weight loss in a while, so I thought I would spend a few moments getting caught up. Overall, things are going very, very well. I started at 171.5 on Jan. 15 and am down around 143 (the actual number fluctuates a bit, but I’m right in there.) I am looking forward to hitting the big 3-0, but I am not in a rush, either. Everything will happen at its own pace.

I say that because things have slowed down a lot. For awhile I could count on pretty consistent losses, but lately I have been fluttering back and forth with the same 2-3 pounds. I won’t lie, it is a little frustrating. My sister suggested that my body is finding its ideal weight, which makes sense to me. I’ve also been fairly rough on myself the last couple of months – a lot of travel, a lot of stress – those don’t help. Here’s the thing – while it would be fun to see what I look like under 140, I love the way I look now. If I don’t ever lose another pound, I am okay with that.

As for what I am doing – none of that has changed. I use My Fitness Pal to track calories. I shoot to hit a bit below the goal they give me, while making sure that it doesn’t yell at me for not eating enough. No food is off-limits, but I do concentrate on eating mostly plants and lean proteins.

Lately though, I have had to deal with cravings. I hear people talk about having cravings all the time, but until recently, they haven’t been a problem for me. Usually if I have a specific craving, I figure my body is telling me something – sometimes it is a needed nutrient, (Craving steak? Maybe I am low on iron.) and sometimes it is a symptom of something emotional. (Craving chocolate? How are the stress levels?) I normally just have a bit of whatever it is and the problem is solved. Typical cravings for me are: olives, chocolate, garlic, wine, steak, potatoes, cheese and sushi. What’s been happening lately is very different. Instead of honing in on something specific, I want, well, everything. My brain goes something like this:

I could go for a burrito right now. No, fried chicken, no… fried fish. Yep, fish. Or maybe a steak, or surf and turf, or you know, I could really just use a brownie. Actually, a latte with lots of caramel would do the trick, or maybe a malt. Ice cream. Or a smoothie, or maybe a hamburger with some French fries. Or chips and cheese. Or sushi. Chocolate chip cookie? Any of those would be good…

It’s like my brain is driving through America’s strip malls and going nuts! At first I blamed it on the travel – walking through an airport is kind of like walking through my mind right now, but it’s been more than a week since I have flown, so that doesn’t feel right. It was like what I was craving was… variety.

And laying in my bed, in the middle of the night, it hit me – that was exactly what was going on. While nothing is off limits, I didn’t have a lot of variety in the house. I cleared out the cupboards pretty good before my first business trip, and then cleaned them out yet again before the second. I’ve been back over a week, but I haven’t done a lot of shopping. I have food in the house, but there isn’t a lot of different foods. I grabbed a pen and a pad of paper and by flashlight, I made a list of all the things I was eating before I started traveling. It was quite a list. For example: I love having prepackaged cheese in the house. It makes a great snack. My favorite is the little Babybel cheeses, and I had a whole Costco sized pack of them, but before, I had Babybels, plus two different kinds of string cheese. I love apples and had some, but before I had oranges, Mineolas, strawberries, and grapefruits, plus lots of veggies like carrots and celery. I finally figured it out – I was just bored!

So, the next day, I went shopping. I stocked my cupboards and fridge with things I love plus I added a few new things to try. Having a whole stock of things to choose from did the trick – cravings are pretty much gone.

…well, I still want a burrito.


Photo credit: Thoth, God of Knowledge

Dining with a Dieter

Foods that sound delicious right now.

All of these things sound good. Yes, even the salad afterthought.

Okay, I know a few of you that read this blog are also on your own weight loss journeys. I have a question for you: do you ever feel guilty about eating around other people?

Here’s an example: a few weeks back I had lunch with my Mom. She was asking me about what I am doing and how I chose what to eat. I mentioned that one of the things I’ve done was go to a few more large chain restaurants. Normally I love my local food scene, but when Julian was on hard core low carb and I was on low calorie, finding a dining choice was tough for us. Most of the big chains have their nutritional information online, so we would spend a little time before our date looking up the menu on our phones and making sure it met our requirements.

In fact, I told her, the reason I suggested we go to Chili’s that day was because I knew she liked it, and I knew I could look up my lunch choices before we met, so I knew what to order. Sadly, she looked down at her plate and said, “I probably shouldn’t have ordered this.”

I immediately felt like I had said something wrong. I don’t want anyone to feel bad about their lunch. The truth was, what she had ordered was actually pretty good for the most part, and I told her so. But, I hated that moment of feeling like somehow I had made her feel bad about herself.

More recently she and I went out to brunch. I knew it would be a calorie laden day so I planned appropriately. It was at 2:00, so I made sure to eat something ahead of time – but kept the calories light. Again, there was an awkwardness when we went to order. I felt like she was watching what I had. I found myself deliberately picking a high calorie dessert (it was a set three course menu) to prove… something to her. I’m not even sure what. That you can eat high cal food and still lose? That it isn’t all carrots and celery? That she should order whatever she wanted?? I don’t know.

It happened again the other day with different family members. I was at an open house for some family, and of course, there was tons of food. My uncle discretely inquired how much weight I had lost. He patted my shoulder with approval and went off to pile up a plate with spaghetti. Good man – that was perfect. On the other hand, I felt like my aunt was watching every thing I ate. She didn’t say anything, but I saw her noticing that I took all fruit and stayed away from the pasta and Alfredo sauce. I felt awkward, like she thought I was going to judge her if she ate it. Honestly, I couldn’t care less!

Have any of you experienced this? Any thoughts for managing it?

Photo credit: Alex Barth

Wine Over Chocolate

Wine, chocolate and coffee by Rob Qld

If all be true that I do think,
There are five good reasons we should drink:
Good wine – a friend – or being dry –
Or lest we should be by and by –
Or any other reason why.

Henry Aldrich, Five Reasons for Drinking, c. 1700

Here’s an odd thing – I have discovered I care more about wine than chocolate.

I mentioned yesterday that since losing weight, I’ve noticed a lot of changes in my thinking. This is definitely one of them. Before hopping on the journey to Smaller Pantsville, I would have told you that chocolate was my drug of choice – especially dark chocolate paired with mint. I don’t have a big sweet tooth for cakes and pastries, but mini Peppermint Patties rock my world.

As for wine, I like it; I am also quite fond of port, but I don’t drink it all that often. I might have have an open bottle of red on the counter and a bottle of port in the bar, but I don’t drink it every day. In fact, weeks can go by between one bottle’s demise and when I decide to open a new one. This is very different to how I feel about chocolate – if a bottle of wine is there at the end of the night, I might have a glass, but probably won’t. If there is an open box of Andes mints on my counter, those suckers are going down!

That was, until now. Since I have started calorie counting, chocolate has lost its pull. Usually I see it and think “Nah, not worth it.” Here’s what happens – it’s getting towards the end of the day. I think, “Hey, you’ve had a great day today. Why don’t you walk the dog for a few extra minutes, and tonight then have some chocolate?” I picture curling up on the couch with a glass of milk and a mini Patty or two and then… Nah. It isn’t worth it. I decide on a cup of herbal tea instead.

On other nights, I’ll get home and think, “Hey, it’s been a long day, but you are good on your goals. Why don’t you walk the dog for a few extra minutes, and tonight then have a glass of wine?” I picture curling up on the couch with a book and a glass of wine, and I think, “Totally. Let’s go pooch!”

Prior to this, I rarely turned down chocolate – of any kind. I probably had some every day since there is almost always some kind of candy around the office, but now it just doesn’t interest me. My coworker has a big bowl of malted Easter eggs on her desk and another one of Hershey’s miniatures, and they hold no temptation for me whatsoever. Even though I can actually have anything I want, (in limited quantities of course,) I haven’t walked by her desk.

I think there are two things going on here. The first is that a glass of wine means relaxation to me. I usually have it with friends or as a celebration, or even just to shake off a bad day. It is more than just fermented fruit juice. I still don’t want it every day but when I do want it, it’s usually for a reason. I can’t say the same about chocolate. The other thing is that the more plant based foods I eat, the less I want white sugar. I still like chocolate, but I don’t like what it does to my body. I don’t like the “sugar high” feeling I get. Also, the less of it that I eat, the more the sweetness seems far too intense. It’s just too much for my palate  Give me a bowl of strawberries or an orange instead.

Of course I am not giving up chocolate all together. I still have some Peppermint Patties from Christmas squirreled away. (What? That’s only a couple of months ago. Don’t judge.) And I suspect there will be special events and other reasons when chocolate sounds enticing. In the meantime, I like that my way of thinking has shifted a bit. It feels healthier. It also feels like I am in a place to make deliberate choices about what I really want – which is a great place to be.

Photo credit: Rob Qld

A Wonderful Weekend

dinner table art by danehavI had a wonderful weekend. It was relaxing, calm, productive and fun – what more can you ask for? It was a lazy sort of weekend, with plenty of time to kick back and read a book, but also some really nice time with friends. Plus, I got to do those little things around the house that make me feel good: laundry, cleaning, working out, and preparing food for the upcoming week, that kind of thing.

One of the great moments was having a long talk with my boyfriend about my goals. He is so supportive. He immediately volunteered to help with my Jump Fund goals. So this weekend, we ate in. We made our meals together – pulling things out of his ‘fridge and mine. In fact, the only money either of us spent on meals for the weekend was picking up some broccoli from the local organic market.

We both love to go out to eat, but honestly, both of us have really changed our diets of late, and eating out can be tricky. Eating in, however, was pretty simple. So, it turned out to be less hassle, more fun, healthier and less expensive. Awesome!

I am not cutting out dining out all together – not by any means. In fact, we went out one night to celebrate a friend’s birthday, but we had dinner at home first, and then just had a couple of drinks at the restaurant. I think that is how I would like treat eating out – as an occasion. I want to go out to for a reason – to try someplace new, celebrate with a friend, or enjoy a special event. What I don’t want to do is go out just because I can. That means means meeting friends for lunch, but packing my own when I am not. Since I have been tracking calories I haven’t gone out that much, but before this, I would regularly go out somewhere on my own. I like solo dining, and I like getting out of the office, but there are better ways for me to do that.

All this fits really neatly into my Health and Wealth goals. I want to treat myself better, but that doesn’t always mean buying something. Just as often as not, it means eating quality food, prepared with someone I love. It means taking a long walk on my lunch hour to get out of the office, rather than fleeing to a restaurant. And when I go out? Really making it about sharing time with people I care about.


Photo credit: danehav