Have you started the new year with a goal or resolution to be healthier? Like many people, that’s exactly how I started the new year several years ago. Today I’m sharing how that goal turned into my passion for clean eating.
The Beginning of My Journey
In January of 2013, at the age of 45, I did what a lot of people do and set out to start the new year with goals of eating better and working out more. I was about 10 pounds over what I considered my ideal weight and did not want to pack on any more pounds. I knew I wanted to change some of the unhealthy foods my family and I were eating and I wanted to start a new workout regimen.
Fast food and what I considered junk food had never been a part of our regular diet. As a matter of fact, I thought we did a pretty good job of eating healthy. My husband and I meal planned every week and very rarely purchased fast food or went out to eat. The things I was looking to cut out were some of the convenience products we were eating like canned soups and chili and the “healthy” frozen meals I often ate for lunch. I had just started reading about the high sodium content and the unhealthy additives in these products.
New year new me! I purchased a gym membership at a new gym in our area and stopped purchasing the canned soups and frozen dinners. At the beginning of February, I dragged my husband Tom, who was also 45, to the gym with me using a free buddy pass. If I was going to do this, so was he.
Two days later Tom had a heart attack! I was given a lot of information and was completely shocked and overwhelmed. The doctor explained that after having a stent inserted Tom would be released in a few days. He said that with medication and some lifestyle changes he expected him to live a healthy productive life. This was definitely a wake-up call for both of us.
Learning About Nutrition and a Healthy Diet
While Tom was in the hospital, I sat by his bed and immediately began to research heart-healthy diets. The Mediterranean diet seemed to be very popular because it is primarily made up of plant-based foods, fish, and healthy fats such as olive oil. Poultry and dairy are eaten in moderation, and red meat is eaten rarely. We both like to cook and this certainly sounded doable to us so I ordered several Mediterranean cookbooks.
After we were home from the hospital, Tom began making amazing meals from the recipes in our new cookbooks. I will be honest there were some things that I was not excited to try. To my surprise, those meals have become some of my favorites! Tom loved finding new recipes and I became obsessed with learning all I could about finding the “right” healthy diet. I liked a lot of things about the Mediterranean diet but wanted to be thorough in my research before committing to one certain diet.
The amount of information available about diets and nutrition was overwhelming. Vegan, vegetarian, paleo, Mediterranean, low carb, high protein, keto, gluten-free, calories, fat grams, counting points, weighing your food, cage-free, free-range, grass-fed, wild-caught, farm-raised…What does all of this mean and what should we be doing? The list of things to research went on and on.
I learned more and more about clean eating and reading nutrition labels. The more I researched and read food labels the more I discovered that a lot of the foods I thought were healthy were not healthy at all. Many of them contained refined and highly processed ingredients.
My whole wheat bread was not 100% whole wheat and contained several additives. My deli turkey breast was loaded with sodium and other unwanted ingredients. All of the things that I purchased with the words light or fat-free didn’t mean they were better for me.
The more we learned the more we began replacing our highly processed food with cleaner options. We really enjoyed experimenting with new ingredients and different flavor combinations. Using fresh whole ingredients made all of our dishes taste so much better!
Finding A Healthy Balance
So what is the “right” healthy diet? I believe that the answer is different for everyone. There is no one size fits all. We are all uniquely made and what works and is sustainable for me, may not work or be sustainable for you. Our bodies are all different and so are our daily schedules.
I have done an enormous amount of research and learned through trial and error within the confines of our lifestyle what works for me and for my family. Rather than identify with any particular diet, we chose to keep it simple and eat as clean as possible. No eliminating food groups or counting anything. No high this or low that. No defining ourselves as vegan or paleo. I’m not saying those things are wrong. They just weren’t the right choice for us. Clean eating is what my family and I have found to be simple and sustainable.
My definition of clean eating is eating whole, unprocessed foods such as fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts, and legumes. And foods that have been minimally processed or refined such as 100 percent whole wheat bread, hormone-free dairy, and humanely raised pastured meat. (More to come on what we eat and the benefits in future posts.)
I say we found clean eating to be simple but simple doesn’t mean easy. The changes we made did not happen overnight and there have definitely been struggles along the way. Commitment, consistency, and discerning all of the conflicting information take effort.
One thing I wasn’t prepared for was losing too much weight. Never thought I’d have that problem! I lost 18 pounds in the first 4 months. I was aiming for 10. Fifteen was awesome but 18 was too much. I was down to a weight that I had not seen since I was 14 years old. I was eating the same number of meals and the same portions as I always had, but because my calories weren’t coming from any highly processed food, the pounds were melting away.
Rather than either skipping breakfast or grabbing a granola bar on the run like I have done my whole adult life, I started making time to eat breakfast. I also added 1-2 small snacks a day. Once I learned to balance my eating and my workouts I was able to get my weight to where I am most comfortable.
I still can’t believe that I eat food that I love 4-5 times a day and I am able to maintain my weight. Crazy!!! I have also found that even when I am not consistent about exercising, my weight does not change. For me, clean eating keeps that in check although I know true health comes from both exercise and balanced nutrition.
We are by no means perfect. In fact, that too was something I struggled with for a long time. Perfection is not sustainable. At least it is not for me nor for my family.
I have a friend who works in the health and fitness industry and she uses the word fun for unhealthy choices. I had never used the words bad or cheated when I ate something unhealthy so using the word fun has been perfect for me. I make nutritious food choices 80-90 percent of the time and the other 10-20 percent of my choices are so much FUN!
Seven years ago I started the new year by setting the generic goal of living a healthier lifestyle. My husband scaring the H-E- double hockey sticks out of me led to a path of discovery where I was able to define specifics to that generic goal. The research and learning that started out of necessity have become my passion. I hope that sharing the things I learn on this continuous journey will help others seeking to live a healthier lifestyle.
Here are some posts that you may find helpful if you are on your own journey to a healthier lifestyle.