Better health doesn’t just come from hours spent slogging away at the gym. I’ve been at my gym for over ten years now, and it’s true to say I see men and women in there who workout almost everyday, but with no resulting perceptible change in their body. I’m not just talking about losing weight – I’m talking about creating that lean, strong frame that most gym addicts are after (unless you’re seriously into body building, and that’s a different story). Ask any fitness trainer and they’ll tell you it’s all about your nutrition…not just what you eat but just as importantly, what you leave out. Achieving your body and fitness goals is 90% what you eat and only 10% what you do in the gym. It’s a sobering thought. As the old saying goes, “you are what you eat”. We’re talking ‘clean eating”. If you want to be healthy, you have to eat healthy…it’s actually not rocket science, right?
These days, just about every food, health and lifestyle blogger, along with many well-known foodies are talking about “eating clean” – but what does that actually mean and why is it so popular? As far as I’m concerned, there’s nothing really new here, just a great name for what is essentially healthy eating, feeding your body with what it needs to function at its optimum and leaving out the stuff that will (literally) weigh you down. While “Clean Eating” has become a catch-all phrase for anyone trying out the latest fad diet to get into their party dress or jeans, it’s also had a great deal of bad press for being responsible for eating disorders amongst young people. With all this conflicting advice flying around, it’s hard to know what to believe and what to do if you want to start eating clean. And why even would you want to?
So I thought I’d try to filter out the hype and tell you what clean eating means to me. I’m not saying that I always manage to stick to it, but I do my best, and always aim for an 80/20 rule as a bare minimum.
Keep it Simple, Keep it Clean
To me, eating clean means keeping it simple. Eating foods as close to their natural state as possible, choosing nutrient dense foods and staying away (as much as possible) from processed foods. In essence, it’s eating how my mother used to feed me as a child, with everything made from scratch rather than relying on ready-made meals, including portions of all the food groups. By making my food at home whenever possible, I’m freed from the tyranny of scanning the labels to check the ingredient list. The shorter the list of ingredients on a packet, the better. The only way to know exactly what you’re eating to is make it your business to find out. That way you can limit your intake of unnecessary preservatives, chemicals, too much salt, too much sugar….the list goes on. And if you can’t pronounce an ingredient, chances are you probably shouldn’t be eating it.
A common misconception is that clean eating equals becoming a vegetarian or vegan. It’s true that a plant-based diet is becoming increasingly popular, but as long as you make sure that half your plate is filled with vegetables, nuts, seeds, fruits etc that ensure you get the full range of nutrients into your body, you’re on the path to clean eating – and if you can afford organic, all the better, but not necessary. I used to tell my children when they were little to “make sure you get all the colours of the rainbow into your tummy” and whilst I’m not advocating searching out indigo-coloured foods, you get the gist! And while we’re talking about meat, opt for high quality lean meats, ideally pasture and grass fed, and stay away from processed and smoked meats.
Don’t underestimate the importance of staying hydrated. Research has shown that by drinking the right amount of water, your body can release upto 20% more energy from the food you’ve eaten – how amazing is that? And if you really can’t face drinking the recommended two litres a day, try to up your intake of high-in-water foods, such as cucumber, melons and celery.
Another red flag is the tendency to omit whole foods groups just because it’s trendy to do so. The current fad for cutting out gluten and eating gluten-free foods is a perfect example. Just because a food is labelled gluten-free, that doesn’t automatically make it healthy, in fact quite often, it can be the opposite. Aim for a balanced plate of protein (vegetarian or non-vegetarian), good carbs from whole foods (such as brown rice and other whole grains, sweet potato etc) and a mass of fresh vegetables that can be quickly sautéed, steamed or baked to keep all the vital nutrients intact.
Of course, there are days off – for me, Friday nights, all bets are off. I let myself in indulge, but the way I see it, by keeping that to one evening, I’m limiting the damage. I mean, there’s a limit to the number of chocolates even I can eat in one evening! Weekends, too, are generally more relaxed on the food-front for me, as that’s when I tend to go out with friends or visit family – it all comes back to my 80/20 rule. And if I can find or make a “clean’ version of my favourite dessert, I’ll take that option every time. Make are to check out this ‘clean eating’ brownies recipe – click here – so yummy and healthy too! But if there’s a big event coming up, you can bet in the run-up to it that there’ll be no cheat meals or snacks!
Make easy swaps, like switching out white processed carbs for wholegrain options
Why do I do it? While part of it is about working towards a lean, fit and healthy body, part of it is also about having the energy to live life to the fullest. By eating right, I’m giving my body the fuel it needs to function at its best and it fuels my workouts too. So before I workout, I’ll either drink a coffee (I can’t be with my coffee!) or have a banana to boost my energy for the gym. Post-workout, I’ll have a protein shake (blended with some berries) to help my body repair itself.
Keeping track of what I eat and how I workout is key to achieving my goals, which is why I’m still loving my Slendertone Connect Abs Belt. The virtual trainer app (now on Android as well as on iOS) keeps track of my Connect Abs workout and where I am on my program and goals. Used regularly, it helps to achieve a strong, toned body with proven results. Regular workouts and toning with Slendertone helps me to stay motivated and feel good about myself. For best results, 4-5 Slendertone sessions a week as part of a regular health and fitness regime, including a healthy eating plan, are the way forward to a toned, stronger core and a positive mind.
If all this clean eating malarkey seems a little inaccessible or overwhelming to you, make small changes. If there’s just one thing you take away from reading this, how about this? Add in one extra vegetable per evening meal, and maybe try to rotate the “colours” you choose. So perhaps it’s green on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, purple on Tuesdays (aubergines, for example), red on Thursdays, and whatever takes your fancy at the weekend. Pretty soon, you’ll miss it when you don’t have the full compliment of vegetables. Then once you’ve got that under control, how about swapping-in processed white carbs for wholegrain ones? It really can be as easy as that.
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but all opinions my own