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5 Common Mistakes People Make When Trying to "Eat Clean"

 Eating Clean
Eating Clean

On a scale of 1 to 10, how clean do you eat?

With so many foods that claim to be “healthy” and “clean,” it’s easy to think that you eat clean, but in reality, you don’t eat as well as you may think.

The phrase “Eat Clean” can vary from person to person. But a golden rule of thumb is to say no to foods with refined sugars, GMOs, preservatives and added chemicals or colors, and say yes to whole foods. And while you may skip the processed junk, it’s easy to slip up and make these five common clean eating mistakes. 

1. You’re thinking “diet” instead of “lifestyle”

Many people believe that eating clean means a restrictive diet plan, but it’s the opposite of that. You actually get to eat a wide variety of foods! Instead of thinking that you’re limited on what foods you can eat—which is entirely untrue—think of is as foods you get to eat. Instead of filling up on processed junk foods, indulge in whole foods. Clean eating focuses on ingredients like whole grains, nuts, seeds, fruits, veggies, quinoa and brown rice, along with organic lean proteins, eggs and wild caught seafood.

Fix: Change your mindset and accept that clean eating is a lifestyle of healthy habits.

2. You think food is boring

Just because you’re going to skip processed foods doesn’t mean your meals have to be boring and tasteless. Go ahead and spice things up in the kitchen. Trainer, Fitness Nutrition Specialist and founder of Honest Body Fitness, Jessica Thiefels, explains how you can make food fun, “Get creative and try new things, whether you're baking with coconut flour or roasting veggies with new seasonings” and continues, “I've realized, for example, that chickpea flour can be used for SO many recipes, like bread, muffins, and even pizza crust!”

While Thiefels has a restricted diet due to health, she still is able to explore new recipes and indulge of favorite comfort foods. “Instead of being deterred—which of course I do still feel sometimes—I've tried to embrace what I can eat. For example, I do pizza Sundays, even though I can't have tomato sauce, gluten or cheese. I make the chickpea flour crust, and use creamy goat cheese as the base and then crumbled goat feta on the top along with veggies. It's all about creativity, and that pizza is amazingly delicious; the highlight of my week.”

Fix: Get creative with new recipes and don’t be afraid to use spices!

3. Not meal prepping

One of the easiest ways to derail yourself from eating clean is not being prepared. Clean eating can be time-consuming because you should ideally plan and prep your meal plans and dishes. Does this mean you need to have every single meal in pre-measured in tupperware? Absolutely not! But, having healthy options already in the fridge, freezer or stocked in your pantry will make it a whole lot easier to satisfy those mid-afternoon or night cravings without regret.

“One of the biggest mistakes to clean eating is not prepping ahead of time, and then people get mad when they don't have something they can eat. That's happened to me many times—and it's frustrating,” explains Thiefels. But meal prepping ahead of time only sets you up for success instead of nutrition disaster. “This is especially true when traveling. So often, we make the mistake of thinking, ‘Oh, I'll find something at the airport,’ but that's rarely the case. Especially if you don't know what's available where you'll be,” Thiefels adds.

Fix: When life gets hectic, just focus on doing the best you can. “If you can only eat one clean meal that day, do it. If you know you're going out to dinner late at night and aren't sure what your options will be, focus on eating a clean breakfast at home, or on the way to work, and a clean lunch,” suggests Thiefels.

There are many food options to take with you when on the go:

  • Smoothies
  • Salad in a jar
  • Rice and beans
  • Sliced veggies
  • Hard-boiled eggs (Organic whenever possible. Try adding salt, pepper and balsamic!)
  • Trail mix
  • All nuts/seeds
  • Fruits like apples, grapes, cherries, bananas or berries
  • Gr8nola mini packs

Thiefels also suggests you should rely on leftovers. “Make a little extra dinner the night before so you can just grab a container of food and run out the door in the morning. If you're cooking anyway, you might as well prep for the next day too.”

4. You’re counting calories

Calories matter, but instead of focusing on the overall number for the day, pay attention to the quality of calories you consume. Counting calories may restrict you from healthy, nutrient-dense foods. And while portion controlled, often-marketed-as-“healthy” 100-calorie snack packs may be loaded with fillers and other junk ingredients. 

Fix: It’s more important to make sure your snacks are packed with a combination of healthy nutrients like whole grains, healthy fats, protein and fiber instead of keeping them under a certain number of calories. 

5. Thinking “organic” or “vegan” = healthy

Brands know how to market their products, so don’t let the packaging fool you! Just because something reads “organic” or “vegan” doesn’t automatically make it healthy. According to the USDA, a product that has ‘organic’ on the packaging only has to be 30 percent made from organic products. A product with the organic seal only needs to be 70 percent organic.

And, watch out for vegan-packaged foods, gluten-free, low-sugar, etc ... Again, marketers know what will catch your eye. Those packages may use ingredients that are filled with additives, refined sugars and inflammatory oils to make the food taste better and give it a longer shelf life.

Fix: Read the nutrition label and take a look at the ingredient list. A golden rule: If you can’t pronounce the word, chances are it’s not good for you. Look up the ingredients that are in your food. The Environmental Working Group has a list of potentially harmful chemicals; if they are in your food, then don’t eat it.


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