What comes to mind when you think of clean eating? Restrictive diet? Boring salads day after day? Giving up all your favorite foods? It doesn't have to be that way at all! Eating clean can open up a whole new world of food options for you and provide a chance to get creative in the kitchen.
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But admittedly, it can be hard to give up chips, cookies and pizza at first. So to make the transition easier, here are some simple tips to help you get started on your clean eating journey. And if you want more support, join the LIVESTRONG.COM Clean Eating Challenge.
1. Junk Your Junk Food
Start with a kitchen and pantry clean out and toss everything on the "Foods to Avoid" list (find the list as part of our Clean Eating Challenge). Don't worry — you'll have plenty of foods to enjoy to replace them with. While you're at it, evaluate the products you're nixing. Ask yourself if each is truly a super satisfying, can't-live-without food? If not, it should be easy to say sayonara!
2. Fill Your Pantry With Healthy Staples
Next, head to the grocery store. In addition to using the handy "Foods to Enjoy" list, become a serious ingredient sleuth. Before putting anything in your cart that comes in a package, carefully read the ingredient list.
If you see words you don't recognize, look for an alternative with familiar, real-food ingredients. In other words, you don't need to skirt everything that comes in a box, bag or jar, as long as the ingredients read like a recipe you could have made yourself (you know, if you only had the time).
3. Do Your Restaurant Research
Before dining out, hop online to check out menus and if possible, review ingredients. You'll find the latter on the sites of major fast casual chains. And at traditional restaurants, don't be afraid to ask questions and make special requests.
For example, substitute vegetables for pasta and French fries and ask that the vegetables be cooked in olive oil rather than butter. Or create a meal out of appetizers and sides instead of an entrée (that should help with portion control, too!).
And seek out ethnic restaurants with cuisines that easily fit the "Foods to Enjoy" list. At a Mediterranean spot, forego the pita and order a salad with olive oil vinaigrette to start. Then choose salmon kabobs or vegetarian lentil soup as a main with a side of roasted veggies and whole potatoes. At a Mexican restaurant, go for a salad made with greens and roasted veggies, pico de gallo or salsa, chicken or black beans (or both) and avocado or guacamole.
4. Learn to Decode Your Cravings
If you're feeling tempted to give into an "off-limits food" check in with your emotions first. Is your craving driven by stress, procrastination, boredom or habit? If so, test out alternative coping mechanisms that don't involve eating, like following a brief guided meditation, texting a friend or listening to music.
If your craving doesn't feel emotional in nature, identify a clean alternative. For example, make oven roasted extra virgin olive oil "fries" with a whole, sliced potato instead of fast food fries or chips. Make energy balls with almond butter, maple syrup, rolled oats, cinnamon and chopped dark chocolate in place of cookies.
Whip up some mock ice cream with grass-fed organic yogurt or plant-based milk (such as almond or coconut), mashed banana and honey. The more you eat clean the more your palate will adjust, and your desire for processed fare will fade.
5. Don't Beat Yourself Up
If you do slip up, don't beat yourself up! Change is a process, and it's not always linear. Think back and examine the circumstances. Was the back step due to not planning ahead, social pressure or emotions? If you could go back and redo the day, is there anything you'd do differently? Sometimes objectively reviewing a situation can offer insights that can help prevent a future misstep.
6. Get Stuck in a Rut
Select a few go-to meals to repeat until you get the hang of this style of eating. Make a smoothie with fresh greens, fresh or frozen fruit, yogurt or white beans, almond milk, fresh ginger and a bit of honey or maple syrup. Sauté a generous portion of veggies in extra virgin olive oil with garlic and herbs and combine with a protein, like ground turkey or lentils, and cooked brown rice or quinoa.
7. Don't Neglect Your Sweet Tooth
Stock up on bars of 70% dark chocolate and plan a few sweet treats that can be prepared. This can be as simple as fresh fruit dipped in melted dark chocolate, and then rolled in chopped tree nuts or seeds.
8. Make Drinking Water More Fun
If you dislike the taste of plain water, start infusing it with all natural add-ins, like lemon or lime, fresh mint, cucumber or a bit of mashed fruit. Each night, fill a pitcher with water and your choice of flavorful mix-ins. Refrigerate overnight to allow the flavors to permeate the water, and then enjoy throughout the next day.